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..
4/10/2023 09:20:12 am
Hi Eric, I found your post while I was searching for what to varnish my oil paintstik paintings. Thank you for a nice, clear evaluation. Forty years ago I worked with traditional oils and got frustrated with the drying time... Have been working in acrylic and dry/soft pastel but the framing of pastels is another frustration! Anyway, Found Shiva oil paintstiks and have done 2 pieces so far, and love them. Was going to go back to Dammar, but I also feared the yellowing...
4/10/2023 10:55:07 am
Hi Carol, Thank you for your comment and feedback. I love hearing from fellow artists. If you ever feel the desire to work with oils again, there are mediums called 'siccatives', which can hasten the drying time. I understand your frustration with framing pastels. I love the way pastels look, but they're so fragile. I haven't tried oil sticks, but I'm glad you enjoy them. With varnishes: There are advantages and disadvantages to every varnish and I wonder what will happen in the future with the "non-yellowing" varnishes that we have access to nowadays; will they stand the test of time? I'm personally fond of the traditional materials. All the best to you.
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