Instant Relics

Q. I have several oil paintings that I’d like to give an aged look to by making them appear cracked, worn, stained, etc. Can you recommend a reliable aging procedure?
Sharon Dion
Corona Del Mar, CA

A. There are several ways you can age your art. First, you could simply put the paintings outside, exposed to the weather. In about a year (or possibly sooner, depending on the severity of storms, sunlight, wind, airborne pollutants, etc.) the paintings will be a wreck: oxidized, cracked, warped, stained, and just about ruined.

Second, you could try coating the paintings with a cheap, solvent-based poly-urethane varnish, slightly thinned with mineral spirits. Then put the paintings in full sunlight outside. The varnish should yellow and crack within months.

Finally, you may want to ask art supply manufacturers or retailers about any possible aging concoctions they offer. Pebeo (800/363-5012;, for instance, recommends applying its Patina Varnish to a dry oil painting and then, once that dries, applying Crackling Varnish, which leaves fine cracks on the surface. You can then wipe on burnt umber or a similar color to heighten the discolored effect, but you’ll still need to protect the work with a traditional solvent-based varnish.

You’ll have to do some tests to see if you’ll be getting the effect you want with any of these methods, and if you want your paintings to last I’d be cautious in this area. Most of your results won’t be instantaneous, either, so even though you won’t have to wait for nature to take its course, you still might have to be a little patient.

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