Some varnish thoughts

I’ve seen a lot of folk use varnish by pouring a puddle of it onto their painting (laid horizontally flat) and then brushing that outwards. While it looks pretty cool on camera, and it would no doubt give you great coverage on the portion of the painting your pool of varnish initially went onto - perhaps the edge bits would likely get a less thick/comprehensive treatment. Any reservations/thoughts about that?

At the Michael John Angel workshop we used make-up sponges to oil-in with medium for glazing an area. (you could also use a clean make-up sponge to take any excess or undesirable application back off the painting). This worked super well for applying a thin and consistent coat, I assume this might work okay for varnish too, Has anyone tried this?

As a side note; MJA heavily advocated the use of spray varnish over brush or any other application, mainly due to the ease of application and getting a consistent finish. (Caveats: always shake the can a lot and definitely make sure it is room temperature beforehand.)

If one did use liquin as a varnish (and I understand the pros and cons of this from this thread on the subject) are any special considerations when using it, or do you just apply it as you would a coat of varnish?


Hi Martin–First off I would like to say that those varnish videos that show people pouring bottles of varnish on a painting really make me cringe. I am of the conservative mindset that you only use enough of any material to accomplish a particular task. As to the tools of application–I have only ever used brushes to apply varnish like the ones seen here:

I am surprised to learn MJA uses spray varnish. Not that I have any problem with it whatsoever. Frankly, I have very little experience with it, but a number of the artists that I had worked with cultivated some serious love/hate relationships with it.

As to the liquin, I’ve never had to take any special steps to ensure successful application. I just applied it in a conservative manner (again, NOT like the pour-happy varnish porn you find on social media-LOL!)

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MJA doesn’t personally use spray varnish, but tends to recommend it to his Angel Academy Students as it is quicker and easier to apply evenly and with less jars and brushes to get knocked over (more idiot-proof I guess). I think he had experience with students making a mess with the varnishing stage, getting runs or uneven finishes on all their hard work. Although he also had a horror story about a cold can of spray varnish being used in a warm room and it causing all sorts of splotches and coagulated mess, requiring an almost immediate restoration job to have to be carried out on a newly finished painting the day before a show. He certainly prefers the real stuff but I think convenience generally wins these days.

The varnishing style/technique I was going to use as my model appears in this video starting about the 21:13 mark:- is that standard and decent practice as far as you’re concerned? Thanks for the info on the brushes.

I have some further information, courtesy of MJA:-

To apply a final varnish using a brush is to ask for trouble; varnishing is a difficult craft that needs a trained craftsperson. This was once a part of a framer’s training, but is no more, and no framer today will varnish a painting using a brush, as the risk of damage (and thus, lawsuits) is so high. It is safe to use a brush on a small painting, but normal dimensions (and bigger) need to be painted in small sections, and these require a tricky system of overlap that does not noticeably build up material at the overlapping parts.

Interestingly he also recommends an intermediary light coat of liquin:-

Liquin (see Winsor & Newton’s website) never changes colour after the first 24 hours (it darkens ever so slightly as it dries overnight), it is flexible and it is permanent. With an isolating varnish, the painting is effectively “locked-up,” and subsequent varnish removals cannot hurt it.

He’s a big fan of liquin, and favours liquin original above all the other variants.

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Hi Martin,
I have used the “make up” sponge wedges that you described for some time. They are cheap, readily available and lint free. I find they are also great for oiling out an area. For varnish I use Gamvar. The spray varnishes I don’t like because of the smell and potential hazard. Great topic and thanks for sharing your experiences.

Thanks for your input Dan, good to know the sponges do the trick, I’ve certainly got a lot of experimenting to do. Will keep an eye out for Gamvar, I’ve a small bottle of Winsor & Newton’s Dammar to try out also. Haven’t got any spray varnish as of yet.

While I’m on the subject of varnishes, since I did my “Vermeer” I’ve been thinking of ways to make it look more authentic and came across a very interesting product:- LEFRANC & BOURGEOIS : CRACKING VARNISH - with timed applications of this it produces a craqueleur effect (you can then rub dirt into the cracks for effect) giving it an “aged” look, so that’s another one I need to try. Pretty cool idea!

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