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Aesthetics of Varnishing Transparent Watercolor: Creating the Least Change

7 thoughts on “Aesthetics of Varnishing Transparent Watercolor: Creating the Least Change”

    • Hello Karen,
      Thank you for your question. Although interest in varnishing watercolors is increasing among artists, it is not yet accepted by the majority of individual watercolor organizations. We recommend checking with the rules of the societies and within the prospectuses for individual exhibitions. Sometimes these refer to varnishing as “sealing” the work. We understand that the National Watercolor Society recently began accepting varnished watercolors into its exhibitions. Hopefully other organizations will also become inclusive of varnished watercolors.
      Best Regards,
      Cathy Jennings

  1. Dear Cathy,

    a very interesting and informative article. I was wondering about the drying times between varnish coatings. Archival varnish-isolation coat- archival varnish, archival varnish-isolation coat-MSA/ polymer varnish. What about MSA(spray)-isolation coat-MSA ?
    Kind regards Sam

    • Hello Sam,
      Dry times are influenced by environment, absorbency of the paper, thickness of applications, and whether the paper has been adhered to a board. All of these aspects should be considered when testing and practicing varnishing watercolor paintings.
      Generally, we recommend waiting about 20 minutes between layers of Archival Varnish. Since watercolor paper can be absorbent, it might be good to wait a little longer as the number of layers increase. Once the Archival layers are finished, I like to wait at least a week before brushing an Isolation Coat over the surface, especially if the watercolor is on a board. A shorter time (2-4 days) may work for unmounted paper since drying can slowly continue out the back of the paper. How much Archival Varnish is on the surface influences dry time, and the amount of varnish is determined by the number of layers and the heaviness of the spray application. If there is any mineral spirit scent to the Archival layers, definitely give the painting more drying time. We usually recommend 2-7 days of drying between a brushed-on Isolation Coat and the application of a varnish. If using Polymer Varnish, it might be fine to apply the varnish over an Isolation Coat after 2 days. With a mineral spirit varnish like MSA or Archival Varnish, it is important not to trap moisture under the varnish layer so giving an Isolation Coat longer to dry can be helpful. A page with links to our varnishing resources (including videos and tech sheets) can be found here.
      We hope this is useful, and we are here when you have more questions.
      Warm Regards, Cathy


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