Retouching varnish - dust - help!

edited October 2021 in Technical Support
Hi Everyone, 

Im trying to find a way of painting on retouching varnish over a painting (waterbased W&N oil paints) to bring back the lustre for my husbands paintings. Each time he varnishes, the brush, even though we clean it and try to keep it dust free, as soon he paints the varnish on it always picks up or attracts dust in the varnish. Not too bad if its on a coloured area but a blue sky or plain light background isn't very helpful. Then to get the little bits of dust out can be tricky.

Does anyone here use retouching varnish and if so how do you do it and do you have any issues?  

Thank you in advance

Lily x

PS I have just realised in me choosing technical support (thinking...well this is technical!!) I think im in the wrong category!! Sorry! 


  • Lily

    Every movement of clothing, curtains or across carpet creates a cloud of dust. This can be readily observed in a darkened room with a bar of sunlight streaming through a window.

    Glue push tacks to both ends of a cork. Make four. Place on each corner of the freshly varnished canvas face. Place another canvas over the pins. Stick a flyscreen strip along the sides and leave in a still warm room for a day or so.

    Alternately, make a wire frame for a plastic tent with two air holes to hold the wet varnish for a few days.

    Helps to apply the varnish by a spray pack in a shed or garage, where it can be quietly undisturbed until dry.

  • edited October 2021
    Use of retouch varnish to address dead spots (unless final layer - although why not just varnish) is NOT recommended by art conservators. The risks are several: a) The varnish does not form a robust paint film and there is risk of delamination; b) Yellowing; c) varnishes remain susceptible to solvents and therefore at risk for later cleaning of the painting.
    This is from MITRA (The Materials Information and Technical Resources for Artists-University of Delaware):
    It is far better to address the causes of loss of lustre. This is addressed in PDF above as well as this article:
    However I'm not familiar with differences for water-based oil paints. I suspect the causes though will be very similar, such as absorbent grounds or overuse of thinners for the paint (in your case is it water?), as well as certain pigments being more susceptible to sinking in such as umber.
    But when you DO have to varnish - @dencal ideas above look very helpful as I struggle with dust as well.
  • Forget retouch varnish. Better to just oil out the area of concern. Once the painting is dry enough, use regular spray varnish and not retouch varnish. Spray regular varnish on in a space where the air is still.  Wear a mask. Spray is quicker than brushing it on; it dries faster and there's less chance of dust settling on on it before it dries. And you won't get dust that is already on he brush (there's always some). There may be all sorts of arcane archival reasons for not doing it this way - who knows - but if a painting needs to be varnished to get it ready to show and sell then, in my experience, spray is the way.  Let conservation science worry abut it after that. Varnish can be removed. If it's worth conserving it will be conserved.  :)
  • Thank you so much for your replies and apologies for the delay in replying, I wasn't notified :( but I found you!  

    Dencal, Thank you for your help and suggestions! 

    Abstraction, thank you for the links and advice. It does seem to be the darker colours / umbers that sink in. I will read the PDF's

    Tassieguy - Thank you for your guidance!! 
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