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Retouch Varnish or Refined Linseed Oil?

I would like to try Retouch Varnish when a painting has dried out and I need to do some more work on it.  Usually, I apply a thin layer of Refined Linseed Oil but sometimes the new paint doesn't always stick as well as it should over the top.  I would be interested to know what other people do?


  • edited November 2019
    I spay retouch varnish, Dianna. It brings back the depth in the darks, dries very quickly and can be painted over straight away. It says on the can that this is what it is for. Oiling out is tedious and you risk lifting paint and smudging the work unless it is very dry. I'm sure there is some arcane technical reason not to use it but it works for me and I couldn't do without it. Take the picture outside to spray it or wear a gas mask. The smell will knock you out. :)
  • dencaldencal -
    edited November 2019

    Oiling out should work ok. You may introduce other problems, like beading, with retouch varnish.

    There are options:
    Thin your paint a little.
    Moisten the brush with oil, and wipe off excess, before picking up the paint.
    Try coating the canvas in small patches with Liquin instead
    Probably a good time to experiment with glazes, which can be wiped off if not right.

  • Oiling out will do exactly what your want . . . return the "juicy" look to your paint, bring values up to the way they look when wet, and provide a couch to paint into.  But, DO NOT use straight oil (linseed or walnut oil and especially NOT Liquin)!

    Too much oil offers two negatives.  Linseed, especially, has a tendency to yellow, and the more oil you use, the longer it will take to dry.  Liquin is a dead NO-NO because it is a totally different animal . . . it forms a tight mechanical bond with paint.  Should the need arise to remove it, you'll probably end up with canvas stripped of its paint.

    Your goal is to "juice" up your painting for that  days work.  You can achieve that by making a couch medium consisting of part linseed oil and part OMS.  I use a 50-50 mix, but you could also cut it even further to one third oil and two thirds OMS, and achieve the same thing.  The OMS evaporates rather quickly leaving behind a very thin coat of oil.  Furthermore, you should gently blot the surface of your painting where you have applied your couch.  Your goal is to leave behind a juicy looking painting surface with the thinnest possible layer paint-friendly oil.  Additionally, if you are working on just a section of your painting, oil out only that passage.

    The problem with retouch varnish is that most of them are 10% are made with real damar resin, and 90% turp.  Even that small amount of varnish resin, when dry, produces a barrier (albeit thin one) between the paint below, and the new paint you apply on top of it, whereas your oil couch mixes and bonds with your new paint layer.
  • edited November 2019
    Given all of the above (if it is correct) I guess the best thing for me to do is not oil out or use retouch varnish at all. But what does it matter if there's a thin barrier between the retouch varnish and paint below? The lower layer will never need cleaning if it has retouch varnish which has paint on top of it. And if it doesn't have paint on top of it the retouch varnish can be removed for cleaning like any other varnish  

    I don't have time to wait until the painting I'm doing is dry enough to oil out. I can get totally involved with only one painting at a time.  Unlike knitting, I can't put an alla prima painting down and pick it up again. I work full bore until it's finished. And I finish before it's dry enough to oil out. But the surface of the darks dries flat before I'm finished. So, according to the above, it seems I must bring a painting to completion while ignoring the flat darks and then varnish when completely dry without any intermidate oiling out or spraying with retouch varnish. But, again why would  the layer under the retouch varnish ever need cleaning if it' is covered with paint.? And, if it doesn't get covered by paint, why can't the retouch varnish be removed like any varnish that needs replacing?  I don't see a problem.

    Ahhgghhh..! Dammit! I'm not going to worry about it. It's a distraction and an excuse for procrastination for we beginners to get bogged down in this arcane stuff. If I paint crap it won't matter. And if I paint something posterity cares about then I'll be providing jobs for future conservators. It's all good.  :)
  • Tassie . . . I make bold to suggest you might try a slightly different method . . . adjusting your material so that today's painting work is touch dry tomorrow, thus allowing you to oil out on a daily basis.  To do this, make your self a 50-50 medium of linseed oil and OMS (I use one ounce linseed and one ounce OMS), and to this add 4 to 6 DROPS Grumbacher Cobalt Dryer.  Don't know how this will work with dmp paint, but with regular paint, it makes my work touch dry by the next day.  It's an easy matter to oil out and go to work each day.
  • edited November 2019
    Thanks. I'm sure that would work but, for a number of reasons, I don't use solvents and, as explained above, I can't see a problem with retouch varnish. I've not yet tried Geneva paints.  :)
  • CJDCJD -
    edited November 2019
    The above advice is correct... Retouch varnish is just diluted varnish. The problem with painting on top of varnish is that adhesion isn't as good. Other likely problem is that it can affect how the painting cures over time and can create a brittle paint film. You can oil out an area you are going to paint into. 

    To keep your paint looking glossy longer just add a small amount of stand oil to it. Makes a huge difference.

    Also paint on a less absorbant surface so the oil stays in the paint instead of being sucked into the ground.
  • CJDCJD -
    edited November 2019
    That's a great resource, @Richard_P

    I recently watched Morgan Weistling's DVD and he was explaining how every morning before continuing to work on a painting he would spray it with retouch varnish... as if this is a perfectly normal and okay thing to do! I suppose it's a very common practice.

    I've been using a very absorbant surface to do some tests this week. Paint straight from the tube sinks in overnight, while the same paint with a couple drops of stand oil doesn't sink in at all. Geneva also doesn't sink in. Adding linseed oil doesn't make a difference. That's all I've figured out so far. At some point when I have the whole surface covered in paint I'll post an image of it.

    Another tip to avoid sinking in is to stop using burnt umber (this pigment sinks in). An alternative is to mix ivory black and burnt sienna together, which creates a color basically the same as burnt umber.
  • edited November 2019
    Thanks, @Richard_P. Great resource. I'll follow the rcommendations therein.  :)
  • OMG ----   I will have to put a week aside to absorb the information and make a decision.  Was it Leonardo da Vinci who said art is really a SCIENCE.  I wonder what he would have said if he had lived in the 21st century :#:#  He would have jumped, I reckon ....   Anyway, thank you @tassieguy @dencal @broker12   @cjd and @Richard_P all you other geniuses out there.
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