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When to Varnish an Oil Painting


This is a link to a report that is recommended and relevant to our interests.



  • edited November 2012
    If memory serves, in a book about Norman Rockwell, he claimed that because he was always under the gun of strict deadlines for his magazine covers, that he would often varnish on top of a fresh stage of his paintings to "fix" it from being redissolved and damaged by work that followed. He knew that it was a violation of recommended practice but his priorities demanded breaking such rules--he wasn't worried about the long-term survival of his paintings. However, he observed, the paintings never developed any problems over the years or decades. I believe it was also Rockwell who seemed uninterested in the preservation of art in general by opining that each generation should make their own art. Norman was a pretty radical dude in his own pipe-puffin' way.
  • I read a book awhile back about Maxfield Parrish's glazing techniques. Seems he would put down a glaze, set it in the sun to dry, put on a layer of varnish, let it dry to the touch, then glaze again on top of the varnish. He would have a number of these glaze/varnish layers in his paintings. I thought that this was would cause big problems over time, but I've never seen an original Parrish up close so I don't know how they've fared.
  • Two to three months is the general rule, but if you paint in one layer of paint, or two counting the stain, it is less of an issue. Best to "rub in" linseed oil instead of using retouch varnishes.
  • Glad to know it is best to rub in linseed oil....I have been using the retouch varnish and seem to be having trouble getting a decent looking finished piece after final varnishing. It is like I have glossier parts and dull parts.
  • Ok, So I am jumping in without reading the Thread Thoroughly ! To ' Finish" the painting for longevity - Rubbing Linseed oil is enough !
    There is no need paint/ use fancy Varnishes ?
    I have a painting which I framed already but now after reading the many posts - I want to save it for years .
    Thanks !
  • Rubbing in linseed oil is in place of retouch varnish, it is not a substitute for final varnish.
  • Mark, can you plz tell me which one is the Final Varnish ?( brand, type - and it is to be applied by a broad brush- I recall seeing you do it in one of your videos )
    Thanks so much for clarifying.
  • I like Winsor & Newton gloss varnish, applied with any large clean brush. Will definitely do a tutorial on varnishing.
  • I don't use linseed oil, but use a 50/50 mix of stand oil and OMS to 'oil out' when my paintings have dried to the touch. I find that this evens out any dull and glossy parts and gives a nice level sheen. I still varnish six months down the line and had been using W&N gloss, but recently found that their 'satin' varnish gives a nice finish on pieces that may be displayed in areas that pick-up strong reflected light.

    As I have yet to experience the drying of paint using Mark's method and slow-dry-medium, it may be that oiling-out won't be as necessary.
  • Mark Please advice me which size to buy ( for a beginner painter like myself) Roll of Claussen #13
    Thanks !

    41 in X 3 yd
    82 in x 3 yd
    82 in x 5.5 yd
  • the 41 inch is on back order , so I guess I can get the 82 Inches !
  • LindenH  Thanks for your thoughts Linden.  But I'm a little confused.  I read a dialogue from a prominent painter discussing the 'steps' of the medium she uses - lean to fat - and it was my impression that pure linseed oil was basically equivalent to an equal combination of OMS and Stand oil.  Do you see a difference?
  • There is a difference between diluted stand oil and linseed. Stand oil is more glossy and will reduce sinking in/matting more even if diluted.

    Neither should be used as a coat on a dried painting prior to varnishing, unless you want your painting to have a permanently yellowed layer on it. For varnishing info look up the natural pigments article on the subject. Much better info there.

    Also ignore the practices of other artists and instead rely on info from conservators, trustworthy paint manufacturers (natural pigments and golden are the best), and key individuals who know what they're talking about. Many artists use bad practices and are eager to encourage others to adopt the same bad practices.
  • Good information.  Thank you CJD.
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