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 love the whole process of creating a work of art, but I also love the other processes involved with painting. I love framing and hanging the piece because it really gives me a sense of accomplishment when I sketch my ideas out and then they become a reality. I've made my own frames in the past, which is also something I enjoy doing. This painting wasn't made as a commission, but it was a painting that I'd been wanting to do for a long time. I painted it over the course of two mornings and let it dry before I varnished it with Gamvar and framed it.
Today, I sketched out where I wanted to hang it and measured out the space. I love working with my hands and using tools so it's all part of the fun. I guess there's an aspect of interior design also. Now, the painting is hanging across the room, on the same side from where the original clock hangs. I love the way it looks and I'm going to enjoy looking at it for a long time.
I'm always on the hunt to try new oil painting products and I decided to try out Gamblin's Gamvar gloss varnish. For anyone new to varnishing: varnish is used after a painting has dried and the artist wants to bring back a richer surface. It brings back sunken in looking colors and there's many different types of varnish from matte to glossy. I personally prefer a gloss varnish. I had previously been using Winsor and Newton's gloss varnish.
The first thing I noticed about Gamvar is that it has almost no odor at all. This is really nice since it's good to varnish paintings indoors with no windows open. Varnishing outside or with windows open can cause dust and other particles to land on your canvas and set in when the varnish dries.
The second thing I like about the Gamvar is that the bottle is really easy to open; this might sound like an obvious feature, but Winsor and Newton has bottles with a black safety top that are SO ANNOYING to open and I usually end up breaking the tops off (Get on that W+N).
The Gamvar is also water-like in it's consistency, I really like this because a little bit of Gamvar spreads across the surface really nicely and goes a long way. Other varnishes dry really quickly and get sticky and tacky almost instantly.
I'm still waiting for the first coat of Gamvar to dry to see if I need another coat, but I have to say right now that Gamvar is the best oil painting varnish that I've used. I've used all types of varnish (including the traditional dammar and copal) and I love the way Gamvar looks and feels. Besides gloss, they also have a matte and satin finish, which I haven't used those but I imagine they're also really nice.
Thank you Gamblin for a terrific product, I won't be using any other varnish from now on.
*The images below show some progress shots as I used the Gamvar on some recent and older paintings. I'm going to see how the Gamvar dries and might apply a second coat after 24 hours.
UPDATE: After the first coat dried, the gloss lost a little shine so I decided to add a second coat. The first coat dried after 24 hours so I applied another thin coat and now it looks great.