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To Varnish or Not to Varnish?

Here is a video that I found on oiling out. I have not been varnishing but I think I will start trying to oil out paintings that are dry to the touch

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I have always been interested in giving my work as much longevity as possible. I am in the 6 - 12 month school. I like to varnish. Gloss does not bother me. It’s the same difference of a glossy vs matte photo. Oil paint when first applied has a gloss wet intensity that fades over the drying/oxidation time. It becomes dull to me in contrast to the wet paint. I like the wet paint look for the clarity it has, the depth and contrasts that seem to diminish after drying and are revitalized upon varnishing. I stopped using damar some time ago for the yellowing issues.
I sometimes wish more conservators were in these discussions to help educate. Where are conservators forums? I’d really like that.
Interesting, the oiling out thought.

Oiling out is what I do. Works well. I use Galkyd and Gamsol 1:1. Just as an FYI, I don’t do a final varnish on oils because the paintings are usually sold within a year. I always inform the buyer that the painting has not been varnished and explain their options should they wish to have the painting varnished in the future.

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How long do you allow the painting to dry before you do the Gamsol/galkyd oiling out? I’m nervous to try it because of the gamsol, thinking it would remove some of my paint layers?

You can do it when it’s dry to the touch. But I usually give it an extra couple of weeks. I live in a very low humidity area, though, and I think makes a big difference.

Thank you all. I think oiling out seems to be a perfect solution as well as sending out instructtions to the buyer on what to do after a few months when the painting is completely dry.

I have also been using a retouch varnish.

I use W & N Retouching Varnish. It is a temporary protection for recently finished paintings but you don’t have to wait 6 months to a year. It seems to work fine and doesn’t have that much of shine.

After recently removing varnish from three large paintings, this topic is very timely. What I have learned is that varnishing is a science. We may have been taught to paint, but I doubt there are classes on varnishing. There is much more to learn than what you read on the can of whatever product you use. For acrylic paintings, you must add an isolation coat before applying varnish. I strongly suggest contacting the paint and varnish manufacturers Product Support representative. I was very impressed with Gamvar’s and Golden’s representatives, both extremely knowledgeable. Good luck and happy painting to all.

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I tried gamvar satin and it left a horrible haze over the painting i had to remove it. I thought i might have done somthing wrong so I tried again with different brush and samething happened. I tried dorlands wax and thought it worked great a soft glow thats kind of nice. I just cant find any info on if its removable. Does anyone know?

I do varnish my oil paintings. One unvarnished painting I bought on DPW arrived slightly scratched by a tiny sliver of cardboard that was sandwiched between the painting the packaging. It doesn’t take much to damage an unvarnished painting.

Really, varnishing is no extra effort in comparison with the time it takes to actually the paint the piece or even the time it takes to package the painting up for shipping. With a little practice it is very quick to do. I varnish 3 or paintings or so at once. Also, a lot of buyers probably would not have the confidence to varnish the painting themselves.

I recommend this podcast: - an interview with Robert Gamblin, founder of Gamblin paints. The whole interview is fascinating, but if you skip to 1 hour 14 minutes, he talks a little bit about varnishing.
Understanding oil paints with Robert Gamblin.

I use Gamvar original gloss and apply a thin, even coat using a Princeton #10 flat brush. I keep that brush separate, labelled ‘VARNISH ONLY’ and then clean it with OMS. I’ve found that it is important to leave the painting completely flat (horizontal) for at least the first 12 hours to ensure an even finish.

Joe, I agree, I’m not impressed with the new satin version of Gamvar at all. I tested it on an old painting and found it left visible brush marks. I haven’t found that problem with the original clear gloss Gamvar.


I agree with Jacqueline Davis on the satin Gamvar varnish and I used the spray. It did not even out the dull and shiny areas of my painting after several light coats and was very very matt to say the least.

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I’ll have to try Gamvar gloss. I just tried WN artist gloss varnish it worked good. After varnishing a couple I dont think I’ll ever not varnish it really brings the painting back to life. I realized that I have probably painted over many paintings that looked dull and colorless when all they probably needed was a coat of varnish.

I also discovered the same early on and cannot wait till it’s time to varnish. :grinning:

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Me too! I have a customer who never wants me to varnish before I ship. I then miss the painting coming back to life…just as it was when it was wet.

Interesting! I think I will try this also.