IS IT REALLY NECESSARY TO WAIT SIX MONTHS TO VARNISH AN OIL PAINTING?
We have all probably heard the saying "you must allow an oil painting to dry for six months before you varnish." Is it true? Well, that depends on who you ask. Some say "absolutely" while others say "hogwash". So, what do the experts have to say on this matter? I wanted to know because I did a large portrait of my granddaughters and I am interested in preserving it carefully and correctly!
First: three reasons we varnish a painting are: 1.It really brings up the vibrancy and richness in your painting. 2. It protects
the painted surface from atmospheric effects. 3. It makes the painting easier to clean later.
One of the sources I went to is the company "Natural Pigments". This is a company that provides high-quality materials, mediums, varnishes, etc. for artists. They also answer many such questions as mine.
I began by typing in the question in the title above and I found out some interesting information. A lot depends upon several factors, 1. What surface you painted on, porous or non-porous. 2. How thick is your paint? 3. What is the temperature and humidity where you are located?
Of course there are arguments for both long and short waiting periods, some insist it ABSOLUTELY must dry six months, others say NO, just touch-dry which can take a couple weeks. The bottom line is that you need to be sure that your paint is actually dry. If your paint is impasto, or very thick, that would obviously take much longer to dry than a thinner coat of paint. Either way the painting at the very least must be dry to the touch! There are tests you can do that helps. One is called the "thumbprint" test, another is the "fingernail" test. The thumbprint is superior of the two as the fingernail test can give false results depending on the amount of pressure applied. To do the thumbprint test, press down firmly with your thumb while holding the canvas with same hand, not twisting! (obviously this will be on the edge, a safer location) then polish that spot with a soft cloth. If polishing removes any mark left by the thumb, the paint is considered "dry-hard" and ready to varnish, again with a breathable varnish. GAMVAR is highly recommended as a breathable varnish.
It is better to wait for a few months, but that's not always possible since we may have a delivery date for a client, show, etc to meet. So, we do what we must, but it is recommended we NOT use a hard varnish such as the old masters used, but instead use a thin coat of soft varnish: meaning one that is breathable, allowing air to penetrate and complete the drying process. The drying time is slower under varnish, but it does dry.
There is so much information to be had on this topic that I could never include it all. So I recommend you go to the websites: Naturalpigments.com or WillKempartschool.com to read the articles on varnishing. Then you can decide for yourself what works best for your particular paintings. Every painting could be different, thus requiring different treatment. It's always good to learn more on this topic and that's just what I intend to do. Have fun and don't let your head burst with all the information you find to read and absorb, lol!
Below is a painting I recently finished. I had students ask about painting an apple so I decided to add a few extra tidbits. I added an apple slice, a chewed apple, and some water droplets. It turned out really well and I am very proud of it. Enjoy, and I'll see you soon!
"Who Ate My Apple?"
11 x 14