If you’re new to oil painting then you’re probably wondering how long you should wait to varnish an oil painting. The quick answer to that is that you should probably wait 6 months before you varnish, or at the very least you should wait 3 months. You want to give your oil paints time to properly dry and to cure before you put on that varnish coat, even if it stresses you out a little leaving it unprotected like that.
Today I’ll tell you a little more about that waiting period and why it’s a good idea to be patient before varnishing. We’ll also cover about what would happen if you decide to varnish too soon and what happens if you REALLY go overboard and simply varnish it after a week.
Let’s just say for now that it’s not recommended and today you’ll find out exactly why that is the case!
How long should a painting dry before varnishing?
If you are dealing with acrylics, those dry quickly, but oil paints are a whole different animal. The reason that you’ve been told that you should wait 6 months or even a full YEAR before varnishing has to do with oil drying and curing time.
Oil paints spend months drying and curing properly, especially if you’ve got thick spots of paint and layering to factor in. If you store it in a cold place for safety in the meantime, that will slow the drying down as well.
Some colors even dry at different rates. It’s just one of those things that come with the medium. While your painting can still dry with a coat of varnish and get oxygen, varnishing too early can definitely have a negative impact, so let’s take a look next at what happens if you get impatient and just varnish it anyway.
What happens if I varnish an oil painting too soon?
When you varnish an oil painting too soon, there are a number of things which can occur. A painting where the point paint is still a little soft can react to vanish in ways such as blossoming, odd textures may form, or you could get lucky and just get a funky topcoat.
The ideal time to varnish is going to be when the surface of your painting is not only dry to the touch, but when it has formed that strong, protective film that is there to take your oil painting through the next few centuries, with just a ‘little’ help from your varnish.
The scenario which I’ve just described is really just about waiting something like 2 months and then rushing into varnishing out of terror that something is going to harm your painting. Worse can actually happen by hurrying the process and varnishing too early, so let’s say for the next scenario that we will explore that you’ve decided to simply wait a week and varnish it anyway.
What would happen then? Let’s see!
Can I varnish an oil painting after a week?
I have some good news and some bad news on this. First off, the good news is that newer, modern varnishes are hitting the market of late and these allow you to varnish in as early as a few weeks. These synthetic varnishes are formulated in such a way that they allow the oxidation process to do what it needs to do, all underneath that super-sturdy varnish protection.
One example is Gamblin’s ‘Gamvar’, which is a synthetic resin that allows you to varnish as soon as your oil is touch-dry. It’s gotten some pretty stellar reviews from happy artists and you can see it here on Amazon if you’re curious.
Now, barring this new magic varnish, if you are using a traditional varnish and you decide to simply wait a week and then throw on your topcoat, then that varnish is going hurt you deeply by mixing with your paints and there is no way that you can remove it or reverse the resultant damage.
If you’re really lucky, then maybe you’ll get that ‘melted clock’ Dali effect, but most likely your work will simply be ruined but quite a bit more UV resistant.
So, get the quick stuff, or be patient and wait 6 to 12 months like it’s traditionally done. Your hard work is worth the wait!
Today I’ve talked a little about how long you should wait before varnishing an oil painting and the verdict is in. You should wait at least 6 months to 1 year before varnishing your oil painting with traditional varnish, so that your paint has enough time to properly oxidize, cure, and form a protective film. Alternatively, you can try some of the newer synthetic varnishes and then varnish it as soon as it’s dry. It all depends on your patience and if you are willing try out new varnishing options when it comes to your precious work.
I’ll close out today by giving you an article that can tell you a little about your various varnishing options and which one of them come with the best perks, just click this 3rd party link and you can read all about it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my curiosity is piqued a bit with this Gamvar stuff and I think a trip to my local art supply house is in order. Wish me luck!