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.

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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, you’re done!

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