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How To Varnish An Oil Painting

brush varnish down the painting
brush varnish down the painting

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Varnish on your oil painting protects it from dirt and dust and also evens out the painting’s final appearance, making it all equally glossy or matt. Here are the steps I use when I varnish an oil painting.

What should I use to varnish my oil paintings?

There are two alternatives for varnishing your oil painting:

  • pre-mixed varnish from an art supplier.
    Be careful with some varnishes that have a high degree of gloss. This can be a problem under gallery lighting.
  • my preference, a mix of
    – 50% dammar varnish and
    – 50% turpentine

The steps to follow to varnish an oil painting

  1. With a 2 in. (5 cm) household painting brush, apply one thin coat of varnish.
  2. Apply the varnish in long vertical strokes running from the top to the bottom of the painting. This reduces reflection from the varnish (which would be more prominent with horizontal strokes).
brush varnish down the painting

Tips for varnishing oil paintings

  • Take a photograph before you varnish it or you may see glare on the photograph.
  • Varnish the painting after six weeks for a thinly painted work, or after one year for a thickly painted work.
  • If you cannot wait, varnish it within a few weeks after painting it but after it is dry to the touch. If you varnish the painting while it is still fairly wet, the varnish will bond to the top layer of paint and will not crack. If you varnish while the painting is semi-dry, the varnish is prone to cracking. The potential cracking problem is much more serious for impasto (thick paint) paintings than it is for those painted thinly.
  • Avoid varnishing on a damp or rainy day.

Video from Winsor & Newton on applying their varnish

Here is a good video on the process of how to varnish an oil painting from the Winsor & Newton company.

If you are wondering why you need to apply varnish, see 5 Reasons Why You Need To Varnish Your Oil Paintings.

Thank You

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to share it with friends. If you are interested in a structured approach for learning how to paint, take a look at my online painting classes.

Happy painting!

Barry John Raybould
Virtual Art Academy

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