Varnishing Your Oil Painting - The Artists Guild Fine Art | Bright Light Fine Art

Varnishing Your Oil Painting

How do I preserve my painting from dust, grime, and the elements?

What are conservators’ struggles concerning old paintings?

This blog will not only describe different types of varnish and their benefits, but it will let you in on David Leffel’s method of varnishing a painting and what mediums other artists and conservators are using today.

In the video below I interview David Leffel about mastic varnish and when and how he uses it.

Mastic Varnish

Mastic Varnish is clearer than Damar and can be applied more easily. However, Damar tends to bloom (trap moisture and develop a chalky appearance on the painting) in humid climates, as well as yellow in a relatively short time. Conservators that David spoke with absolutely will not touch Damar varnish, preferring Mastic. If you paint with maroger (paint medium with Mastic crystals as one of the main ingredients), DO NOT varnish with Damar or use it as a retouch varnish as the two reticulate (repel one another). The best mastic varnish is made by

Retouch Varnish

Damar Varnish is the most popular of all varnishes and is used as a retouch, a mixing, and a picture varnish. David refutes the claim that it doesn’t bloom from personal experience. Damar tends to bloom (develop a chalky appearance by trapping moisture) and it yellows more quickly than most natural resins. Should you still choose to use Damar varnish, it can be readily purchased already prepared or you can prepare it according to the following recipe.

Copal Varnish

Copal Varnish and copal medium are becoming increasingly difficult to find because amber has become semiprecious and rare. It is being replaced by such synthetics as alkyds or unspecified tree-root resins.

Copal varnish makes an excellent isolating varnish when used in moderation, and a very hard-surface final varnish. However, copal varnish is more often produced as a convenient source of liquid copal for use in media than as a final protective varnish. Since it has been found that copal varnish darkens and often cracks with age, even without the driers that are commonly added, most recipes call for the use of stand oil or sun-thickened oil to reduce the risk of cracking. The following is a recipe for copal-oil varnish.


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