So, you’ve finished your first painting. Now what? Well, if it’s an oil painting…you wait. You can’t do anything with it until it dries. It should take a few days to a couple of weeks to be dry to the touch. That doesn’t mean it’s really dry however. There are impressionist paintings in museums over a century old that are still wet under the skin. That shouldn’t be a problem for you unless you painted your picture in a heavy impasto technique. Still, it will likely take at least 6 months to a year for your painting to dry all the way through.
“How do you protect it until then?” you might ask. Spray a light coat of Retouch Varnish on your painting. There are several good ones on the market. Just follow the instructions on the can. This will protect the artwork while still allowing it to breathe enough to continue the curing process. Your painting will look better in the mean time as the surface will appear more uniform. Your colors will be deeper and brighter just like when they were wet. After about a year or so you can seal your painting with Damar Varnish. This is available in both spray and brush-on formula in either gloss or matte finish. Read the label and follow the instructions carefully. Before you start, dust your painting with a clean dry lint-free cloth. If it needs more cleaning than that get in touch with me for more details. If you are using spray varnish, hold the spray can out far enough away from the painting to spray lightly. Keep it moving. It’s much better to apply several diffuse coats than to risk runs. If you decide to use a brush-on varnish use a large, flat, good quality brush with fine, split hairs at the tip. You don’t want your brushstrokes to show. I have some very nice house painting brushes I use for this but sable or synthetic art brushes will do just fine. Your brush should be one to two inches wide. Do not shake or stir your varnish. That will only create bubbles. Lay your canvas flat on a table to work. You’ll want to brush slowly, as quick strokes leave bubbles in the surface. Let the picture dry thoroughly before brushing on a second coat.
Now if you paint in acrylics, varnishing is a bit easier. At the very least you can get it done soon after you finish your painting. Wait a week or three then apply 2 coats of Acrylic Varnish in your choice of matte, satin or gloss. Personally I prefer a gloss finish. Again Read the label and follow the instructions! I’m just filling in the details here. The same warnings I gave you about bubbles in varnishing oils, apply here as well. Use a good brush, don’t shake, and brush slowly. I like to start at one corner and work from side to side using X strokes to avoid obvious brushstroke patterns. When the first coat dries I give the painting a second coat. It is vital that you work slowly to prevent tiny bubbles that make the surface appear milky when dry. Also it’s best to use only two coats because the finish is not perfectly transparent. Too many coats will dull your colors and look like a haze on your painting.
That just about covers the subject of varnishing. I’ll discuss framing and displaying your work in a future article. Until then, Happy Painting and see you in class!