You may or may not know that after creating an oil painting, you must varnish it. In his book Making Art, which covers a variety of media for those who want to expand their knowledge, Ed Brickler explains the reason for varnishing, the two types of varnishes, and shares which type he prefers.
Making Art: Oils, by Ed Brickler
It’s necessary to varnish an oil painting in order to protect the paint film. Since resin is the essential ingredient of a varnish, it’s more convenient to purchase a varnish than to make your own. There are traditional varnishes made with traditional resins, the most common of which is damar. There are also modern varnishes made with modern resins.
Modern varnishes are also called picture varnishes, but there are many proprietary names when it comes to varnishes. The best way to distinguish between traditional and modern formulas is to check the label. If mineral spirits or petroleum distillate are listed in the ingredients, then it’s a modern or picture varnish. I prefer modern varnishes because they don’t yellow or become brittle, and they’re removable with mineral spirits.
The first varnish that should be applied to an oil painting is the retouch varnish. Retouch is a traditional varnish that has a lot of solvent and a little bit of damar resin. It’s applied as soon as the oil color is dry to the touch. It’s meant to protect the painting and bring all the colors up to an even sheen. Retouch varnish can also be used between the layers of a painting.
After six to twelve months, depending on the thickness of the paint film, a final varnish will need to be applied. A final varnish is also a mixture of a resin diluted in a solvent, but it’s much more concentrated than a retouch varnish.
Best Practices for Varnishing (Click here to tweet these tips.)
• When using any type of matte varnish, make sure the varnish is at room temperature. Otherwise it could bloom, causing shiny and dull spots on your painting.
• Varnishes are also available in spray form. When using a spray varnish, lay the painting flat in a dust-free and well-ventilated area. To prevent puddles and runs, apply a light coat in one direction. Let that dry and then apply another light coat in the other direction.
• A final varnish should always be removable so that a painting can be cleaned or restored later on.
After years of conducting countless lectures and demonstrations on art supplies and methods for various mediums, it’s my opinion that an artist who has a general knowledge about all art materials and techniques is more proficient in creating art. Understanding benefits as well as limitations of specific materials and tools of the trade is the starting point of the creative process. If we understand the limitations of the materials, we will know how far we can push them in our creative processes. After all, we are artists–bending and breaking the rules is a form of creative expression. ~EB
The “oils” chapter of Making Art includes several demonstrations; actually, each chapter, whether it’s about acrylic, pastel or watercolor, comes with a variety of instructional step-by-steps. As a special bonus, North Light Shop is offering a “Making Art” kit, which includes this title along with paint, drawing tools, and paper so that you’ll have some supplies to jump right in with. You can only find this kit at North Light Shop, and there’s a limited number available. And, in case you missed it, here’s a free demonstration from the book on how to use masking in a watercolor painting. Have fun!