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edited July 15 in Studio & Supplies
I’m interested in hearing if anyone oils out their paintings before varnishing.  And if so how do you do it?  Do you let it dry before applying the varnish?  The web site (see link below) says to oil out the painting before applying the varnish so as to not have shiny areas where parts of the painting are shiny because of the amount of oil in the paint.

Also how many coats do you generally apply?

what kind of varnish do you use?

ive been using Gamvar and I apply one or two thin coats.  

Here is a link to a site that talks about varnishing in generator anyone who is interested.


  • GTO

    Yes. Oiling out on occasion for checking final appearance, presentation or photography. Gives me some idea of how the painting will look when varnished. Opportunity to look for value errors.

    Brush on a very sparse, one even coat of walnut oil. Remove excess with a soft lint free cloth.

    Yes. Wait til the surface is dry. Four to six months depending on paint thickness, temperature and humidity.

    I use pressure pack spray gloss varnish. Three light coats, applied 30 minute apart, outside on a warm, windless day.

  • edited July 15
    @GTO, if the surface is touch dry just put some oil on a soft cloth and gently wipe the oil on to the surface as Mark demonstrates in one of his free videos. I do this a lot because I use burnt umber which tends dry flatter then most pigments. A very thin wipe will re-saturate the colour and and allow you to see any value problems. The oil will dry quickly if it's a very thin layer. Dry or not, you can paint over this thin oil layer or, if everything is right and you don't need to paint over it, you can just varnish as normal when the painting is completely dry. 

    I find a spray varnish easier than brushing it on and there's no risk of getting loose brush hairs stuck to the surface. But do it outside or the smell will blow you away.  :)  
  • @dencal and @tassieguy what type of varnish do you use?  Damar?  Resin?  Gamvar?  I noticed that on a couple paintings after varnishing I see a spot that is shinier than the rest of the painting.  It’s not from the varnish.  It is either from the oil in the paint or maybe the smoothness of the paint where it’s thicker than the rest of the painting.  
  • GTO

    Resin. Gamvar is not available in spray packs, besides it beads up often, requiring brush scrubbing. Not my kind of varnish.

    Dammar is flexible when dry, avoiding cracking from the shrinking oil paint, but seems a bit soft for protection.

    The varnish is in total control of the surface lustre. Maybe another coat?

  • @tassieguy what’s the product name that you use.  Is it an Alkyd synthetic?
  • edited July 15
    Golden. I get it from my online art store. The brand doesn't really matter. Just make sure it is meant for oil paintings. I'm not sure what alkyd is. 

    With spray varnish I think it's important to do several light sprays. The actual number will depend on how shiny you want it.  If it starts to run or pool you're spraying on too much. Stand a couple of feet back from the painting as you spray. Too close and it will run or pool. The shiny part you mention sounds like it's an area of thick but smooth paint. It should be less evident once the painting has an even, all over sheen from the varnish. If that doesn't solve the problem then maybe you could rough that shiny patch up a bit with a very soft touch with the finest sandpaper and then varnish. 
  • thanks @tassieguy I hadn’t thought if sanding down the paint. That’s a brilliant idea.
  • Here is good advice from the people at Golden (Sarah Sands).

    Solutions to the Problem

    In the past it was common to deal with this problem through the use of retouch varnishes or various recipes for mediums that were applied in order to resaturate the matte areas and help with color matching when starting to paint again. Unfortunately these were often extended over the entire painting, creating issues later on for conservators as these layers would yellow badly as they aged and, in the case of varnish, grow brittle and remain sensitive to solvents. In light of that, current recommendations are much more targeted and simple.

    Initial Considerations

    In general, oiling out is not recommended. However, if you choose to oil out your painting we recommend you follow the steps outlined in the “Best Practices” section below. If you are finding that you frequently need to oil out your painting it is best to consider the following factors that are likely at the root of the problem:

    • Your ground may be too absorbent. Try experimenting with different grounds to see if this helps prevent your oil paints from sinking in.
    • You are adding too much solvent to your paint. Try to avoid using too much solvent or even any solvent at all.
    • You are using paint with a high pigment to binder ratio. Some paint formulations may inherently have a low concentration of binder. Try adding a touch of oil medium to your paints to help maintain sheen and body.

    Best Practices


    If possible, repaint a sunken-in area with the same or similar color but this time add a small amount of a bodied oil, such as Stand Oil, which should prevent any further sinking in and, as a result, should dry with a soft but even sheen.

    Oiling Out

    When repainting is not possible or practical, one can apply a small amount of a drying oil only to an area you plan to work into, making sure to wipe off any excess. Preferably use the same oil or medium found in the paints or in that section, applying as little as possible and using only enough to even out the sheen. Never extend this treatment to the painting as a whole, or to areas that will not be painted over in that day’s session. Doing so can create problems with adhesion and the eventual darkening and yellowing of those areas.

    Painting with dead spots before and after oiling out

    Painting with dead spots before and after oiling out (Click image for higher resolution)

    Adding solvent to the oil to create a thinner application, or thinning something more viscous like Stand Oil, is possible but care must be taken as young oil films can remain solvent sensitive, especially when underbound. In addition, solvents can extract materials from the film and make it more brittle over time.

    Varnishing or Retouch Varnish Used at the End

    This can take patience and try nerves, but if experiencing dead areas after a painting is finished the best thing would be to wait for it to dry sufficiently to allow for a final varnish. Waiting 6-12 months remains the safe rule before varnishing, and while there are some who advocate a shorter period, we feel there has not been enough research done on the possible consequences. That said, if needing to apply something earlier, after making sure it is at least hard dry, the use of a proper retouch varnish would be preferable. These are typically composed of thinned-down versions of full strength varnishes and should be applied as thinly as possible, aiming to simply create an even overall sheen. Damar and other natural resin varnishes should not be used for this purpose due to yellowing and embrittlement.

    Not Recommended

    Retouch Varnish Used in the Process of Painting

    Despite the name, this is not recommended as a way to remedy sunken-in areas of color during the course of a painting. Doing so complicates the structure of the piece by introducing a very different material in between paint layers, not to mention that retouch varnishes are almost always removable and therefore poses a problem for future conservation and cleaning as they could be reactivated. That said, if you have used these, simply make sure to make note of it on the back of your painting.

    Mediums or Oils as a Final Layer

    DO NOT USE. More than any other practice, this is likely the worst option as it introduces a permanent layer of oil that will only darken and yellow with time and with few treatment options available to reverse this condition. Also, should you need to paint on it further, the dried layer of oil or medium could cause issues with adhesion, beading, and potential problems with cracking in the future.

  • CJDCJD -
    edited July 15
    I follow this advice and never have to even think about oiling out any parts of my paintings. My ground is non-absorbent, and I add a small amount of stand oil to the paint. It never sinks in or goes matte, even in a painting in which I used lots of burnt umber straight from the tube.

    Another benefit of using non-absorbent grounds is your paint layers will never become underbound, which is a problem common with paintings done using modern materials as the ground soaks up too much oil. I've read conservators talking about the problems associated with restoring such paintings.

    As to oiling out before varnishing.. seems like pointless and odd advice. Varnishing evens out the sheen on its own. As mentioned above the "good way" of oiling out if you ever do it is to only oil out an area of a painting you will paint directly into again and use the absolute minimum amount of oil you can.
  • Thanks @CJD. For the detailed info.  I guess I might try adding a touch of stand oil to my medium.  A use a Holbein white ground with some burnt umber to get a medium tone.  

    @tassieguy. Alkyd is a polyester type of resin.   It is used in synthetic varnishes.  I’ve been using Gamvar and I brush it on carefully.  But you are correct that you do have to scrub it in and then smooth it out.  But I don’t find that to be a problem because it is workability for a fairly long time.
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