To varnish or not to varnish: That is the question

Varnish beach painting July 2018.jpg

Why would I use it?

Spending a long time on any piece of art can make you protective of your creation, especially when handing it over to a Gallery, client or just to hang on your own wall space. You want it to be the very best it can be for a long time, right?

...I know I do.

Well then... you need to varnish your work. In my case especially on oil paintings.

Unless you can hire your own bodyguard to stand in front of your work battering off wayward dirt and dust, you would probably like to add a protective layer. 

Benefits of using a varnish

Plus the benefits of varnish is that it will tie together the overall appearance. When using different mediums like linseed oil etc, you will have noticed that once dry your work can often appear patchy. Some areas will be matt whilst others more glossy.

The wonder of the right varnish is that you can have the overall consistent finish that you desire.. be it Matt, Satin or Gloss. Take a walk around any Gallery and you will see a wide range of different finishes.

Also you may have noticed that once your painting had dried, the painting can appear dull. Varnish can also bring back the vibrancy to your colours.

gamvar product pic 2018 - v2 jpg.jpg
blue horizon no 3 varnished 2018.jpg

What product should I use

The key is to figure out what finish you want for your painting and go from there.

Every artist has there own products that they are happy with. For me, I love Gamblin's, Gamvar varnish. Have been using for a few years now. I used to have a few problems with the varnish beading on top of the painting, especially if I had used a lot of linseed oil (google if you don't know what this is).  But their recent satin varnish does not do this, on my artwork anyway.

When to apply

With Gamvar, the benefits of this product is that you can use it once your whole painting is touch dry because it is water-based. Other products state that you have to wait 6 months to a year!

...Who has that sort of time?

How to apply:

Prepare your space to be as dust free as possible plus a space where it can be left undisturbed. Also have a small pot for the varnish and a piece of kitchen roll handy for wiping any stray lint, which I warn you will want to adhere itself whilst applying. Lots of fun.

I use a small rough brush which I lightly add small amounts of varnish with and work gently into the painting. Should be touch dry in 24 hours depending on room temperature. 


If for some reason you need to take off the varnish you can removed with Gamsol. Haven't yet come across a reason to have to do this, will admit that the thought terrifies me. But the Gamblin websites states it can be done safely. 

How many coats:

This is completely up to you based on how you want the final finish to be. I change my mind on every piece. Sometimes one or sometimes two. (the above painting had two)

I don't like it to be too reflective as this can hinder where you hang it.


Any new products should always be tested first before applying to your beloved master piece. This is where those unused artworks you have hidden away come in handy.

Remember, this is just my own opinion. Please feel free to contact me to tell me your thoughts on the subject or if you need help directing in the right direction.

Thanks for reading

Harriet :)