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Making a sale and varnishing

I have made my very first sale! 

This brings up a few issues I haven't encountered before. For one, the painting isn't ready to be varnished but I think the patron is eager to get her hands on it.  Might it be better to close the sale than to leave it hanging in the air for months and months? What is best practice here: do I hang on to it until I can varnish it and have it scanned for print making or do I close the sale (with some type of contract so that I can get it back) and borrow it back a few months down the line?

thank you for your advice!


  • mmccabe

    When touch dry do one of the following:

    * Oil out.
    * Use a retouch varnish.
    * Use Krylon Quick Dry for oil paintings.

    Make a firm date with the customer for an archival varnish treatment in six months.

  • CJDCJD -
    edited June 9
    Oiling out is bad advice.

    The best two options in my opinion are this - wait until it's hard dry (the thickest part of the paint is hard and not soft) and varnish with gamvar diluted 20% with gamsol, or ask the patron if they can give it back to you to varnish in 6 months. Second option is preferable when possible.

    Any other option has significant negative consequences to the painting. People varnish too early and oil out their paintings.. it's common practice but also very bad practice. If you varnish too early it may be impossible to remove the varnish in the future without removing paint along with it, and oiling out will lead to permanent yellowing that may be impossible to clean off in the future. Paint manufacturers at Golden/Williamsburg and Natural Pigments "strongly" advise against oiling out a painting. It's in writing on both of their websites. These are also the two manufacturers whose opinions hold the most weight.
  • BOB73BOB73 -
    edited June 9
    I agree with making a date to varnish it in the future. If that's not practical the patron should agree to take it to someone who can varnish it for them. It would help if you researched a reputable business that could do the job and make that recommendation.
  • Thanks for this info folks!

  • JasonWJasonW -
    edited June 12
    I have started varnishing at one month. I base my decision off a paper written by Chuck Mauldin a chemist turned oil painter that researched the literature on the "6 month recommendation" and did some of his own experiments at home. His recommendation is 21 days but I round it up to a month. The pdf is linked below. I was somewhat skeptical so I thought "if a 6 month waiting period is best and it seems like artists are varnishing early very often then there must be a lot of horror stories online of people varnishing early and disaster occuring".  I did my best looking for these disasters and I did not find any. Most of the problems I found were people using the wrong type of varnish or applying the varnish incorrectly then wiping it down and doing it over. So far i have varnished at one month without problems but I just started painting so I do not have as much long term data. I would love to hear if anyone has had problems from varnishing between 1-6 months. 
  • This sounds right (21 days) but it is important to remember that ambient conditions of heat, humidity, air pollution (oxygen content) and light can have an effect (not so sure about light anymore). The best way to check is when you finish a painting, paint another sample using same colors and thickness. divide the samples and varnish after X days and check the brush an sample (swab) for any color removed. Repeat as necessary. You'll never ruin a painting by varnishing too soon with that method. 
  • CJDCJD -
    edited June 12

    I recommend doing your own testing before taking anyone's advice that varnishing after only a few weeks is fine. There are strong reasons why the 6 month rule is the best not addressed in the article linked above.

     Paint some ivory black on a canvas. Varnish it after 1 month, wait a week and then remove it with the appropriate solvent and see what happens. You will remove a lot of pigment with the varnish. Paint it on a non-absorbent surface and you'll need to wait at least a few months (probably more than a few months realistically) for ivory black or another slow-drying pigment to be dry enough that you can varnish and then remove the varnish without removing pigment. This is if the paint layer is thin, too. A thick application of ivory black or similar pigment would take many months to become hard dry. Being able to safely remove the varnish is so important. I had to remove varnish on a painting I waited 3 months to varnish and pigment STILL came off. The painting had been touch dry for over a month too. Pigments with less oil used as binders painted on acrylic gesso or absorbent surfaces like that might be more prone to this.

    Quote from George O'Hanlon, who clearly explains the problem with the advice above.

    "So, artists often tout the recommendation to wait until the painting is “touch dry”. For some this may be a sufficient amount of time. This recommendation, however, assumes that all paintings are created under the same conditions. Of course, we know this is never the case, since one painter paints on absorbent substrates, another on non-absorbent surfaces, another will use lead white others will use slower-drying titanium white, many paint with impastos and others with thin applications of paint."

    Full article here

  • I second the testing idea. 
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