When I have completed several paintings, I varnish them all at the same time. Since varnishing isn't fun, in my opinion, I try to do it as infrequently as possible. I wait for my oil paintings to dry completely and then it's time to start the varnishing process.
LOCATING ALL OF MY SUPPLIES:
1. Plastic bags or plastic sheeting.
2. Varnish. I use Winsor & Newton Dammar Varnish to create a beautiful finish to my paintings. Be careful with this product as it's flammable, fatal if swallowed, and the vapor is harmful. In other words, no candles lit, no fire in the fireplace or gas heaters or stoves, and especially no children or pets around (especially birds)!
3. Disposable bowl. Dixie Soak-Proof Shield bowls are perfect and can be thrown away after they are dried. I leave them outside to dry before discarding. I actually put all of my rags, paper bowls and paper towels in the chimenea outside for a few days before discarding to give them plenty of time to dry out. If any of them catch on fire, God forbid, they are already contained in the Chimenea OUTSIDE!
4. Face mask. I use a face mask for obvious reasons. I have adult asthma so there is no way that I want to harm my lungs to trigger an attack. Hey, I just really like breathing!
5. 2" flat synthetic brush. I use an inexpensive, very soft brush. Sometimes, I just throw the brush away after using it.
6. Turpenoid. It is not Turpentine but a great painting solvent for artists. It is perfect for use with oil paint because it thins and removes paint from your brushes and other painting supplies with far less fumes than traditional paint solvents. I select the odorless version because, believe me, I'm going to get enough fumes from the varnish already.
7. Paper towels. The best are Viva and Bounty. I also like the industrial blue paper towels that I get at the hardware store. Just make sure you use paper towels that don't generate a lot of lint.
PREPARING MY HOME STUDIO:
I want a well-ventilated space in which to work, so I open the window in my studio. Today happens to be a mild day so it isn't too hot or cold for me to work today. I also have a screen on my window so the little creepy, crawly bugs or worse, the flying insects don't enter my studio and ruin my day! Next, I close the door to my studio so the fumes don't infiltrate the rest of my home. Then, most importantly, I turn the ceiling fan on high speed to help whisk the fumes outside.
THE VARNISHING BEGINS:
Now, it's time to begin. I lay out the plastic to cover and protect my table, and I arrange my paintings on the table with a bit of space around each one. I make sure that the paintings are free of dust, lint, hair, fibers, etc. Who wants a beautiful painting with a hair permanently embedded in the background or, heaven forbid in the middle of that vase that was meticulously painted.
I open the varnish and pour a small amount into the disposable bowl. This is when you appreciate the fact that you prepared in advance by opening the windows and turning on the fan! The aroma of varnish can be quite intoxicating...literally!
By loading the synthetic brush with an adequate amount of varnish, I gently AND smoothly guide the brush across the painting. I hold the brush at a sharp angle and make long, smooth strokes with the brush across the painting. I apply the varnish vertically on the painting instead of horizontally. After I complete applying the varnish to the first painting, I move on to the others until they are all coated evenly.
I dip my brush in the Turpenoid and clean it thoroughly. If I have leftover varnish in the disposable bowl, I put the entire bowl in a plastic sack and seal it so I can use it for a second coat later. Dammar Varnish is quite expensive, so I don't want to waste one, single drop.
SHUT THE DOOR!
Then, I do the most important part of the process...I LEAVE THE ROOM and SHUT THE DOOR! I even shove a towel under the door to keep the fumes from entering the rest of the house.
After about 4 or 5 hours, I return to the studio and make sure the varnish is completely dry.
Varnishing my oil paintings is definitely not my favorite part of painting, but I love the beautiful end result. The varnish seems to make my paintings appear 3-dimensional and protects them for the future.
If you are safe with your varnishing project, you will avoid future medical issues. I, for one, would like to be like Grandma Moses and still be painting when I'm well past 100 years old. Now, that's an intoxicating idea, or I just might have been varnishing too long today.
Donna Ham, Artist
and still breathing!
Meet Donna Ham
Donna Ham is a professional artist located in Tulsa, Oklahoma creating acrylic and mixed media abstract paintings, and still life paintings in oil. She also enjoys photography and writes poetry.