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painting the figure


module 2: Properties of oil paint.


Why Varnish?

Varnishes protect the painting from the environment. They are meant to be eventually removed from the painting for cleaning purposes. Think of it as almost like a liquid “Saran Wrap” in that it can be removed, and adds a layer of gloss to the painting. The added benefit of a varnish is to give the painting a more even surface.

Varnishing Do's And Don'ts



  • DO: Wait until the top layer is oxidized before adding the varnish to it, otherwise you risk damaging the top layer of the paint. This typically takes about 6 months.

There are some modern synthetic varnishes that let you apply them only weeks after the painting is touch-dry. This is because these varnishes let the paint film “breathe” (let the oxidation process happen beneath the protective layer). Examples are Gamvar and CPC. Consult the manufacturers for more specific info when it comes to proper application.

  • DO: Experiment with different types of varnishes. What type of surface do you like your paintings to have? A highly glossy surface? A matte surface? Somewhere in the middle? Personally I prefer somewhere in the middle. There are different varnishes that can achieve different surface looks. I would encourage you to find more information online to research what you may like to learn about it.

  • DON’T: Apply too much varnish! It’s unnecessary and can adversely affect the final look of the painting by putting too thick of a layer between your eye and the true surface of the painting.

  • DON’T: Hope that varnish will fix all of your uneven surface problems. It’s much better to follow good painting procedure to get the painting to look as good as possible even without varnish.

  • DON’T DON’T DON’T!: Confuse ‘medium’ with ‘varnish!!!’ Some people think rubbing/brushing a layer of oil is the same as applying a layer of varnish. This could not be further from the truth. Putting a layer of oil that will eventually yellow and become impossible to remove(because it will bond to the paint surface), attract dirt/dust/lint which will darken over time is one of the worst possible things you can do to a painting. Layers of oil are meant to bond to each other. It’s like adding glue to a layer of glue and expecting to be able to take off that layer later.