This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
This is a follow-up to last week’s article about Liquin. I will offer a few suggestions for maintaining fresh color after the painting has dried but before you varnish.
Oil Primed Canvas
Gesso will suck the oil out of your colors leaving them looking dull or “sunken” when dry. Using an oil primer instead will leave colors with much more life. Oil primer doesn’t suck the oil out of your paint. Yes, gesso does have its good points. Only you can weigh the pros and cons for yourself.
Paints and Pigments
Dry pigments are mixed with oil to create the paints you use. Some pigments absorb more oil than others. These colors will dry duller and lifeless. Student grades often use inferior pigments which also absorb more oil. In general, higher quality paints will do better to retain their freshness of color compared to student grades of the same color (this is one of many reasons to use artist quality paints). But as explained above, certain pigments of the same brand/quality will retain freshness of color better than others. Research and experimentation will help you find pigments that suit your needs.
There are many mediums on the market (Liquin is just one of many). Some will increase the gloss of your paint. Others will decrease the gloss. Caution should be used when working with any medium, because they change the chemical properties of your paint. They each have advantages and disadvantages and must be used properly. They should never be used as a varnish. Do your homework. Read the books by Mayer, Gottsegen, and Taubes. I won’t go into all the pros and cons of mediums here. It’s much too lengthy a topic. Only you can decide if you want to use them. But be informed before you decide. Also, a word of caution, just because a famous artist uses a medium in a certain way, doesn’t mean that it is a good idea. He may be uninformed.
I must admit that I know very little about using wax as a final coat for oil paintings. I know it is done. But I don’t know the pros or cons or how or when to apply it. When mixing wax in paints or adding it to varnishes, it creates a matte finish. I would assume, then, that when used as a final coat it would be matte. Any input from those who know would be welcome.
Varnishing is a huge topic. I’ll try to briefly touch upon the important points. A more thorough discussion warrants a separate article. After reading your comments, I’ll decide whether or not I need to write a follow-up.
Retouch varnish will restore the fresh wet look to dry paintings, but only temporarily. Retouch is not intended to be applied in a thick coat. It is intended to create a bond between dry and wet layers of paint. It also aids in matching color and value as you resume painting. If used as a temporary varnish over a dry painting, the gloss effect will fade quickly. If you apply it heavily enough to retain its fresh glossy look for any length of time, it will cover the painting much more heavily than intended. It would be similar to a final varnish. Retouch varnish is nothing other than a diluted final varnish.
Spray with final varnish while the painting is wet.
Kamar is one brand that many of you mentioned. But there are many others. I have done this only once. It was about 15 years ago and my painting ran. I have never done it again. Some artists do it cautiously so it won’t run. It must be applied thinly. To me it isn’t worth the risk. However, if you do, you are creating a bond between the paint and varnish. It would dry as a continuous film rather than two separate films. Thus, on a molecular level it would be akin to using a medium. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be a removable layer, but I might be wrong. Also, because it must be applied very thinly, I don’t know how long the glossy look would last. Any input from those who know more would be helpful.
Apply Varnish when dry to the touch (spray or brush).
There is a school of thought that suggests that it is safe to varnish when the painting is dry to the touch as opposed to waiting 6 months to a year. The reasoning is this:
The tradition of waiting so long to varnish is carried over from an era centuries ago when the varnish was poured on in a thick, glossy layer. The current taste of a much thinner layer of varnish doesn’t require the lengthy cure time. The thinner layer isn’t as brittle as a thick layer. It would bond to the paint creating one durable layer that would expand and contract with the paint.
According to Mayer, the benefits of varnishing so soon also include protecting the painting from dust, smoke, dirt, and other particulates which could become imbedded in the paint if left unvarnished.
Some say that you must varnish within 2 weeks of drying to the touch or you have missed the window of opportunity and must then wait the traditional 6 to 12 months. I don’t have any expertise in this area to know if this claim is true. Again, any input is welcome.
Wait to Varnish.
Of course, there are many who still subscribe to the practice of waiting 6 to 12 months to varnish. There are a few cons to this practice: a) the length of time the painting remains unprotected; b) the challenge of having the painting varnished if it is no longer in your possession; c) the aesthetics of an unvarnished painting.
These aren’t an issue if you are able to get ahead with enough inventory to have cured, ready-to-varnish paintings at any given time. The paintings you do now could remain in your possession until they can be varnished because you will have older paintings ready as you need them. But this is rarely possible for most artists.
If you chose to wait for the final varnish, then you are faced with the imperfect options discussed above. There really isn’t a perfect solution.
For me, though, I find that oil primed canvas (I use linen) and artist grade paints make a significant difference in the freshness of color when dry. I rarely use any medium. I only use it when I want to achieve a certain effect. I varnish within 2 weeks of drying to the touch, unless the painting needs to be shipped out sooner.
PS. Did I miss any other methods of restoring freshness of color after the paint has dried?