Signing a Varnished Painting

Anyone have any advice on how to best sign a work that has already been varnished?

Hey Tony,

I reached out to George O’Hanlon and the Painting Best Practices crew for this one and the responses have been mixed. Many suggest just signing it on the back while others–knowing the signature may be damaged with future cleaning–said they would just sign on top. My knee-jerk reaction would be to see if I could just remove a small area of varnish to sign—but I couldn’t say if there would be a residual disparity in finishes.

Wish I could have been more helpful on this one,


I removed the varnish (Gamvar Picture Varnish) in a small section fairly easily to sign. The real challenge will be when I add the varnish again if it lays evenly as you mention. We’ll see!

Thanks again!

I’ve removed and touched up varnish before (like removing cat hairs or bristles that got trapped in it :blush:). New varnish of the same type will dissolve the one that’s already on the canvas, so you should be able to blend the seams. If this fails take the brush you normally use for varnishing, wet it with Mineral spirits, and brush over the whole painting as if you were varnishing it normally. The mineral spirits will dissolve all the varnish and you can even it out again as if you had just applied it. No need to remove it completely. Gamvar is very forgiving with something like this. You might want to test this on some scrap canvas or similar surface to get a feel for how varnish behaves when doing something like this.

Note to others: If your varnish is based on turpentine you will need to use turpentine to dissolve the varnish. But be careful. Turps is more aggressive than mineral spirits and likely to harm the paint surface.


Thanks Peter!

Thank you Peter!