Varnishing a painting (choices and techniques)

The excellence of your acrylic painting deserves a finish worthy of the quality of your brushstrokes! Let’s talk about the finishing touch for your painting: varnish. Varnishing a canvas not only ensures the longevity of its color brilliance, but also gives it a superb glossy finish.

How to varnish a painting with Anthony Chambaud

Varnishing an acrylic canvas: why is it so important?

Paintings are put to the test once finished. Depending on the room in which they will be hung, canvases, like colors, are subject to numerous external “aggressions”.

The varnish, applied to an acrylic painting, is the final step at the end of your work as an artist.

Varnish to preserve the canvas

Acrylic paint is a stable product on the whole, but its gloss can vary over time.

A canvas mounted in a kitchen will be exposed to cooking fumes, and sometimes to an unfortunate splash of grease; a painting in a sunny dining room will be greatly enhanced by natural light, but will suffer from the harmful effects of its UV rays.

A work hung in a room that is often ventilated and airy will inevitably collect particles of external pollution and dust.

These are all factors that are often overlooked, but which in the medium term tarnish and yellow the colors of the picture.

Most brands of acrylic paint already contain, in their initial composition, protective agents against the UV rays present in natural light, but do not guarantee optimum protection.

Varnishing a painting totally protects it from the damage caused by all these environmental factors.

Varnish to intensify colors

The varnish produces an exceptional brilliance, offering a different visual effect depending on the viewing angle. Unexpected reflections enhance the painting’s beauty, and colors are revealed in all their depth, gaining in intensity. The pigments in acrylic paint sparkle even brighter, with a tangy taste!

Gloss varnish on an acrylic painting
Example of a gloss varnish finish

A beautiful finish enhances your creativity: choose a varnish according to the final result you expect:

  • a matte varnish evens out the paintwork while retaining the raw, natural look of the color. There will be no particular shine or play of reflections, but the work will be perfectly homogeneous and harmonious. A matte varnish does not alter or modify the intensity of the background color;
  • a satin finish is the option for artists who are new to varnishes and hesitate in their choice, or don’t want to “take risks” in their varnish selection;
  • a glossy varnish elegantly transforms the painting’s brilliance, without obstructing the viewer’s gaze;
  • Selective varnish is also an option, for highlighting key areas of your picture.

Varnish for my acrylic canvas: spray or liquid?

Sprays: the simple, effective varnish

Aerosol spray varnishes are very easy to apply: there’s no need to dilute them, they’re ready to use. It saves time to benefit from a prepared, fast-drying varnish, and limits any mixing errors.

Spray varnish application technique

The varnish is applied in criss-cross strokes: the first coat is applied horizontally, then, after careful drying, the second coat is applied vertically.

acrylic spray paint / aerosol varnish
Spray varnish for acrylic paint
  • Varnishes are applied in several coats, to ensure a totally uniform finish: depending on theopacity of the paint in certain areas, or differences in texture and relief, the varnish will not coat the structure in the same way. Multiple varnish applications ensure a harmonious, balanced effect. The coats applied must therefore be thin, but multiple!
  • The sprayer should not be placed too close to the painting, as this could lead to clumps of varnish, nor should it be placed too far away, as this would prevent the product from being properly sprayed onto the canvas: 15 cm apart seems to be the best option!

Choosing an aerosol varnish

  • Pebeo gloss varnish spray is the perfect product for varnishing canvas. It ensures long-lasting color, leaving behind its unique gloss film. This varnish iseasy and safe to apply: even a few oversprayed areas of varnish will fade as it dries.
  • Amsterdam’s 114 spray varnish (gloss version) is another product you can use with confidence on your painting, at a lower cost.

Liquid varnishes for acrylic paint

This is another way to guarantee maximum protection for a painting, and give it a perfect finish.

Two products are particularly well-suited to strengthening the pigments in acrylic paints, and protecting them from the damaging effects of light, temperature variations and other external aggressions.

Liquid varnish for acrylic paint

LIQUITEX gloss varnish

A top-of-the-range product (bottle with orange label) that protects and enhances your work to the full. The cost may seem slightly high, but the quality of the varnish is well worth it. Used properly, the can lasts over time; it’s excellent value for money.

The advantage, of course, is that it’sready-to-use, with no dilution or mixing to do, for perfect finishes without streaks or glazing.

LIQUITEX gloss varnish medium

This product can be used in two ways:

  • painting medium, integrated into acrylic paint, for its diluting effect: the paint will set differently on the canvas;
  • as a finishing varnish: a little complex to use at first, it needs to be diluted with water, with a water content of up to 25% (an instruction leaflet will guide you through the dilution process).

It is therefore NEVER used pure, undiluted, as part of the final varnishing of the painting.

How to apply varnish: the right tools

Applying varnish is not difficult.

Varnishing acrylic paint with a spalter

A wide spalter with ultra-fine fibers is ideal, as it leaves no trace of the bristles passing over the fabric. It is essential to clean your spalter thoroughly at the end of varnishing, as the varnish is slightly “sticky” and can easily get stuck in the nooks and crannies of the brush.

However, regular use of the spalter to varnish a work will weaken the quality of the fiber over time…

So how do you go about it?

Foam brushes: the varnish ally

It’s one of my favorite tools for applying varnish to a painting: it doesn’t overload with product, and light pressure will disgorge the excess before application to the canvas. So success is assured, with a tool that can be easily washed in its entirety, for a derisory price.

Varnishing a painting with a foam brush

A wide variety of foam widths are available, perfect for varnishing frame edges.

Varnishes for acrylic paint: a few precautions for the artist

Protecting and embellishing your canvas is essential, but the use of liquid or aerosol chemicals must be carried out according to good practice to protect the health of the user!

Care must also be taken when applying the varnish to ensure that the canvas dries properly.

Solvent fumes

Bombs of any kind are not exactly eco-responsible products, and what’s more, they give off gases that need to be protected from. It’s unthinkable to open a window whileapplying spray varnish, as the spray will be deflected by air currents, resulting in an uneven finish. What’s more, draughts bring in dust and other tiny particles, which are bound to stick to the varnish…

Wear a mask!

Applying spray varnish is quick and inhalation is reduced, but it’s a good idea to protect yourself from the fumes, especially when creating at high frequency!

Paint precautions

Acrylic paint is applied layer by layer in most creations (except for alla prima ): it’s essential to wait for the paint to dry completely, before picking up your brushes again. The same applies to varnish. The canvas must be completely dry, especially if you have opted for a liquid varnish.

And don’t forget to wait until the signature on your canvas (using Posca, acrylic, water-based paint or pen) has dried: a small detail that can cause drooling when the varnish is applied.

To enhance deep-drying, and save a little time over air-drying, you can use an external heat source, such as a hairdryer or heat-stripper. To avoid altering the reaction of the acrylic paint polymer with hot air, carry out this artificial drying from a distance!

Varnishing an acrylic painting is not compulsory, but highly recommended.

It’s the final touch that marks the completion of your work!

Pack offert : Techniques, matériel & guide

Pour vous lancer dans la peinture abstraite dans de bonnes conditions, je vous offre ce pack comprenant mon guide du matériel, un cours de peinture abstraite et une avalanche de conseils !

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