To varnish or not to varnish

Confession time: I have never varnished any of my oil paintings before. I simply could not hang on to a painting for six plus months and then varnish it, but this all changed now.

I have been doing a lot of research on varnishing oil paintings. The main thing about oils, it takes a very long time to dry. Even though it feels dry to the touch it simply isn’t dry. It takes an average oil painting six months or longer to dry completely. This would also depends on the thickness of the paint.

I came across several video demonstrations and artists using Gamvar varnish. It is varnish made by Gamblin. You can check out their website HERE for all the necessary information on their varnishes. Gamvar comes in three types – gloss, matt and satin. The great thing about it is you can varnish your oil paintings as soon as it is dry to the touch and the highest oil areas no longer push in when pressing your finger against it. It is odorless and a little goes a very long way. It can easily be removed by using Gamsol, also made by Gamblin.

I opted to purchase the gloss varnish. As I use linseed oil and only recently started using Liquin it does leave a little shine. So when using the gloss varnish it gives the entire painting a nice gloss finish, but it is not super glossy and that I love.

I varnished several of my own old paintings, some I have done more recently and some several years ago. I am using the Koi Fish painting for my demonstration here. I used a very thin layer of Gamvar to coat the painting. I don’t have a special varnish brush, I used a large flat soft brush and applied it evenly all over the painting. I wiped the brush from side to side over the canvas and continuously checking against the sun if I missed any areas. Once completed I washed out the brush with soap and water. 

So why even bother to varnish? The short answer would be to protect the artwork. I have heard of artworks that were completely unharmed from a fire’s smoke and where unvarnished items had to be thrown out due to the damage. It is also to even out any shine left from the oil painting medium.

I am happy with the result I got on the Koi Fish painting. Besides the little shine the varnish left the colors seems much more saturated. Therefore making a dull painting look alive. In the photo above note the difference between the varnished and the unvarnished section. All the colors is so much more vibrant.

In the photo below you can see the gloss at the top part compared to the bottom. This photo was taken at an angle with sunlight reflected on the painting.

I managed to find Gamvar in South Africa from The Italian Art Shop. They courier country wide. The service was very fast without any hassles or delays. You can check out their online store HERE. If you are from another country check out your local art store or on Amazon. Gamvar can also be used on Acrylic paintings.

The painting of the Koi fish is a class painting presented by Nolan Clark from The Paint Basket Art Lessons. If you also wish to follow along real time and paint this painting, check out the class HERE. In the class only two Koi fish were painted, I however opted to add one more. Even though this class was presented in oils, it can easily be followed along in Acrylic.

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