Help with Varnish

Varnish causes the most trouble of all during the painting process. The problems range from streaks, impurities to cloudiness.  This post should help with all of these difficulties.  The supplies vary based on the type of project.

What are the types of varnishes?

  • Gloss (clearest of all and the hardest)
  • Matte (contains talc to cut the shine)
  • Satin or Semi-Gloss (inbetween Matte and Gloss – also contains talc)

What are the different applicators?

What are the recommended varnishes?

What is the process? First, your painting should be chemically dry. Oils (depending on thickness) could be up to 6 months while Genesis Oils and Acrylics are dry either instantly or after the water evaporates. Wipe your painting down with a damp cloth to remove surface impurities. Try to varnish on a low humidity day. 

Mix the varnish  by rolling the bottle of varnish on a flat surface. Do not shake as this adds air bubbles. Dip a large oval brush into the varnish but do not allow the brush to touch the rim of the bottle as this rim is full of impurities. After the dripping has stopped, take the brush over to the surface. Apply the varnish horizontally across the painting. Repeat once the first layer is dry except pull the brush vertically over the piece.  Repeat until desired finish is achieved.

If you are using Final Coat, it can be applied with a staining pad as it is self leveling. It can be applied with a brush but takes longer due to the thin nature of the varnish.  At times, the varnish over the oil will appear to resist and separate. This is no reason to panic. Let this application dry and then apply another application of varnish. The second will fill in the missed areas. Do not panic, do not try to remove the first layer of varnish! Depending on the type of finish you prefer, you should apply 8-10 coat minimum of the Final Coat.  Build your layers of varnish with a clear coating such as Final Coat or JW Gloss. If you try to build many layers with a matte varnish, it will appear cloudy. Finish with a matte varnish to cut the shine.

After a protective layer of varnish is added, it is time to wet sand.  The goal of wet sanding is to remove impurities in the varnish. It should not be performed over an unprotected painting.  Sprinkle the painting with water that contains a trace of dishwashing soap.  With 1500 grit wet/dry sandpaper or Super Film

After the piece has been adequately varnished (at least three coats of varnish) it is time to wax. The advantage of waxing is two fold: it adds a layer of mellow luster that varnish cannot. Secondly, if the piece becomes dirty through use or environmental effects, the wax is easilyremoved taking the dirt with it.

The process is as follows: Take a tablespoon of JW wax or clear shoe polish and put it on a palette. Then fill a small piece of 1000 grit steel wool with the wax. Apply the wax to the painting with pressure. Allow the wax to dry until it appears milky. Buff it out with a soft cloth or lamb’s wool. If the wax won’t move, it is not ready to be buffed. More layers of wax may be added but only the first layer is applied with the steel wool. Subsequent applications are applied with a soft cloth.

If your painting becomes sticky after you varnish, that means that your painting was not chemically dry. The final heat set should be performed in an oven setting to assure that all areas of the painting are totally dry. Beware of the use of excess glazing or thinning medium. Neither contain drying ingredients therefore you must respect the 40% medium to 60% paint. Otherwise the paint will not dry. Try placing your piece in the oven at 200° for approximately 2 hours.
To varnish large pieces, use a roller brush to apply the varnish and a Faux Finish Blender to smooth the varnish.
If you prefer a spray on varnish, Liberty is the tested varnish. All of the mentioned varnishes can be painted on top of also with oils, Genesis and acrylics. The varnishes can all be heat set if there is Genesis on top of the varnish. Otherwise, all the varnishes are air-dry.
If you would like to see a demonstration of varnishing, waxing and wet sanding our DVD Tips & Techniques of the Master is the one for you. Don’t let the varnish process frighten or deter you from finishing your pieces. It will bring out the colors and add protection to your masterpiece.  
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1 Response to Help with Varnish

  1. Patte says:

    Thanks for the written instructions on varnish. I have printed them out & will include them in my master reference manual. Of course, I think I did every step wrong on the master board that just went in the mail! See you in Peoria!

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