Varnishing An Oil Painting
Varnishing an oil painting is very important because it protects your valuable painting from things like smoke,
dust and pollution.
You probably spent a lot of time creating your painting and making it perfect, and you had a lot of patience
while waiting for layers to dry.
Don’t make it all for nothing by not protecting your painting in the end with a good layer of varnish.
What is Varnish?
Varnishes are commonly used on wood to protect it from outdoor elements like rain. Things like wood trim on
boats and outdoor wood decks are varnished to keep the wood safe and in good condition.
Varnish is also commonly used on wood furniture used inside, to give it a glossy finish and protect it from
indoor hazards, especially scratching. Essentially, varnish is a clear, protective layer of oil and resin that is
used as a finish.
Varnish will protect the underlying material from spills, scratching, and pollution. For oil paintings, varnish
is used to protect the delicate oil paint from things like dust and pollution. Over time, the varnish itself might
yellow, peel or crack, but the underlying painting will stay safe. Removable varnishes allow you to take off older,
peeling varnishing and replace them with a new coat, so your painting will stay safe indefinitely.
Why it’s Important
Varnishing your painting is an important final step. Imagine if you got new wooden stairs in your home, but
didn’t varnish them. After a month or so, especially if people were going up and down with shoes on, the wood would
be damaged, scratched, or maybe even discolored.
Why wouldn’t you take that extra step to varnish it so it would last longer and look nicer? Your painting is
probably more important to you than stairs. You probably put a lot of painstaking effort into making it perfect, so
why wouldn’t you take that final step to protect it?
Some artists are afraid that varnishing will somehow ruin the painting, but varnishing isn’t actually that risky
or difficult. Especially with removable varnishes, there is nothing to worry about and no reason not to do it.
How to Do It
To varnish your painting, make sure that your oil
painting has been dried. Next, you’ll need a bottle of removable varnish and a flat bristled varnishing brush.
Work in a well-lit room so you can see clearly where you’ve applied varnish once a brushstroke is on. Heat the
varnish bottle up in hot water and pour some out into a dish big enough for your brush to dip into.
Get some varnish on your brush, and make a long, even stroke from top left to bottom left. Quickly continue
vertically, overlapping the layers very, very slightly to ensure even coverage. Once the whole painting is done,
repeat the process at a ninety degree angle (cover the painting horizontally in the same manner). Your room should
be free of dust so that nothing settles on the sticky varnish while it dries.
When you’re done, let the painting dry flat for about ten or twenty minutes so the varnish doesn’t run to the
bottom. After it’s dried a little, sit the painting vertically so it can continue to dry with less risk of dust
settling on it. Check your bottle for how long you should wait for the varnish to dry. After that amount of time,
Stay tuned for more oil painting lessons...