Stacking Varnishes

Wondering if anyone here has ever stacked two varnishes before?

I was reading a Natural Pigments article, and they talk about using two (Conservar Finishing Regalrez 1094 on top of Conservar Isolating/Finishing Laropal A81). I’ve also heard about people completely “oiling out” a whole painting with Liquin, and then applying Damar as a finishing varnish.

I’d be afraid of crazy blooms /uneven, opaque patches. Any one here ever experiment? Just curious!

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I have not Vic but this is a great question. I’ll be following this thread for sure.

I know this is a really old thread-- but I have started doing exactly what you outlined, Victoria. I’ve been unhappy with my final varnish for years, it always looks uneven and sunk in. I switched to Conservator’s Products a few years ago and mix up my own satin matte, and that helped a lot. I like the matte varnish, and I think it suits trompe l’oeil work well. A few months ago I tried using the Conservar Isolation varnish first, then a final coat of the Conservator’s matte. It looked really good- the isolating varnish made the final look much more uniform. I plan to try it again on a few new pieces next week.
The isolating varnish smells REALLY bad–super strong odor. And it freaked me out a little because it took a while to dry-- much slower drying time than my final varnish. That said, it had much nicer finish layering the two together.

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Natalie—let me know how that continues to work out. People are often asking me about good matte solutions. I’d like to be able to present more options.

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I’m going to varnish some new pieces next week- I will take a few videos and pictures to show how things look step by step with stacking the varnishes and will post here.

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I haven’t forgotten about the whole stacking varnishes thing-- I’ve hit a roadblock, though. One of the three paintings I put isolating varnish on has not dried evenly, although the other two, which are identical in every way (substrate, pigments, mediums, drying time) except for subject matter are fine. I may have put too much varnish on my brush and overloaded the surface, it’s the only difference I can think of. I’m waiting for someone to chime in on Painting Best Practices and tell me if I need to strip off the isolating varnish or if the final varnish will coat the surface so it looks even. Here’s a few images of the weird splotchy finish with Conservar Isolating Varnish.

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Hi Natalie,

Thank you for chipping in on this thread. I am still very interested in the idea of stacking varnishes, but have not found the time to experiment on sample boards. If you are stripping off the isolating varnish, let us know what you use to do so and how it goes! I would like to know if it strips off any paint during the process.

Also, if you follow through on the other two paintings with the secondary layer, I would like to know your thoughts on the outcome!

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Here’s some info about my experience with stacking varnishes to share with the group:

:

I’ve changed my varnishing method recently and wanted to share what I’ve learned. Please know I’m not claiming to be a varnish pro or have any special knowledge about varnishes- this is just my experience. Varnish will behave differently according to many variables such as substrate, temperature, application, paint film and drying times — your results may vary.

I have used Conservator’s Products Varnish for years- it comes in gloss and matte, and you can mix between the two to create your own finish. I prefer an almost matte finish in a ratio of 4:1, matte to gloss. It’s easy to remove in the worst case scenario, and not too smelly. But, I was never entirely happy with the uniformity of the finish, especially in raking light.

I listened to a varnishing webinar with George O’Hanlon where isolating varnish was discussed, and it seemed like the answer to my problem. Using a two layered process of varnishing is called ‘stacking’- it works because each varnish is made up of different resins, and they can be applied on top of each other without activating the layer below. Natural Pigments Conservar Isolating Varnish is a synthetic resin made from laropal, and Conservator’s Products varnish is made from regalrez. Using the isolating varnish first gives a much more uniform finish to the final varnish.

It seems counterintuitive, but you can and should (according to Mr. O’Hanlon) put a matte varnish over the isolating varnish layer. Normally I would worry about this- the isolating varnish is a bit shiny, and the matte is, well, matte- and one would worry about adhesion in that scenario. They suggested matte varnish over the isolating in the webinar, and I contacted Natural Pigments to make absolutely sure this was sound practice.

Stacking Varnishing Tips:

I like to have a dedicated brush for each varnish. The laropal makes the brush very stiff after cleaning, unlike the regalrez. Some painters do not wash out their varnish brush, preferring to reactivate it in varnish, but I haven’t tried this yet. Isolating varnish is also VERY smelly— I don’t use it in my studio. Plan accordingly.

Isolating varnish should be applied to a dry painting, and you should wait a minimum of three days before adding a final varnish. Be careful with application: I had a scary thing happen (see photos) where I accidentally flooded the surface with a heavy brush load and the isolating varnish dried blotchy; it looked almost like a bloom. Luckily, the final varnish smoothed it out and it looks good now, but something to be aware of.

If you choose Conservator’s Products as a final varnish, buy the gloss and matte and make a scale. I keep dedicated measuring cups so I can mix the same ratio consistently. This varnish should be mixed as you need it- not made ahead in a batch, so you’ll need to measure and mix every time.

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Hi Victoria!

I may not have completely answered your question about isolating varnish. I should add that the only time I’ve had an issue with isolating varnish was, ironically, on the very piece I decided to photograph for this thread.

I decided not to strip the isolating varnish for a few reasons. I definitely varnished this piece early, and it’s likely I would have removed some of the paint film. I have never, ever waited six months to varnish, although that’s another topic entirely – but I have been varnishing pieces a few weeks after I finish them for more than 20 years and haven’t had an issue, so what I did here does fit into my varnish time line. I also could have remade this painting easily if things didn’t work out, so I had nothing to lose by adding the final varnish. If this had happened on a big collage piece that I’d invested months in it would be a different matter, and I might have tried to remove the isolating varnish out of an abundance of caution.

I also felt like the final varnish might sink in the isolating varnish and smooth it out, which is luckily what happened. It was an excellent experiment in seeing what can go wrong and how stacking varnishes behave, although it would have been better on a test panel :sweat_smile: :joy:

Happy to report that all three paintings look great with the stacked varnish!

Best wishes-
Natalie

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Great to hear they all turned out well! :partying_face:

Thank you for sharing all this information with me. I want to experiment with these two varnishes for sure. When I get around to it, I will surely share my results as well.

Do you think you will continue to go with this varnishing process on future paintings?

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Hi Victoria!

I’d love to know how this varnish process goes for you- please keep me posted. I will probably keep doing the stacked varnish application for now- it really does make a difference in the overall uniformity of the finish, although I’m still trying things out with my painting and mediums.

If anything else goes horribly wrong I’ll share it here :sweat_smile:

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One thing I’ve tried was to first oil out with an Alkyd Walnut oil cut with a little OMS then varnish over top of that once dry. I found that oiling out helped even the surface so the varnish application was more consistent.

I’m not certain if that’s a valid technique or not but so far so good.