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How do you handle drying/varnishing when giving/gifting paintings?

Do you wait months to varnish and then give the painting? Do you give it to them dry to the touch but not completely dried unvarnished? Do you arrange for them to send it back for you to varnish if so?

I was thinking about doing a painting for a charity auction and that's when i realized I've never given a painting away and had to think about about this topic. Any help would be appreciated, thanks!


  • Varnishing is about protecting the painting.  So is letting it dry properly.

    If you wish to short-circuit this protection, the recipient may not know anything about this and could either damage the painting or be disappointed with the appearance.  Let's not forget that an unvarnished painting looks worse as it dries.

    You should either explain it in the form of detailed instructions, or offer to dry and varnish the painting yourself.  I would keep it to myself until both dry and varnished, but that's easy to say, because I am learning, and there is no demand for my paintings.  I know of people who exhibit work before it dries, and they know what they are doing.  It depends on circumstance, I guess.
  • @PaulB thanks for the reply. Yeah, i just wasn't sure how this was generally done. 
  • dadamssg

    For exhibition or commission work I would not use slow dry medium and instead work with alkyd oils
    and/or Liquin. When touch dry in a few days in a warm, dry, dust free position, oil out or use retouch varnish. The intention being to advise the buyer of the need for final varnish in three months.


  • Another option is to use Gamvar- a varnish that can be used once the painting is touch dry.
  • edited September 2017
    I love Gamvar.  Another thing that I have done is used spray varnish and it works beautifully.  I don't have 4-6 months to wait for a painting to "dry".  I know this is Mark Carder's site and he has wonderful videos about varnishing.  Stefan Baumann has a wonderful video about mediums and varnish   =  The spray varnish starts around the 21 minute mark   I wear a mask, spray outside standing away from the air flow, painting is flat, spray as he says and then I put the painting in a box or something that will cover the painting for a few hours outside so bugs, pollen etc don't adhere while it is drying flat - I've even put larger paintings under a table I have outside.  So easy!
  • What is the long term effect of using spray varnish or Gamvar before the paint is completely dry?
  • @BOB73   I figure it goes a little something like this.  I have been painting in oils off and on for almost 40 years, if there ever comes a time that I am famous and in a museum for some insane reason and something needs to be done, then, the museum will be more than capable of handling the issue at that time.  In the meantime, I am no museum artist, I paint for love and giving and I need my friggin' oil paintings varnished pronto - no time for dilly dallying.  My paintings on my mother's wall from early childhood still look fine and that is all that matters. Lord only knows what kind of varnish or not I used way back then. The spray varnish is fabulous for my thickly applied paint and brings everything back to life brilliantly and is ready to be enjoyed in a matter of a week or two.  I'm like a madwoman right now with my paintings - it is what it is.  Many of my favorite artists NEVER varnish - it doesn't have to be so serious and timid.  
  • Julianna said:
    ... My paintings on my mother's wall from early childhood still look fine and that is all that matters. Lord only knows what kind of varnish or not I used way back then. ...
    I agree.  Varnish because it looks better, and makes it easier to sponge off the vomit.

    Anything with long term archival needs requires more attention up front, but for now, I'll paint with no artistic training, the wrong brush and a blue elbow on panels I found at a yard sale prepared with latex house paint.
  • Thanks @Julianna Thanks @PaulB One less thing to worry over is always a good thing.
  • Hi @BOB73, link to  info below regarding Gamvar varnish.

    Regarding conservation- I don’t go overboard. I use artist quality paint, supports, mediums and varnish. I think that’s the responsible thing to do, but I don’t know any other item that a person would purchase in this day and age with the expectation that it’s going to last a few hundred years. That is what a conservators specialist occupation is for, far be it for me to do them out of a job.
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