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Peanut Butter
04-17-2010, 03:13 PM
I know I read somewhere (I sure can't remember where) that varnishing a completed painting is completely optional. I noticed reading through everyone's threads that it's mentioned often that something isn't varnished yet, so it can still be changed. It got me wondering if I read it wrong when I read it was optional.

So, do you varnish your paintings? Why or why not? What happens to an unvarnished painting? Nothing? I haven't varnished (or used any other type of gloss or clear coat) on any painting I've ever done and I'm wondering if that was a mistake!

Thank you!!

Nilesh
04-17-2010, 04:24 PM
It's a big topic, and a lot can be said about it.

Basically, varnishing enriches the colors (they look more saturated after varnishing, or applying an isolation coat and then varnishing, which is the most secure way of doing it in the long run), and it allows the painting to be cleaned more easily. It also affects the surface sheen — gloss, semi-gloss, satin, matte — which can be controlled easily when varnishing, to get the desired finish. And varnish unifies the surface sheen, which can also be desirable in some cases.

It keeps dirt, dust, smoke, pollution, and other small particles from getting embedded in the pores of the paint (unprotected, dried acrylic paint layers are laced with a network of many small pores). The surface of the varnish is harder and less tacky or sticky, and these particles are not as likely to adhere. Unvarnished acrylics can actually engulf small particles, which makes them very difficult to remove (this may sound a bit strange at first, but it is true; you can confirm it by doing searches within the goldenpaints.com website).

Varnish makes cleaning much easier. Barclay Sheaks gives an account of a painting of his that clients bought for their home some thirty years before they donated it to a museum. Sheaks saw it and noticed that the colors didn't look as vibrant as he remembered. He offered to clean it, and they accepted his offer. He was amazed, when cleaning it, by the layers of sludge that came off. Candles, cigarettes, fireplaces, kitchens, ovens, burning toast, all kinds of things can contribute to this.

If the final varnish layer is removable, it can help in resolving this kind of situation. Sometimes the stains are difficult to remove, or cannot be removed. The entire varnish layer needs to be removed and replaced. That is what a removable varnish allows.

The dried surface of a removable solvent-based varnish is less porous, compared with the surface of bare acrylic paint, so the varnish doesn't get as dirty. It is smoother, so the dirt and dust and whatever else there might be slides off more easily. So in addition to attracting and holding less dirt, it is also easier to clean, and it can be removed if other ways of cleaning are not enough.

The dried surface of this type of varnish is harder, too, and protects the relatively soft surface of the acrylic paint from physical damage and abrasion.

There is more.

Einion
04-19-2010, 11:17 AM
I know I read somewhere (I sure can't remember where) that varnishing a completed painting is completely optional.
Yep, it is completely optional - there is no Art Police enforcing standards that are not your own :)

The decision for various people is made by different concerns. Some people prefer the look of their paintings exactly as they are when they're done painting and since varnishing changes this, even if only slightly, they don't varnish as a result. For others they want the protection that varnishing provides and/or the unification of surface gloss so the decision is made for them - they have to varnish for one or both of these reasons. And of course some people don't varnish because they don't believe it's necessary.

What happens to an unvarnished painting? Nothing? I haven't varnished (or used any other type of gloss or clear coat) on any painting I've ever done and I'm wondering if that was a mistake!
It's a mistake from a given perspective. It makes cleaning in due course - when this becomes necessary rather than if, for anything hung in an unglazed frame - much easier and sometimes it simply makes the difference between it being possible and not. This is not just a factor with acrylics, but acrylic paint specifically is prone to damage from dust because it is relatively soft at normal room temperatures and it can actually incorporate airborne particles into its surface; easy to imagine how difficult this would make removal without risk to the painting's surface.

I've long recommend varnishing acrylic paintings for anyone who hangs in unglazed frames (or unframed) if they care about the long-term condition of their work. The best varnish for this purpose is the spirit-soluble type, since they remain easily soluble over time in a solvent of a very different type to those that soften or dissolve acrylic polymers.

BTW about the effect on colour: varnishing only increases depth when it's semi-gloss or gloss (and if the paint was already glossy the effect might be minimal). Matt varnishes actually do the reverse as a rule, generally compressing tonal range and having an overall 'flattening' effect.

Einion

Just Ami
04-19-2010, 01:34 PM
I'm stilly kind of new to painting, and I've been trying to figure out the same questions as the original poster! :)

I wasn't really sure what it was at all really. Thanks for the helpful info guys.

Does anyone have a certain brand they would recommend to people just starting to use varnish?

Peanut Butter
04-19-2010, 03:29 PM
Thank you Nilesh and Einion for your answers and such great information! I have a few abstracts hanging around my house and I think I'll go ahead and put a coat of varnish on those since they are on display. It's a bit dismaying, however, that the varnish will change the colors on the painting somewhat. I'll have to experiment with it all and see what happens. A lot of my more recent work is done on paper, not canvas, and those can be framed under glass for display and not need a coat of varnish because they will be protected.

Einion
04-19-2010, 05:51 PM
I have a few abstracts hanging around my house and I think I'll go ahead and put a coat of varnish on those since they are on display. It's a bit dismaying, however, that the varnish will change the colors on the painting somewhat.
Two things about that: first, many times the change in colours is considered advantageous, plus if your paint is of a similar finish to the varnish you end up using the effect is minimal - once the varnish layer is dry you might have difficulty in remembering what it looked like previously :)

A lot of my more recent work is done on paper, not canvas, and those can be framed under glass for display and not need a coat of varnish because they will be protected.
http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/20-Aug-2003/3842-thumbsup.gif


Does anyone have a certain brand they would recommend to people just starting to use varnish?
In the US the two spirit-soluble varnishes made specifically for acrylics that are most widely available are Soluvar from Liquitex and MSA varnish from Golden.

There are a number of varnishes made for oil painting too that are the same type or similar that you can use if necessary. Just look on the label for something like "Can be removed with mineral spirits."

Einion

Nilesh
04-20-2010, 05:13 PM
I have a few abstracts hanging around my house and I think I'll go ahead and put a coat of varnish on those since they are on display. It's a bit dismaying, however, that the varnish will change the colors on the painting somewhat. I'll have to experiment with it all and see what happens. A lot of my more recent work is done on paper, not canvas, and those can be framed under glass for display and not need a coat of varnish because they will be protected.


It's a bit dismaying, however, that the varnish will change the colors on the painting...

There are some solutions to this. If you have some of the same paints (same colors and brand or brands) that were used for the painting, you could try painting some samples (on a similar surface to the paintings', preferably), and then varnishing them with different varnishes, to see how the colors are affected.

Matte varnishes are not all the same, and can have different effects.

Thick layers of matte varnishes will often introduce some cloudiness. If you want to avoid this, but still want to achieve a matte surface finish, you can use gloss varnish for the first layer or layers, and finish with a thin layer (or layers) of matte varnish.

Also, it is considered best to coat the painting first with an isolation coat of clear acrylic medium, and then varnish over that with a removable varnish.

Gamvar (made by Robert Gamblin) is another excellent removable varnish.

Experimenting with some test samples would probably be a good approach, if you want to see in advance what the effects are on the colors. Sometimes the effects are fairly dramatic. On the other hand, you might like the changes.

***
Also, you're very welcome — glad to hear some of the information was helpful.

***
Lascaux has a spray fixative that could also be used. People who have tried it, and compared it with other products, say that there is hardly any discernible color change with it, unlike the other products they have tried.

Peanut Butter
04-20-2010, 08:48 PM
I happen to have a can of Lascaux that I use on my colored pencil pieces. I don't know why I didn't think to use it on the acrylics, but I think that's what I'll try. I'll probably get some Soluvar as well.

Again, thank you both for the great information.:clap: I am going to print this thread and file it away for future reference!:wave:

JamieWG
04-20-2010, 11:06 PM
Don't skip the isolation coat(s)! It is so important to a really good varnish job. There are some great videos on the Golden website showing how to apply an isolation coat and varnish. They are here: http://www.goldenpaints.com/VIDEO/library.php?G=VARNISH

Jamie

Kathryn Wilson
04-25-2010, 12:14 PM
I just finished my first acrylic painting and want to photograph it, but the photos keep showing a blue haze which I think is due to glare.

What do you all do, matt varnish to eliminate this problem? I just read that the matt varnish will flatten the colors, so not sure I want to do that either.

fowles
04-25-2010, 12:43 PM
Great info.

M Douglas
04-25-2010, 01:22 PM
Kathryn i've found that if I take my pictures outside on an overcast day I get the best results, you don't want to varnish first, although you can take pictures with the painting varnished its much more difficult controlling any glare. Oh and no flash!

Melodie

Kathryn Wilson
04-25-2010, 03:00 PM
Thanks Melodie - I did that very thing as it was overcast today and the photo turned out well.

Einion
04-26-2010, 05:04 PM
I just finished my first acrylic painting and want to photograph it, but the photos keep showing a blue haze which I think is due to glare.
Other than waiting for an overcast sky (which I like to photograph under too) there are a couple of simple methods to cutting out or avoiding glare.

If your camera will accept additional filters then consider getting a polarising filter, which is designed to reduce/eliminate reflections (they also cut down on haze, which makes for very dramatic landscape photos if that's of interest).

In the absence of a polarising filter you could try taking the shot from off to one side, wherever the glare isn't reflecting, and then correcting the photo back to rectangular using Photoshop or similar.

I just read that the matt varnish will flatten the colors, so not sure I want to do that either.
Matt varnish will tend to reduce the tonal range, depending on the finish of your acrylic paints, by lightening the midtones and the darks a fair bit (if they are reasonably glossy beforehand). It won't affect the light values much or at all.

Einion

Nonno
04-27-2010, 04:29 AM
I've come across 'varnishes' which change colour as they age, turning a yellowish brown over a period of about 5 years. If used over a painting, it would be ruined.
Can those who advocate varnishing paintings assure me that this won't happen with varnishes currently in use?

Jonathan.

Einion
04-27-2010, 08:59 AM
Depends on the varnish of course, plus conditions*. The ones usually recommended in the forum are of a type that should not discolour in the short term (five years is really very swift for a varnish to yellow).

*Even a varnish layer that hasn't discoloured itself can be discoloured if something settles on the surface (e.g tobacco smoke) and this is the reason for one of the desirable attributes of a final varnish, removability.

Einion

Kathryn Wilson
04-27-2010, 04:41 PM
Other than waiting for an overcast sky (which I like to photograph under too) there are a couple of simple methods to cutting out or avoiding glare.


Thanks Einion - that worked.

I just got on to Blick's website and looked for the clear coat it is stated above that needs to be put on before varnishing - but I'm still unclear as to what that is. There are so many brands and so many mediums, it truly is confusing!

Any help would be appreciated. :thumbsup:

eeeeek! I just watched the video on applying a clear coat and it looks like it lightens the painting. Maybe that's just light refraction??

Einion
04-30-2010, 03:01 PM
Kathryn, the isolation coat isn't absolutely necessary, just advised to help separate the varnish layer from the paint surface (largely to reduce the risk to the paint from friction when the varnish is cleaned off many years down the line).

In general it'll be a gloss medium of some kind; Liquitex and Golden both recommend something from their own lines for this purpose.

Einion

Foxyheart2002
04-30-2010, 03:32 PM
Yes, the varnish can make the colors richer. However, every bit of dust in the air seems to migrate to the new varnish before it is dry. arghhh....

I was at an arts festival this past 2 weeks where I could stare at all my works all day long and one of my paintings looks great varnished. However, I think it needs some work on the horse's eyes as they looked 'dead'. But since I have already varnished it, there is no correcting it like I could have done if it were not varnished. So if you are one that always thinks it needs tweaking, do not varnish or you will not be happy a little later down the road when you figure out something needs to be redone.

timelady
04-30-2010, 06:52 PM
I've come across 'varnishes' which change colour as they age, turning a yellowish brown over a period of about 5 years. If used over a painting, it would be ruined.
Can those who advocate varnishing paintings assure me that this won't happen with varnishes currently in use?

Jonathan.

actually, as Einion said a proper quality varnish should not do this. I rarely hear of this problem any more. Also, the painting wouldn't be ruined - in fact if you use a conservation grade varnish (the spirits solvent varnishes) that's exactly the benefit. The varnish can be removed for whatever reason. I have and do unvarnish my paintings reasonably often - either because of errors in the varnish application meaning I need to start over, or a painting being damaged and needing repair (which, by the way, in almost every case the varnish has taken the brunt of the damage - so often the painting is fine underneath and just needs minor retouches and revarnishing).

Tina.