How To Varnish Your Oil Painting

How to varnish your painting ©David Nicol 2017

Varnishing your painting is a personal choice, some artists such as Laurence Stephen Lowry never varnished their works, and he also stipulated that his paintings must never be varnished. For other artists varnish is used to protect the finished painting from dust, dirt and grime.

For me, I prefer to varnish my paintings as it gives them a consistent finish as well as to protect the surface.

Traditionally, Damar varnish was the varnish of choice and is made from a mixture of resin and turpentine, however there are modern replacements that are less hassle to use. Personally, I like to use Winsor and Newton’s Satin Artists Varnish which also provides UV protection for the painting which will reduce fading in some colours.

To varnish the painting make sure you’re working in a well-ventilated area, and this counts for any varnish you’re using. However, don’t have any draughts otherwise you might end up with dust in the varnish.

It’s important that the painting is completely dry (or oxidised if you want to be really pedantic). Depending on how you’ve completed your painting this could take anything up to six months. Personally, I use Liquin which speeds up the drying process meaning that my paintings are usually dry in a matter of weeks rather than months. If your painting is not dry, you run the risk of damaging the surface or suffer cracking in the paint surface as it dries.

There are various ways to varnish a painting. From how many layers of varnish to put on, to what size and type of brush to use. Just like painting technique, this is something that you must experiment with and work out what works for you and your paintings. The only hard rule is that you need to get the varnish on your painting.

As this painting was done on board the surface is rigid so, with the painting flat, I’m just pouring some varnish right onto the painting and then spreading it around with a clean number 12 bristle brush. Winsor and Newton recommend that you use a specific large flat varnishing brush for this process and use 2 or 3 thin layers. However, for my purposes I’m using quite a thick layer which I’m then spreading with my brush and allowing gravity to even it out.

Just be careful to cover the whole of the painting, and I’m getting down low to the surface so that I can see if there are any spots I’ve missed.

Once the painting is covered you just leave it to dry, close the door and do not disturb for a couple of hours to make sure it doesn’t end up covered in dust.

When dry, your painting is now ready to find its new home.

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