As with many artists, I'm obsessed with the surface quality of my paintings and discovering new products. I've recently conducted some varnish experiments as I continually search for materials that work for me. Before discusses each varnish, I first want to say that each of these products (and any products I talk about) may work for you, BUT you have to test them out to see.
So here's a breakdown of each varnish that I tested:
Dammar varnish - Very traditional varnish with suspected conditional issues such as yellowing with age. Conservators suggest you wait 6-12 months before you varnish with dammar, but I rarely wait that long before using dammar. That could come back to hurt my paintings, but maybe in 100 years or so...
Dammar is very sticky to apply and starts to tack up very quickly. I've heard you can warm up the dammar in a double boiler before you apply it to make it more spreadable, but I've personally never done that so I'm not sure if it works.
I used two coats of dammar (waiting 24 hours in between for the first layer to dry) and the painting was beautifully shiny. Like I said though, the longevity of the varnish scares me a little. Keep in mind also that dammar is mixed with turpentine so the smell might irritate some people (I personally like the smell).
Gamvar - Gamvar is a pretty amazing product and I've discussed it in past posts. The main thing I like about Gamvar is the fact that you don't have to wait to apply it. Gamblin suggests that you only need to wait until the painting is "...dry to the touch and firm in the thickest areas...that may be two weeks, for others, 2 months." That's a pretty amazing thing.
The downside to Gamvar that I've noticed is the fact that it took me 3 coats to reach a level of gloss that I liked. For some works, I would apply the first coat and it would look great, and then it would sink in. This didn't happen to all the paintings and one of my paintings looked great after the first application. Applying more than one coat is never too much of a headache though.
With all the varnishes, I prefer to apply several thin coats instead of 1 thick coat. I've always heard this is the best. The other thing I love about Gamvar is that it's super easy to apply and doesn't tack up right away.
CPC UVS Finishing Varnish - The final varnish I want to discuss is Conservator's Products Company's UVS Finishing Varnish. This is the varnish that I have the least experience with, but I want to discuss what I know about it.
The first thing about this varnish is that it has to be specially ordered from CPC's website. You give them your address and which product you want and then they email you to confirm, then they ship it to you and then you mail them a check within 30 days of receiving the products (old school). This has a certain charm to it, which I like, but not everyone may like the extra steps involved.
They're located in NJ and so am I so I received the product the very next day. The varnish comes with instructions and you get two separate containers, one of them is a quart sized metal container and the second is a little bottle with a dropper top. The varnish needs to be mixed in small amounts before you apply it with a certain ratio. I like the way the varnish looks, but it isn't glossy enough for me and it doesn't say if you can do multiple coats (which I'm guessing you can) so I would have to ask the company.
Overall, it's a good varnish and gives a surface kind of similar to the Gamvar.
So, what's my final opinion-- I like the Gamvar a lot because I can use it once the painting is semi-dry, it's easy to apply and I like the surface quality that it gives, but I may change my opinion as I continue on my journey..
I set up my easel outside my house today to capture some of this beautiful day. Every single time I paint outside, from nature, I have a lot of clarity and thoughts.
I keep reminding myself that the way I do something will come out naturally. This relates to style and it's very tricky to put into words. It's like the adage about how muddy water is best cleared by letting it settle. My mind is pretty over active so it's not easy for me, but I'm trying to not try so hard, if that makes sense..
Here are some photos from a recent trip I took to see Bouguereau's masterpiece, "La Jeunesse de Bacchus" (1884), on display at Sotheby's in NYC until it's sale on May 14th (which is also my birthday funny enough). I went to go see the painting with my brother and his girlfriend and I can't even describe how it looked in person. It's very overwhelming to be honest. It looks different in person than in photos (as does every work of art) so I encourage everyone to go visit it and see for yourself.
An interesting technical side note, in the last image you can see how Bouguereau changed the position of a triangle instrument being played by a young boy. As oil paint ages, it becomes more transparent and thus reveals changes in the under layers. You can see the inked outline underneath which Bouguereau didn't always abide by. I could look at this painting for hours and I'm very happy that I got to see it.