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Too much varnish?

I have only been painting a few years and have only varnished a few paintings.  But I recently did a portrait painting of friends that turned out extremely well... at least for me.   In the end, after it was dry, I applied a gloss varnish that (seemingly) went on ok,  After it had dried, I applied a second coat and although I thought I brushed through it properly, it has pooled in spots.  Pooled in the sense that the varnish has the look of water sheeting down a pane of glass.  I carefully applied a third coat and I am still getting a few 'sheeting' lines.  Now I'm not sure what to do.  I've never tried removing varnish and the painting is one of my best so I'm at a loss.  Any thoughts?  Thank you.


  • dencaldencal -
    edited June 2018

    Welcome to the Forum.

    I think anything you try to do to selectively treat the ‘sheeting lines’ will alter the surface gloss / texture and add to the problem. 

    Removing varnish is a careful small area swab at a time with turps (oms).  Life is too short for such projects.

    Are you chasing perfection or do the sheeting lines mar the presentation value? If you feel you need to do something, then as a last resort I would use fine sand paper in a gentle circular pattern to ease out the lines and then redcoat the area with a light coat of the same varnish.


  • Thanks dencal.  I'm not necessarily chasing perfection... well, maybe by definition I am. The painting is just a 'thank-you' to them so I somewhat expected it to be something they put downstairs or in a back bedroom.  But now that it turned out so well I'm modestly thinking they might put it somewhere more prominent and that worries me.  It's a dark painting, so looking at it straight on, the 'slight varnish waves' are not noticeable.  But depending on how they display and light it, it could be.

    But I'll try your suggestion of the light rub with OMS and maybe a light re-varnish.  Thanks..
  • GA_Anderson

    Good luck with that. Suggest a practice on a scrap painting first.
    Use a lint free cloth (linen). Otherwise, as the varnish softens it will fur up with cloth fiber.
    Use as little oms as possible. A cool air blower will help evaporate the oms. 
    Stay small in area and maintain control so it does not become a sticky mess.


  • I had this exact problem and Denis is right, you have to be careful, but you can handle it if you go slow.  I brought back a painting just like this.  First thing I learned is to never use varnish full strength.  I mix it all 1:1 with clear artist turpentine.  Not OMS.  The next thing I learned is to do it in three thin coats.  Last, the painting must be absolutely dry.  Any amount of paint that is not fully cured will lift off in the turps.  
    So to fix this problem I cut up a t-shirt that was old and had no lint.  then I dabbed it in turpentine and gently ... gently rubbed the pooled areas in a circular motion.  I had applied the varnish so thickly that in the end I was never in danger of damaging the paint.  I only removed enough to smooth it out.  It took about 30 minutes.  Good luck.
  • edited June 2018
    I used Grumbacher Damar Varnish, Gloss.  And to Mike's point, I had planned to put 2-3 coats on it so initially I simply poured the varnish on full strength.  Although my wife is not an artist, she would certainly concur with my impatient outlook on getting things done :(. As mentioned, I 'thought' I brushed it out well but then you get into the scenario (and difficulties) of continually trying to brush it out as it is drying quickly. As if I wasn't in enough of a pickle with all of these missteps, the recipients are coming into town next week which is why I was applying the varnish to begin with and the painting has only been drying for 2-3 months so (after reading all this good advice) this is now giving me further palpitations if this will factor into a problem.  I'm afraid this post is turning into the "What not to do when varnishing" but maybe it can help other folks.
  • GA_Anderson

    Another option is to coat the slight varnish waves with light coats of thinned varnish with the aim of bringing the surround up to the level of the wave crests.

    Alternately, If all is dry consider a coat of two part resin. Quite a thick glossy coat. Use a butane torch to level and get any air bubbles out. Check YouTube for demonstrations of the process.


  • Thanks for all of this advice!
  • Success!!!  I first tried lightly applying clear artists turpentine to small areas. As recommended, I was careful not to overdo it and (as hoped for) it lightly dissolved the 'wavy' areas which migrated out into a more even flow.  After days of angst just thinking about this, but only minutes of application, the results were very satisfactory.  Thanks again folks!
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