Gamvar gloss varnish advice

edited February 2019 in Studio & Supplies
So I waited a good while (at least 6 months) before varnishing my tulips painting yesterday.

Its on pre gessoed wooden panel.

CJD gave me some useful advice to mix it 75% Gamvar and 25% Gamsol, as I have heard from various others that it can be overly glossy.

I also used the advice from Virgil Elliot video to go over with a clean dry brush after laying down the varnish.

The problem is when I looked this morning the finish (mainly on the flower heads) of the varnish at a certain angle has the look of water being applied to a wax surface, i.e. there are little areas where it looks like it hasn't taken to the surface.

I have put another thin layer on (same mix as above) bet left out the dry brushing at the end.

I think that uneven look may still be there. I have done thin layer each time. I did follow the advice on the Gamvar site and do a vigorous scrubbing motion.

Im now kind of wishing I had used a different product.
Any help or advice would be welcome.


  • I guess I can just remove it with Gamsol if I don't like it and start again.

    Im just feared of repeating the same above issue.
  • Can you photograph the bad part?
  • You will see it particularly on the right tulip in the main pic, but its actually on the others, as can bee seen in the angled photos.

  • MichaelD

    Crikey! Looks like the vigorous scrub mobilised pigment and created a cloudy glaze over the entire surface.

    The problem you have identified is called ‘beading’. The solution as presented by Gamblin;

    Why is the varnish beading up when I varnish my painting?

    Some combinations of oil paint and mediums create a “closed” surface resulting in Gamvar beading up. Also, beading up may indicate that too much varnish is being applied at once. Try to cover as much of the painting with as little varnish as possible. A vigorous scrubbing motion when applying Gamvar will help prevent it from beading up.

     What to do when varnish beads up

    1. Reduce the amount of Gamvar that is being applied to the painting. Blotting extra varnish off the brush onto a paper towel before applying is an excellent way to achieve this.
    2. Dilute the varnish with 10-20% Gamsol.
    3. Brush the varnish vigorously as it dries. Gamvar will begin to tack up in about 15 minutes. Continuing to brush after it begins to tack up may help it to adhere, but it will also reduce its level of gloss the longer you continue to brush it.

    All too late for these remedies. Suggest lint free Gamsol in gentle circular motion over parts you want to rescue and try reapplication.

    I would consider this painting ruined and start afresh.

    For really dry paintings try several light aerosol coats of varnish. More control and certainty of finish.


  • edited February 2019
    Hi Dencal,

    Thanks for advice, yes I read their solution, and followed how to apply it.

    Its all very frustrating as varnishing really is and should be straight forward, I believe.

    If it has done to my painting, as you said above, then its a fairly useless product that has ruined my work.

    I found reading this "I would consider this painting ruined and start afresh." rather depressing as the painting has some very personal meaning for me.

    Oh well, I am going to do all I can to resuce it somehow.
  • edited February 2019
    dencal said:

    Crikey! Looks like the vigorous scrub mobilised pigment and created a cloudy glaze over the entire surface.

    All too late for these remedies. Suggest lint free Gamsol in gentle circular motion over parts you want to rescue and try reapplication.

    I would consider this painting ruined and start afresh.

    For really dry paintings try several light aerosol coats of varnish. More control and certainty of finish.


    I think maybe the "cloudy glaze" you say its created is perhaps more to do with the photos of it. I angled the painting variously in order to show the beading.

    I am not going to consider it ruined though.

    I will remove these attempts with Gamsol (not sure how long I will need to wait). Then if at all possible apply a totally different varnish.

  • I've only seen that happen in small places when applying gamvar. When you scrubbed the gamvar in was it beading up then? I don't know why but sometimes I just get areas that gamvar (with 20% gamsol in) just doesn't want to not bead up on.

    I've had issues with all varnishes I've tried though. Gamvar is the best I've tried so far.
  • edited February 2019
    It seems to be most noticeable on the flower heads, not so much the black background. And even then its only at certain angles. 
    No I didn't notice it beading up then. I am wondering though if the `scrubbing in` is perhaps best suited to a canvas surface and its perhaps just more difficult to do this on the kind of surface I paint on. (Belle Arti Italian wood gesso panel) I didn't get the feeling that the varnish was necessarily being absorbed.

    Im a novice so this is just my wild guessing.

    I am also wondering if it had been better not to dilute it, maybe it would have been worse.

    Its good to know you give Gamvar the thumbs up.
  • I work on panels with a toothy gesso. Diluting it is supposed to reduce beading up. I've seen some people recommend rubbing a solvent into the paint layer to break up any surface tension before applying the varnish. But I'm never tried that myself.
  • I'd say not ruined.

    Gamvar comes off easily with Gamsol.  As Denis said, put gamsol on a lint-free cloth and make circular motions over (I suggest) the entire painting, to remove it all.  You can repeat this, because Gamsol evaporates away you can do it a second time.  Stop if you see any color being lifted.

    From my limited experience, Gamvar doesn't seem to do well on sunken-in paint.  Before varnishing, did the areas in question have a glossy paint film or was it very matt?  Was the painting patchy at all, meaning some areas glossy, some matt?
  • MichaelD

    I hope I’m wrong about being ‘ruined’. Nonetheless, if there is even a slight risk of mobile pigment under the varnish Gamsol will likely create a hot mess. Proceed with caution and test a small area first.


  • edited February 2019
    Hey @MichaelD - I completely understand and feel your pain.  Varnishing is a pain in the behind.  

    Did you happen to use umbers in the areas that are resisting?  I've noticed that is what happens to mine - umbers are notorious for resisting.

    The easiest varnish I have ever used was spray Damar - I varnished about 15 paintings at one time - I had different size boxes outside - it was a beautiful day - I sprayed liberally and immediately and carefully put the painting flat with a box protecting any dust - it smells to high heaven and the smell continued for quite a long time.  I shipped a painting and when they opened it (a month post varnish) - the smell was horrible even then.  All of the paintings looked beautiful and glossy and no resisting.  The trick is having boxes on their sides and immediately putting the painting in there - I think I took them out after a couple of hours.  Baumann has a great video on varnishing and the ridiculousness with all of the "advice"...  I think he is right about the spray though...

    I have used Gamvar for the past year - it can be beautiful and then can be a huge pain.

    I used gamvar last week on many paintings - my favorite painting I was varnishing is beading in certain areas.  I'm afraid to do another coat to see if it will take because of what @PaulB brilliantly observed (if the gamvar varnish takes off the old varnish from the brush - it must be taking off the 1st coat in some way)…

    I think what I am going to do is scrub another coat (this will be a week after the initial 2 light coats) -  A professional artist who I am studying with has a detailed video about how she varnishes - she mentions about the beading and how she resolves it.  She 'babysits" the areas that she sees resisting.   About every 15 min. going back and disturbing scrubbing until the varnish starts to take - she has other artist friends who use gamsol in the resist area to disturb the surface and then Gamvar takes but she doesn't do it that way.  She will also go back the 2nd day and do another coat - I have one of her paintings and I have to say, it is gorgeous and glossy.

    Your painting is NOT ruined.  Do as @PaulB said with the gamsol - that is why people love Gamvar because it is so easy to remove.  

    If you want me to continue my experimenting and share with you, I am happy to do so.  I'm not worried about ruining my painting by experimenting.  Even though I am extremely aggravated because it is one of my blue ginger jar and lemon paintings that I love.  I'm not sure I can get a good picture of the resisting areas but will try.  

    I completely agree about the ridiculousness of companies selling varnish and there are problems and these problems seem to be acceptable to most customers.

    sorry for being verbose.....    hang in there....  your painting will be as beautiful as it was when it was wet....   

  • Thanks @PaulB
    I think the paint does get sunken in on the panels I work with they absorb the paint.
    I would say overall the painting was very matt before varnish, though there were areas (particularly the black background) that looked a little glossy.
    So yes some areas glossy and some matt, but mostly the latter.
    This puzzled me a bit.
  • Ok, If it is very matte then you may need to consider oiling out first. I'm going to post something that some one posted on Wetcanvas which makes sense to me about this:

    "Oiling out is not finishing. No one puts a final layer of varnish on a painting and then wipes it all right back off. 
    But you sure do when you oil out properly.
    Oiling out involves feeding the sunken areas that are oil deficient and oil poor. The voids, crevasses, pores, holes, and gaps are created because oil has sunken in, been absorbed, and has left the pigment particles exposed, bare, and dry with insufficient binding oil. That is why they are dull and matte, there is no oil on, or around the surface of the particle of pigment.
    If you do not oil out, and you simply apply varnish to a dry, sunken in area,
    then varnish will sink in, fill the voids and pores.

    I have used oil but I also use alkyd, both diluted a little bit with OMS in order to give it better transport and absorption down into the empty pores by improved capillary action.
    I think it will absorb enough in one day, then I wipe off any excess from the surface. The entire surface, even the spots that were formerly bone dry. That is not how a finish is applied, you don't wipe off a finish like varnish.
    I may do the entire painting, or I may do spots once or twice, I just do it by eye and do what it needs, you can see when it is replenished enough and you wipe it off and the dull spots are rectified.
    That is all oiling out is for, to fix, restore, and to rectify the spots that have insufficient oil.
    I think that the majority of people think that oiling out is the same process as varnishing and that is crazy."
  • @dencal
    I hope so too  :)
    So if it is the case regarding mobile pigment, is that to do with the way I have applied it ?
    Is this a well known possible occurrence with Gamvar ?
  • Thank you @Julianna, verbose is good and you have given me lots of helpful info.

    I will say my daughter visited earlier and she thinks it looks fine, and that I've focused too much on the worst photos of the finish (as it does not look as milky pale in when actually seen). She is right up to a point in that it perhaps doesn't look as bad as I think. But never the less the beading is still there on close inspection.

    I guess I have been quite naive in assuming I just needed to take a bit of care and apply the varnish. I see from what you have informed me @Julianna about the professional artist, that its quite an intricate process.

    I guess I'm also having trouble with "scrubbing until the varnish starts to take", because my own recent experience leaves me feeling -If the varnish starts to take.

    I would appreciate you continuing sharing your experimenting @Julianna.

    I love your ginger jar and lemons paintings by the way  :)

  • edited February 2019
    Thanks @Richard_P

    There was a dryness to the painting which I think is down to the absorbancy of the gesso wooden panel, so it perhaps needed oiling out. 
    Im just wondering, having waited 6 months to make sure painting was dry, if I had oiled out prior to varnishing, would I then have had to wait until that oil dried to before varnishing ?
  • I wouldn't have thought so if you wipe away after it's sunk in for a while, the very thin amount of oil should dry quickly
  • Thanks Richard_p,

    And thank you @PaulB @dencal @Julianna for your input and advice  :)

    So when I get back to it Its looking like I'm best removing all the Gamvar with Gamsol, leaving it for a bit, oiling it out ( I hope walnut is ok for that), then I will varnish it.

    Not necessarily with Gamvar though as I feel I need to trial using that more on test pieces, particularly with all that scrubbing shenanigans.

  • Ok so its looking like I have successfully removed the Gamvar varnish using Gamsol with the painting now looking like it did pre-varnish attempt.

    I may consider using a W & N varnish or similar, like in Marks demonstration, were the job is done in 3 mins.

    @Richard_P  would you still advise oiling out prior to varnishing if I go for that or was that advice in relation to using Gamvar ?

  • The advice I posted was for any painting that looks matte before varnishing.
  • One thing that seemed to work for me is to keep an eye on the painting and varnish as it is drying over the first 15 mins and re brushing parts where it seems like the varnish isn't sticking. 
  • @MichaelD Okay, my experiment is almost complete.  It's not going well.

    What I did was add a decent coat this morning - I figure the very thin scrubbing is clearly not working so wanted to see what would happen if I treated the Gamvar as if it was Damar.  

    The first few minutes it looked perfect!!!  

    I am shocked that the stiff brush did get soft almost immediately upon new application of fresh varnish - it really does make you think what it must be doing to the initial layers on the painting?

    So, I checked the painting about an hour later and there was a place resisting that was not anywhere near the previous places - the previous resistant areas were completely gone - couldn't even tell but this new place came up.

    So, I did the spot scrub in that place...  it looks like a wave right now around the margins.

    We'll see how it settles but I think it is "ruined" -  Good thing about the gamvar is it is completely removable with the gamsol.

    If I have to do that, I'm going back to spraying these suckers.

    Can't wait for your updates...

    P.S.  I use 100% gamvar - no diluting.  The prof. artist who varnishes a lot does not dilute hers either....  just fyi.

    I hope you're having good luck with your new application.
  • Okay, I think I figured something out - I applied thick today without scrubbing - as it was "setting" it became more and more wavy and uneven - an hour ago - I took my varnish brush that was surprisingly damp and sticky and decided to scrub the bumpy, tacky surface of the painting....   It smoothed up very easily, leveled out and is covering beautifully - no resisting...

    I think it must have been the perfect tackiness to smooth and even out and also stick to what was resisting before???

    It is looking like the perfect finish right now.

    I don't know how scientifically I can repeat this again....   but, so far, so good.

  • Hmm...I am good with Daler Rowney dammar.
  • SummerSummer -
    edited February 2019
    Can anyone tell me which Resin varnish absolutely turns brown in 30 years and has to be replaced?  Should we even care?  I believe I know but I'd rather read about it and have it verified here.  Thanks.
  • Summer


    Does the Varnish Layer Ever Change?

    Natural varnishes tend to darken and discolor with time, necessitating their removal and replacement.  The removal of a varnish layer requires great skill and knowledge and should only be undertaken by a trained paintings conservator.

    The replacement of a varnish in also not a simple matter.  Conservators must decide whether to replace a natural varnish with another natural varnish, knowing that the natural varnish will yellow and will have to be replaced, or with a synthetic varnish, which may not yellow as rapidly but also may not duplicate the aesthetic effect of the natural varnish.  The skill of varnish application has a great deal to do with the final appearance of the painting.

    Natural Pigments.

    Regalrez 1094 is a synthetic hydrocarbon resin that does not crosslink upon aging, so it is easily removable with the same solvents, such as odorless mineral spirits, that dissolve it when newly applied. Regalrez is a good choice as a final picture varnish because even after aging it can be removed with non-polar aliphatic solvents, such as odorless mineral spirits.

    • Laropal A81 is a synthetic urea-formaldehyde resin used to make pigment pastes and as a medium for conservation colors. Accelerated aging tests have shown Laropal A81 to be one of the most stable resins available for use as a varnish (de la Rie, Lomax, Palmer, and Maines, 2002). Even after extended exposure to xenon arc lamps, in conditions simulating direct sunlight, the resin remains soluble in a mixture of aliphatic and aromatic solvents similar in proportion in which the freshly prepared varnish dissolves. While some change of the resin occurs after it has aged, this change can be essentially eliminated by the addition of a UV light stabilizer (de la Rie, et al., 2002), which is included in Conservar Isolating/Finishing Varnish. Laropal is insoluble in almost all purely aliphatic solvents, such as odorless mineral spirits, making it an ideal isolating varnish. It can be applied as a distinct layer below other resins as an isolating varnish. It can also be used as a final varnish.

    Laropal resin has a relatively broad molecular weight distribution (polydispersibility) giving it a pleasant feel or ‘brushability’. When brushing it has enough viscosity to give a feeling of control while it easily spreads out evenly. Its major advantage is its relatively good leveling in a single application without the tendency to sink into ‘sunken in’ or matte areas of a painting.

  • What would we do without you Denis!  Thank you!  :)  Summer
  • Summer

    You would all do very well. I’m just a nerd who loves Dr Google.

  • edited February 2019
    Update, Ok so I took the advice of a tutor who I did a workshop with year before last.
    This seems to have worked a treat application wise, its not dried yet.

    So the panel was back to how it was pre varnish, I had cleaned previous off with Gamsol, she stated that this was a good way to pre prep it.
    I didn't oil out. I decided myself (not by suggestion) to not dilute the Gamvar.

    I applied the Gamvar thinly and, as in my very first problematical attempt I noticed beading in areas I then rubbed with my palm (I actually used the fleshy base of thumb region) on these areas, until no longer beading.
    This causes surface tension/friction and helps with the beading.
    I then immediately go over it with a little Gamvar on the brush.

    So far its looking good and how it should. Its presently in a box drying and I don't envisage any further issues but will keep you posted if that is the case.

    Its such a simple but effective solution, I am very pleased.

  • I don't know why you added gamsol to the varnish to begin with. Was it recommended by Gamblin?
  • edited February 2019
    Recommended by other forum members, as some find it overly glossy and this brings it down.
  • Mine is also looking great.  I still prefer the spray varnish because this nonsense we are dealing with is ridiculous - just spray.... put in a box so no dust drops on it and done.  Easy Peasy.  I just wish the spray damar didn't stink to high heaven for ever.  I mean, the smell seems to last for months.

    this scrubbing and playing and rubbing and diddling is not acceptable as far as I am concerned.

    the only thing with the gamvar is how easy it is to remove.
  • dencaldencal -
    edited February 2019

    Yes. Gamblin also recommended dilution with Gamsol.

             2. Dilute the varnish with 10-20% Gamsol.


  • edited February 2019
    I totally agree, too much faffery, fiddle faddle and hoo har.
    I thought I was being naive in expecting it to be straightforward, but then theres a video of Mark varnishing a painting in about 3 minutes, no issues.

    Though @Richard_P mentions above that he has had issues with all varnishes he has tried.

    I guess its dependent on many variables like the products used, varnish, paints and mediums, and some work differently with others.

    I may consider spray next time for less hassle.
  • edited February 2019
    Well now its dry and it certainly has turned out better on the flowers heads, having used the above method.
    However there is some beading (noticeable at certain angle) on some of the dark background areas, particularly in middle strip between flowers. and 2 small patches elsewhere.

    I have repeated the technique in these areas to get red of beading. Now hoping it won't look obvious when dried (because I just did those areas and not the whole surface, again).

    My aversion to this product is growing by the minute

  • edited February 2019
    No no no,
    things are not looking rosy, or tulipy for that matter.

    Ive had enough of this stuff and frankly I'm beginning to bore myself with it.
    I still get noticeable areas of it looking like water over wax. The palming only worked up to a point.
    I dont recall using wax based paints   :)
    I guess its not new this problem and I've seen a few past threads. Even a wetcanvas forum one from 2005.

    So anyway, I've had 3 good attempts at it and if my painting can stand another removal of the latest shoddy layer of Gamvar, I will do that and find another product.

    I want stuff that does what it says on the tin, stuff that I don't have to beat, brush shove and flog into the canvas (or in this case wooden panel).  Stuff that says- Varnish, and after applying it the painting is varnished. Then I will be able to get on with my life
  • edited February 2019
    Ouch! :(

    I tried a few other retouching varnishes (so I don't have to wait 6-12 months to varnish). The W&N Retouching one tended to stay tacky for me. I also tried a spray one from a different company which worked fine but didn't change the gloss/matte levels of the painting..
  • edited February 2019
    Thanks @Richard_P

    Ive also just had some more advice from friend who has mentioned other products.
    She suggested the problem may have been me having a little too much medium in the paint. Though I did use some walnut oil (not sure if was alkyd), but I don't think I used it too liberally.
    Mind you I did do several layers in this painting.

    Just to add, she has also said that varnishing is the bain of her life.

    I guess I don't feel so daft knowing theres a lot of folk out there, including yourself, that have issues with it.

  • SummerSummer -
    edited February 2019

    Mark makes the whole varnish thing look so simple in these videos.  Just saying.


  • I use walnut oil (and I'm sure too much of it) and I have only had beading up in a few places. Did you try the oiling out thing?
  • @Summer
    Yes I've mentioned at least once in the thread about Mark doing the varnishing in about 3 minutes.

    Though I don't blame you if you haven't seen it as my post has become as dull as a thick coating of matt.
  • @Richard_P
    Thats good to know.

    I didn't try the oiling out, not that I'm against doing so.  But as I looked into it further on another forum and as is often the case some were for and some against.
    And one that drove me off trying, and seemed logical, mentioned the fact that you wait months for your painting to dry, then apply oil should mean that you have to wait again.
    Of course there are those that disagree with that.
    So I found myself in knots with it a little.
  • No problem. You could try asking on the conservators forum MITRA about varnishing and your issues? :)
  • @Summer   did you notice the drips at the 1:00 mark?  that is unacceptable 

    @MichaelD mine looks much better but there are some ways in the light that I can see uneven places - like where it wants to resist.

    I completely agree with you about the ridiculousness of it all.

    I have to say, I am the proud owner of two of @Richard_P paintings and his varnish is perfection so whatever he is doing, is working.

    David Leffel has a short video on   He uses Mastic varnish - he puts a freshly painted painting in a window for a few days - he never waits months - just when it is completely dry on the surface he varnishes fairly quickly.  The varnish incorporates with the paint layer so won't crack.  He waits a few days and applies a second coat.  He never waits months -
    their video:  
  • Thanks Julianna. I mix Gamsol with Gamvar 20/80 ratio and then with the smallest amount I scrub into the surface in a horizontal 'hand shake' method. I try not to let any varnish pool where I can't see the hollows in the surface. Also my medium is a lot of walnut oil so the paint is already pretty glossy.
  • Thanks @Julianna

    I was interested to read this "The varnish incorporates with the paint layer so won't crack."

    Having read several suggestions elsewhere that the idea of varnish is to produce a layer that is separate from the paint in order to protect it. In much the same way a pane of glass protects a picture.

    It just goes to show there are many methods and differing opinions.


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