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Tips and Tricks for Varnishing

38 thoughts on “Tips and Tricks for Varnishing”

  1. Dear Mirjam, I greatly appreciate your sharing these varnishing techniques! I have read many articles about varnishing methods but this is the first one to share methods to tamp down the sheen of glossy varnish or shine up a matte varnish. I will definitely try these methods as well as the idea to apply varnish with the direction of the underlying painting. These methods suggest to me that gloss and matte and satin varnishes could be applied to selective areas of a painting to preserve the shine of metallic paints or the matte of pumice inclusions, etc. Have you tried such an approach?

    Reply
    • Hello Judith,

      Thank you for your comments. Selective varnishing can be a good option sometimes. It probably requires a little more practice and skill, but it is a great way to protect the sheen of areas that have been gilded or painted with metallic or iridescent paints, for instance, while keeping the rest of the surface more matte. The possibilities are many! Always test first when trying out new varnishing approaches.

      Good luck with your projects.

      Best,
      Mirjam

      Reply
  2. Thanks. The freshly varnished top edge is touching the wall & easel? How can a painting be lent forward without the front touching anything? How to avoid dust on an oil painting left to dry for months before varnishing?

    Doesn’t UV protection have a very short lifespan when premixed into varnish?

    Reply
    • Hello Doug,

      Thank you very much for your questions. I should have been more clear on this. When placing the freshly varnished painting on an oblique easel, it should be facing the easel but not lean against the center piece or anything. The top retainer of the easel should be used to keep the painting from falling forward/backward. When placing a small piece of foam in-between the retainer and the painting, then the painting is held in place more securely. It is helpful to practice this set up with the painting before varnishing, so that everything goes smoothly when it matters.

      When we carried out tests to investigate the stability of UV-light stabilizers in our varnishes, we found that the UVLS do not become less effective, even when the varnishes are stored for longer periods of time.

      Always feel free to contact us with comments or questions!

      Kind regards,
      Mirjam

      Reply
  3. Thank! you this is a fantastic, informative article, one of the best, if not the best that I have read on varnishing. Although I’m pretty good at getting a decent result when varnishing, it is still a useful article to read, my biggest enemy when painting and varnishing is DUST. God damn it, it’s impossible to avoid it, I’ll be trying the archival varnish at some future point, keep up the good work, it’s much appreciated as an auto-didact.

    Reply
    • Hello Purcell,

      Thank you very much for your kind feed-back. Yes, dust can be a tricky problem, especially in big cities. Avoiding any air draft and misting or spritzing the air with water should make the dust settle somewhat. Another option might be to improvise some sort of transparent tent in which the painting could be placed while drying. That way the oil can dry in the light, but the painting is protected from dust. One of these mini greenhouses or portable covered clothes closets could maybe be adapted for the purpose:
      https://goo.gl/f6T1yt
      https://goo.gl/XEyNPw

      Good luck!

      Warm regards,
      Mirjam

      Reply
    • Hello James,

      It is correct that the Polymer Varnish is not recommended for oil paintings. There are concerns around both adhesion as well as the alkalinity of the varnish in its wet state. At this point, however, if the oil painting looks okay we believe the best thing is to simply let it be. Removal of the Polymer Varnish would require extensive use of ammonia, which would pose far more danger to the painting then leaving things alone. Besides, at this point the varnish is largely inert and has a neutral pH. Lastly, we would recommend making a note of the varnish type and including that with the painting – perhaps listed on some paper adhered to the back stretcher- not on the reverse of the canvas. That way any future conservator or framer needing to repair or clean the painting would be aware of what materials were used.

      Best wishes,

      Mirjam

      Reply
  4. Hi Could I possibly put a coat of liquitex gloss varnish over Golden MSA varnish. The MSA was matt and I want to go glossy and I have the liquitex materials for it. So I was wondering if it’s possible?

    Reply
    • Hello Christopher,

      We are not sure how the Liquitex Gloss Varnish would behave in the long run on top of the MSA Varnish, since we have not tested it. The safest option would be to stay within the same system and use the MSA or Archival Varnish Gloss on top of the Matte MSA Varnish. You could also consider removing the Matte MSA Varnish and then apply the Liquitex Gloss Varnish afterwards, provided that this could be achieved without damaging the underlying paint layers. However, the Liquitex Gloss Varnish, which is actually named “Gloss Medium & Varnish”, is a permanent and non-removable layer. While certainly this is an option an artist can take, we just want to share that we do not recommend using non-removable mediums as a topcoat on a painting since we believe varnishes should be removable to allow for repair should the surface is ever damaged. We just want you to be aware of that, so you can make your own informed decisions.

      We hope we could help.

      Best, Mirjam

      Reply
  5. I have finished a painting as a mixed media work.
    I used Golden acrylic paints and black Noolers Ink.
    What Golden Media can I use for the finial coat to seal
    it so I do not have to put a glass over it?
    Can you help me?

    Reply
    • Hello Daunine,

      Mixed media pieces can sometimes be tricky to varnish if the materials have different sensitivities. According to the Noodler’s ink website, some of their inks are water resistant and other aren’t. To avoid solubilizing or blurring any water sensitive inks, it would be necessary to use a solvent based varnish. It might also be better to spray apply the varnish, rather than brush apply. The Archival Varnish would allow you to build up the varnish layers carefully with minimal surface contact. We recommend doing a small test on a scrap piece that contains the same materials as your mixed media painting, to check if there are any unforeseen issues. We generally recommend starting with MSA Varnish Gloss to build up layers until an even, glossy surface is achieved. After that, Archival Varnish Satin or Matte could be applied, if a matter sheen is desired.

      Best,

      Mirjam

      Reply
  6. Hi Mirjam,

    I am looking for a varnish which can do oil and acrylic that protects against UV.
    I have just finished art school and was never shown varnishes. I have the Archival Varnish in Aerosol w/UVLS (satin). Can I use a glass varnish and then apply a coat of the spray for UV?

    Is varnish possible over AS Medium 1?

    Regards
    Christie

    Reply
    • Hello Christie,

      if your paintings contain both acrylics and oils, then it would be best to wait 6-12 months with varnishing, to make sure the oil paints are sufficiently cured. To seal the different absorbencies of the paint layers, we recommend starting with light layers of Archival Varnish Gloss w/UVLS, until an even glossy sheen is achieved. After that build layers of desired sheen as needed with Archival Varnish w/UVLS (e.g. Satin or Matte). This technique allows you to built up sufficient layers of UV-protective varnish, that should protect your paintings significantly from UV-induced discoloration or fading. We have found that approx. 6 spray coats of Archival Varnish w/UVLS is a good amount of layers and equivalent to 2 brush applied coats of MSA Varnish w/UVLS.

      It should be fine to spray the Archival Varnish w/UVLS over Art Spectrum No. 1 Medium, once the Medium has cured sufficiently.

      It is always best to test and practice varnishing first on a similar surface as your artwork.

      Feel free to reach out whenever you have more questions. Here is where you can reach us:

      Warm regards,
      Mirjam

      Reply
  7. Pinto hace como 40 años…..y en un pais en donde no existen casi los materiales buenos e importados….uno hace lo que puede.El barniz brillante sobre acrilicos….a veces produce tantos reflejos que hace dificil la fotografia….y segun de donde se vea el cuadro…es molesto.
    Por supuesto que ayuda a resaltar los colores…sobre todo los oscuros.La solucion que encontre …es hacer una mezcla de barniz acrilico brillante…..y una parte de barniz mate…..digamos un 70 y un 30 %…..de esta manera no queda tan reflexiva la superficie.Hay que dejar secar bien ….lo dejo una media hora al sol….y listo.No conviene barnizar en dias muy frios….el acrilico no va bien con el frio….a veces acelero un poco con un secador de cabello.

    Reply
    • Hola Luis

      Gracias por tu comentario. Es genial que hayas encontrado una forma de barnizar y fotografiar tus cuadros que te funcione. Si el resplandor de un barniz brillante es problemático al fotografiar la obra de arte, también se puede esperar simplemente con el barniz después de que se hayan fotografiado las pinturas.

      No recomendamos forzar el secado de un barniz con un secador de pelo ni a la luz solar directa, para evitar que se sequen las grietas u otros defectos de la superficie. Además, uno querría evitar soplar el polvo en la superficie.

      El consejo más importante es probar nuevos materiales o técnicas de barnizado, antes de barnizar las obras de arte reales, para asegurarse de que los resultados sean satisfactorios.

      Disfruta pintando y mucha suerte!

      Hello Luis,

      Thank you for your comment. It is great that you have found a way to varnish and photograph your paintings that works for you. If the glare from a gloss varnish is problematic while photographing the art work, one could also simply wait with the varnishing after the paintings have been photographed.

      We would not recommend force drying a varnish with a hair dryer or in direct sunlight, to avoid drying cracks or other surface defects. Also, one would want to avoid blowing dust onto the surface.

      The most important advice is to test new varnishing materials or techniques, prior to varnishing actual artworks, to make sure the results are satisfactory.

      Enjoy painting and best of luck!

      Mirjam

      Reply
  8. Hello, I have nearly completed an acrylic painting on stretched canvas. Before painting I applied a couple of layers of Gesso. Now that it’s nearly complete, I see rather noticeable lines in the gesso texture. I wouldn’t normally worry about it but they are more prominent than I thought they’d be. Would varnish or perhaps a layer of clear acrylic gel help to conceal these lines? Many Thanks, Dave Owen.

    Reply
    • Hello Dave,

      Thank you for commenting. A regular varnish or acrylic medium would not help much to conceal irregularities in the ground or paint layers, because they dry to relatively thin layers and conform to the underlying layers. One would have to build up many layers to counteract the surface irregularities. Pouring thick layers of waterborne acrylics can cause crazing (especially when damming the pour), but the Gloss MSA Varnish w/UVLS could be used quite thickly (right out of the can) without that risk. It would be best to test this application on a small trial piece. Alternatively, you could consider using a fine art grade two-component resin, which could be poured thickly in one application. It might be laborious to remove an extremely thick layer of MSA Varnish, but at least it would be possible if needed. Casting resins and waterborne acrylics, on the other hand, are permanent.

      Reply
  9. I want to varnish a painting but am unable to determine if it is acrylic or oil. In the past, I have varnished a painting I was able to determine was acrylic by wiping a bit of rubbing alcohol in the corner and seeing paint rub off. I tried the same test this time and nothing rubbed off. I was convinced it was acrylic but now I am thinking it is oil but cannot confirm. Seeing as the supplies I bought last time were for an acrylic painting (Golden Soft Gel Gloss for isolation coat + Polymer Varnish w/ UVLS) should I proceed anyway with the same materials or instead purchase the Golden MSA varnish + MSA solvent since, based on my research, can work for either acrylic or oil? What should I do? Also, if I go the MSA varnish route, being that it is unknown if the painting is acrylic or oil, would it be safest to still apply an isolation coat even though it could possibly be an oil painting?

    TLDR: What gloss varnish is recommended if the painting cannot be confirmed as either acrylic or oil based? And is an isolation coat a good idea since it could possibly be acrylic painting?

    Thank you for any help.

    Reply
    • Hello Peter,

      thank you for commenting. Your concern is absolutely valid. Oil paintings should not be coated with water-based acrylics, so neither isolation coat not Polymer Varnish. To err on the safe side you could simply use MSA Varnish or Archival Varnish w/UVLS. If the first coat sinks in and creates an uneven finish you could simply apply additional layers until the surface is even.
      In case you expect that the varnish will have to be removal in the future, you could test if the paint layers are sensitive to the MSA solvent or another full strength/high aromatic mineral spirit. If you do not get pigment lift, or only very little, if is fair to expect that varnish removal would not be a problem. If varnish removability is important to you and you do get pigment lift, then you should consider not varnishing the painting at all.
      As a side note- oil paint layers can also be sensitive to rubbing alcohol, depending on the color and especially young paint layers. Thus, one could also get pigment lift with alcohol (and even water), on an oil painting, too.

      Good luck and best regards,
      Mirjam

      Reply
  10. Hi. I have done acrylic painting on black paper and then applied gloss varnish on top but there are many brush strokes marks on the empty part of paper. How to fix this?

    Reply
    • Hello Parul,

      thank you for your question. It is possible that the paper was a little too absorbent and some of the varnish sunk in and thus created brush strokes. Try applying a second and maybe a third coat of the same varnish. You might want to dilute the varnish a little more to increase the levelling quality. Try applying und brushing out the varnish swiftly and then leave it alone to give it time to level before it sets up.

      Reply
  11. Hello,
    Thanks for your article. I would like to know if it’s possible to mix a bit of the glazing medium with the polymer varnish so the retarder in the glazing medium helps me getting more time to work on the varnish application before it dries.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hello Ana,

      Thank you for your comment. It would be better to dilute the Polymer Varnish with more water to get more working time and levelling. Try 3 or 2 parts varnish to 1 part water, rather than the 4 : 1 varnish-water mixture. A more diluted varnish might require more layers to provide equal UV protection. Water also mixes much more readily with the Polymer Varnish than the Glazing Liquid would. The main disadvantage might be that the Glazing Liquid could potentially make the varnish layer not, or less easily, removable. If you are varnishing a big piece you could consider using a High Volume Low Pressure spray gun and make a 2:1 Polymer Varnish-water dilution.

      Reply
  12. Thank you for your article. I haven’t varnished my work in the past because I feel it would compromise the aesthetic…. but I worry about the future conservation of my work. My acrylic paintings are made up of matte and glossy layers. This contrast is important. Do you think I could use matte varnish half way though a paintings production, then add glossy acrylics on top? Or would you suggest I forego the varnishing process altogether?

    Reply
    • Hello Amy,
      Thank you for your comment. It might be best to not varnish in your case and simply dust the paintings once or twice a year, so that dirt does not get embedded in the paint layers, which could reduce the differences in sheen.
      Varnishing in a matte sheen and applying glossy paint layers on top is theoretically possible, however there are two things to keep in mind. GOLDEN varnishes are removable and during a possible future varnish removal these paint layers would be at risk of being damaged. You could, however, place a label on the reverse of the stretcher bars, stating that the varnish should not be removed and indicate the layering. Also, in order to achieve an even matte varnish it is important to first apply an isolation coat, particularly if the painting’s surface is absorbent, which the matte paint layers probably are.

      Hope this helps. Best,
      Mirjam

      Reply
  13. I wish varnish a work utilizing a gloss/matte-combo.
    Query, though: Doesn’t matte (which utilizes wax as the matting-agent)
    require heating-up beforehand to liquify that wax?!!
    And if so, How does one address that “heating-up” properly?!!
    If I gotta do this, I mean I really do wanna do it properly. . .

    Reply
    • Hello Albert,

      it is true that varnishes, which contain wax as matting agent, require warming up before application. This is usually done with open lids in bain marie or baby-bottle warmers. But GOLDEN varnishes contain silica particles for matting agents and not wax- therefore they do not require any heating. It is important to stir matte or satin varnishes before use, in order to disperse the matting solids evenly.

      Best,
      Mirjam

      Reply
    • Hello Aakanksha,

      Our recommendations for removing varnishes depends on a couple of factors: the painting being an oil or acrylic painting, whether an isolation coat was applied in case it is an acrylic painting, and which varnish was used? You will find specific removal recommendations in the tech sheets Polymer Varnish (UVLS) and MSA Varnish (UVLS). The video MSA Varnish Removal from a Smooth Surface also demonstrates the process. If the varnish pooled in the ‘valleys’ of the paint layer in your case, than the technique demonstrated in the video might leave you with a lot of residues in these deep pints of the impasto. You might need to go back with Q-tips or a cotton rag and focus on these areas. Feel free to reach out if you have more questions.

      Best,
      Mirjam

      Reply
  14. Hi Miriam,

    I have spray varnished a large acrylic with Schmincke Universal Satin-Matt. Is it alright to add a layer of Polyurethane Water Based Gloss Varnish over the top of that as I think I’d like a glossier finish.

    Sally

    Reply
    • Hello Sally,

      The Schmincke Universal Varnish is an acrylic varnish and in theory it should be fine to apply a polyurethane product on top of a dried acrylic layer. In practice however, we would not recommend using a polyurethane product as a picture varnish. Most polyurethanes become brittle over time and could crack on a flexible support. They also tend to yellow over time and are not easily removable. The best solution would be to use Schmincke Universal Varnish Gloss on top of your current varnish layer or at least another acrylic varnish, for best compatibility.

      Warm regards,
      Mirjam

      Reply

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