Friday, March 28, 2008


Little Heart's Ease
Oils 5 x 7
copyright Jeanette Jobson

Varnishing oil or acrylic paintings always seems to cause angst in people, me included. Why varnish, when to varnish, how dry is dry in oil painting, which varnish to use, how to apply it, etc., all provide confusion for artists.

I have put the finishing touches on this little painting for the exhibition on Sunday and tested it in a new frame today. For some reason, I can't get a decent photo of this painting, likely because the light was fading as I photographed it and I didn't want to chance the scanner at this point. The paint surface is dry to the touch and I wonder about varnish. I may get away with a retouch varnish and then an offer to do a full varnish in a few of months, when the paint is thoroughly dry, but it is recommended that even a retouch varnish is not used until the painting dries for a month.

My concern comes with the fact that if applied too soon, even the retouch varnish may mix with the paint itself. My other recourse - and I don't have the luxury of time - is to speed up the drying process. I am doing this with heat and the painting is now propped up before the woodstove with the blower on so that the paint surface has a chance to really dry before I try the retouch varnish tomorrow.

So why am I leaving this so late? This painting was a last minute fixer upper. I'd played around with a base coat for this a few months ago, then resurrected it last week to put it into the show on Sunday. By Easter Sunday I had to provide entry details and I gave those of this oil. Yes, I guess I could have eliminated it, but figured I could pull it off.

Varnish serves a couple of purposes for oils or acrylic paintings. It gives a protective coating for the paint surface against the environment and also brings out the colours in duller areas, brightening them.

Trueart gives some good information on the types of varnishes and their application as well as recipes for creating your own varnish.

Sanders Studios provides a great source on mediums, drying oils, resins, siccatives and diluents.

The Gamblin Newsletter from October 2003 is looks into the history of varnishing as well as the how to's.


Cindy said...

Lovely little painting Jeanette! I've been experimenting varnishing (spray) my colored pencil pieces, and you're right...causes GREAT angst!

tracywall said...

How timely!

I've been thinkming Ineed to start varnishing my oil paintings, but haven't researched yet. And look what pops in my mailbox!

Thanks for the resources!

(btw, I usually read your posts in my mailbox, but now that I'm here, cool pic of you! Sorry if I'm late.)

Jeanette said...

Thanks Cindy. I'm still getting my sea legs back in oils so its slow going.

I'm glad the information was useful Tracy. Its a sea of confusion at times about varnishing - so many types!

Robyn said...

Apart from continuing to love this painting, Jeanette, I really appreciate these links on varnishing. It's something I angst about myself.

Varnish seems to be applied almost immediately to the oil paintings of artists in my Italian painting group. We have a very experienced and highly regarded teacher. My lack of fluent Italian has stopped me quizzing them about the wisdom of this.