FINISHING, VARNISHING AND
PRESERVING YOUR PAINTINGS
Once all the hard work is finished, we
can sit back and admire what we have created, but if we want our
painting to last so others can enjoy it, some form of final protection
is always necessary. We are going to examine the various ways of
permanently and safely protecting your work. Apart from preserving your
work, glazing or varnishing will also give a professional, finished appearance
to your paintings.
WHY DO PAINTINGS NEED PROTECTING?
From the day you finish your painting it will slowly start to deteriorate.
The paint will begin to oxidize, the colors will gradually fade and over
time the surface will build up a layer of grime that will eventually
dull the image.
This all sounds very depressing, but to
lessen the effect of this deterioration there are many things we can do.
For works on paper, proper archival framing is the best protection.
Matts, backing boards and tapes should all be neutral pH and the
painting should be sealed into the frame with tape. Over the last few
years much better non-reflective glass has been developed. The
latest non-reflective glass is barely visible, unlike the earlier
product that looked more like a shower screen than protection for a work
of art. The downside is that the best quality non-reflective glass is
Packing out the matt board
allows any loose pastel or charcoal to settle, out of view, into the gap between the
matt and painting. This looks much better than having it trapped between
the matt and glass.
For mixed media or pastel works,
face your painting or drawing towards the floor and tap
it on the back to remove any loose particles before
lightly spraying with fixative.
Pastels, charcoal, and many mixed
media works should be lightly sprayed with a fixative before being
framed under glass. The fixative bonds the surface particles and stops
them falling and settling on the bottom edge of the matt. If you use a
workable fixative it can be applied several times during the course of
the painting or drawing, protecting it from marks or smudges.
Fixative is available in spray cans or bottles. If you are doing a lot
of work requiring fixative, Bottled fixative and a blow spray are much
cheaper than aerosol cans.
Retouch varnish is not intended as a final protective coating, but is
used to hold oil paint at the same gloss and color intensity as wet
paint. It helps in color matching and aids in the adhesion of subsequent
layers of paint.
Damar varnish is a final painting varnish made from tree resins. It
tends to yellow with time and has been superseded as a final varnish by
the varnishes below. It's main use now is as an additive for
Wax varnish is a matt varnish
based on purified beeswax. It can be applied to Oil or Acrylic paintings
and is removable with mineral turps. The varnish has a waxy consistency
and is rubbed on, then buffed to the required sheen with a clean cloth.
Beeswax based varnish is extremely stable and non yellowing. I also like
to use bees wax varnish on large watercolor paintings to
avoid using glass or acrylic glazing. The wax
permanently penetrates the paper surface, deepening dark
tones and enhancing colors
Matt wax varnish has a
pasty consistency and can be applied with fingers or a stiff brush. Once
the varnish has been completely rubbed over the surface, it can be
polished to the desired sheen with a lint free cloth.
The effect of Matt wax varnish can be seen in this section of a mixed
media work on paper. Varnish has been applied to the left side of the vertical
line through the circle. You can see how the varnish makes colors richer
and dark tones deeper.
The Beeswax varnish (Matt Wax Varnish) I use is made by
Art Spectrum here in Australia. It is simply bees wax
and gum turpentine as far as I can gather, speaking to
the chemist at Art Spectrum. Winsor and Newton also
produce a similar product.
I have used
several mounting methods. Smaller work (up to full sheet
size) I have mounted to neutral pH foamcore using a heat
sensitive adhesive sheet. This is an archival method and
the adhesive can be released in a heat press. The
downside is the cost and the fact that a framer with a
vacuum heat press is required. I have mounted larger
(4'x6') paintings on a 4mm ply backing braced with pine
and coated with several coats of gesso. These are fixed
down with matt acrylic varnish (or you can use neutral
pH PVA glue). The most difficult part of this process is
getting the painting good and flat before mounting. To
do this I clean the studio floor, lay the painting face
down and spray the back with water. after a few minutes
I then tape the painting to the floor with gummed paper
tape. The painting is left to dry and shrink tight. I
then cut the tape to release the painting. I have also
discovered it is easier to leave a couple of inches
around the outside of the painting to allow the gummed
tape to be cut off rather than the time consuming sob of
soaking and peeling it off.
watercolor I tried the wax varnish on was left out in
the open for 12 months (I forgot about it!) The
difference in the waxed half and the untouched half was
amazing - most of the untouched painting was washed out
and faded but the waxed half was still in good
condition. I have a couple of paintings here mounted on
ply and waxed. They are about 15 years old and are still
as they were when they were mounted.
I find it a
great way to get around the problem of glass,
particularly on large paintings. The braced ply can be
finished like a stretched canvas and left unframed or
framed like an oil or acrylic. Do some experimenting
though. If you use pastel or gouache on your paintings,
the wax can change the tone of some of the colors. It
will also intensify the colors. I spray a fixative on my
work before waxing. I use a lot of charcoal pencil and
it will smear if not fixed.
Remember, once the wax varnish is applied, the painting
is completely sealed and can no longer be worked on.
Paraloid varnish is a non - yellowing, turps based varnish suitable as a
final varnish over dry oil or acrylic paintings. This varnish dries very
quickly and can be completely removed with mineral turpentine if
Parloid and Acrylic
varnishes can be applied with a soft hake brush. Acrylic should be washed
out of your brush immediately with soap and water. The parloid will need to be rinsed
Mineral Turpentine before washing with soap and water.
ACRYLIC GLOSS AND MATT VARNISHES
Acrylic Varnishes are water based polymer varnishes suitable for a final
finish on acrylic or water based mixed media works. They form a non
yellowing, durable plastic skin that bonds permanently to the artwork.
These varnishes can not be removed, but can be painted over with acrylic
So there are the choices for
protecting our paintings. Provided the painting is produced using
reputable, artist quality materials and is hung in a suitable location
it should last for generations.
should not be hung in direct sunlight or areas of high humidity.
Paintings hung on brick or stone walls prone to dampness should have a
plastic sheet fixed to the back of them and some form of spacer to leave
an air gap between the painting and the wall. Four small pieces of cork attached
to the back of the frame with some double sided tape are an easy way to
create an air gap.
Acid free backing board and matts
and thorough sealing with framing tape will keep works placed under
glass protected for many years.