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Why should you varnish your acrylic painting?

Tips and Ideas

A reminder on varnishing acrylic paintings
While most artists know that varnishing is important, this important habit is frequently lost as their practice develops. Confusion starts because there are many varnishes to choose from and as work becomes more valuable, artists worry that they may damage their painting if the varnish is not applied properly. Eventually, they start to question whether varnishing is really needed at all.

The simple answer is yes. Varnishing protects a painting. However, it also allows you to create a uniform gloss or matte level across the whole painting and also ‘lift’ the colour to enhance the picture and increase depth of colour.



Why should you varnish your acrylic painting?
The important function of a varnish is to protect the painting. A successful picture is likely to be hung for a long time. Everyday dust and grime will settle on the surface just as it does on furniture in your lounge. If a painting is left unprotected, this dirt will embed itself into the picture surface, dulling the colour and obscuring details. Dust is abrasive and can cause damage to paintings and once settled can adhere to acrylic surfaces, making it impossible to clean a picture without removing some of the painting surface. If the painting is varnished then this grime adheres to the varnish and once the picture is too dirty to be seen clearly, the varnish can be removed and replaced, leaving the picture as good as new.

As well as protect from dust, dirt and abrasion, varnishing has other benefits; it helps to enhance colour depth and unify sheen and also solves the issue of any residual surface tackiness that can occur with acrylic paintings.

Other varnishing facts:
•    Varnishes are suitable for oils and acrylics because these paint films are relatively thick and separate from their supports. Gouache, watercolour and drawings should not be varnished because the varnish will be deeply absorbed by the paint and/or paper, becoming an integral part of the picture. When it discolours it will not be able to be removed.
•    Although colour depth is enhanced by varnishing – In oil painting, this must not be confused with dullness from underbound paintings- if your oil painting is really dull, where the colour seems to have ‘sunk' as it dries, then your ground is too absorbent (or you have over thinned with solvent). Don't varnish until you have ‘oiled out'  - this involves replacing the oil which has sunk into the surface. Do not leave excess oil on the surface and repeat if necessary until the surface has an even sheen. Once dry, it will be ready to varnish

Sometimes artists varnish to help stabilise surfaces with added texture or damaged layers. The varnish will help here but it won't be removable without damaging the work. If you have pictures like this, keep the varnished work behind glass to keep it clean and think about how to improve your technique for the future.


What Varnish should you choose?

Archival, Permanent Varnishes (non removable)
Available in 118ml, 237ml, 473ml, 946ml, 3.78L and400ml (aerosols), these varnishes cannot be removed from the canvas once applied. They are water-based, low-odor and offer excellent levelling properties to ensure that you achieve a consistent sheen across your painting.

Archival Removable Varnishes
Available in 237ml, 946ml and 295g (aerosol), these varnishes can be removed with mineral spirits or turpentine. They can be used on acrylic or oil paintings and also contain UV light stabilisers. As with the non-removable varnishes, they have excellent levelling properties for a consistent surface sheen and are non-yellowing.

How to Varnish your acrylic painting
1. You must wait until your painting is properly dry. If you varnish too early you may disturb the paint surface. If the varnish is absorbed into the painting making it would make your painting removable or the varnish may crack.
2.  Modern varnishes are not as sensitive to atmospheric humidity as they used to be but it is still sensible to avoid varnishing in damp conditions. Is this relevant?
4. It is particularly important to choose a dust free area, keep the windows and doors closed so dust doesn't settle in the wet resin.
5. Ensure the varnish is stirred well, particularly matt ones.
6. Choose a wide soft brush.
7. Pour the varnish into a clean flat saucer or tin and load your brush. Wipe it on the side of the saucer so it is not dripping.
8. Lay the picture flat or slightly inclined. Draw the brush lightly over the picture horizontally at 45° degrees. Do not brush back over unless more varnish is needed to cover. Continue to work down the picture until it is completely coated.
9. Leave to dry 24 hours and if a second coat is required, apply at right angles to the first.

Take care once you have varnished, picture varnishes are soft so do not lean varnished paintings together or they will stick. Similarly, do not wrap varnished paintings in bubble wrap or pick them up with your fingers on the varnish or you will get impressions showing in the varnish.

Finally, you should avoid hanging pictures in bathrooms or kitchens, above radiators or open fires as they will certainly get dirty very, very quickly.





June 01, 2013 < Back To News

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