Welcome to Masterclass

Learning tools for artists

Varnishing Your Painting

Varnishing oil paintings protects them from dust and pollution but it can only be done after you wait at least 6 months. To test if your painting is ready to varnish, gently rub a cotton bud dipped in Sansodor on a discreet area of your painting. If no colour is disturbed, your painting is ready to varnish. Begin by wiping the surface with a lint-free cloth to remove any dust. The best brush to use is a wide, soft brush to avoid streaks. Dip the brush in your varnish and use smooth strokes in one direction until the painting is covered, then turn the painting 90 degrees and use the same long smooth brush strokes across the first, wet layer to further smooth the surface. Only apply one layer of varnish like this or the result will be patchy. Another thing to keep in mind is the sort of finish you would like in the end, there are gloss, satin and matt varnishes. Choose the one that suits your work best, considering whether you would like a reflective surface (gloss) or one that absorbs a bit of light (satin) or a very flat, light absorbing finish (matt). All of the varnishes are also available in a spray formulation if you prefer that manner of application.

Video Transcript
0:10    Hi There. I'd like to talk to you about varnishing oil paintings. Varnishing will protect your paintings from dust and pollution and can improve their appearance. You should wait at least 6 months before varnishing the painting, regardless of what medium you've added to your oil paint. You can test whether the painting is ready, by rubbing a cotton bud moistened with Sansodor against a discreet area of the painting. If no colour is transferred, it is safe to varnish the painting.

0:40    Before varnishing, you should gently wipe the paintings surface to remove dust. This microfibre cloth will remove but not create dust. This varnish brush is perfect for the job. I'm using this bowl as it is wider than my brush. I'm applying the varnish smoothly and in one direction until the painting is coated. Now I'm laying off the stroke to ensure an even coating. Apply just one layer of varnish, otherwise the result will be very patchy.

1:44    Look at the improvement in saturation by using gloss varnish. Satin Varnish has slightly matted the surface on this panel where the use of a resinous medium, such as Liquin, has created a higher gloss than wanted. Matte Varnish has made this surface easier to read, by completely taking away the high-gloss. Make sure that Matte and Satin Varnishes are thoroughly stirred to disperse the matting agent, otherwise you'll end up with a glossy surface. Matte and Satin varnishes tend to take a while to dry down to a matted surface so don't panic.

2:30    So, you can protect and enhance the look of your paintings and choose the level of sheen. If you're not confident about your brushwork there are spray versions available of all the varnishes that I've shown you. I hope this has helped you understand varnishing.