Touching Up A Finished Painting - Varnishing
Many types of art can be framed behind glass to protect them, but oil paintings are textured, so they are
typically left uncovered.
In order to protect the work in the way glass normally would, oil paintings need to be varnished. Varnish
protects the painting against environmental issues like smoke, dust, and pollution.
It performs a second duty of unifying the sheen of the painting; oil paintings by their nature have some glossy
and some matte areas.
The varnish (which you can choose in either matte or glossy) will even things out and give your painting that
final touch that makes it seem more professional and finished.
Before you begin your varnishing process, your painting must have
had upwards of six months to dry. If the painting is not completely dry, the varnish will not adhere properly and
Step One: Your Work and Your Workspace
Set up in a well-ventilated area that has plenty of light. Don’t work in any areas where a lot of dust is flying
around. Make sure your painting is completely clean and doesn’t have any dust or other particles stuck to it.
Wiping it down with a damp cloth will clean it just fine. Lay down paper or a disposable table cloth on your work
surface in case there are any spills.
Step Two: Your Varnish and Brushes
A good brush makes all the difference when varnishing. Some people recommend using a foam brush because there’s
no risk of bristles getting stuck to your painting, but a professional varnishing brush is probably better (though
it may be a good idea to keep some tweezers handy, just in case).
For the varnish, let your bottle sit in a cup of hot water while you prepare your painting and workspace. Change
out the water as needed until the varnish is as hot as the water is. You’ll also need a small bowl or pot to pour
out the warm varnish into. Some artists let this pot sit in another pot of hot water to make sure the varnish
Step Three: Varnish!
Apply the varnish in steady, even strokes. Use the lip of the container to wipe of excess varnish. A lot of
people are afraid to ruin their paintings in the varnishing stage, but if you have a removable varnish (as you
should) there is not much to worry about.
Just take a deep breath and dive in. Start at the top left corner (if you’re right-handed) and work from top to
bottom first. Overlap each stroke only slightly. Working in a well-lit area will make things easier because you’ll
be able to see where the varnish has already been applied more clearly.
Once the painting has been covered in varnish with vertical strokes (don’t wait for it to dry), put on a second
coat using horizontal strokes. Let the painting dry flat so that the varnish doesn’t run down to the edges, and
clean your varnish brush with turpentine so that you can use it again. Leave your painting alone for one to two
days so it can fully dry. Then you’re done!
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