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To Varnish or Not to Varnish... That is the Question

Today was the first time I ever varnished one of my paintings. That may seem surprising considering I've been painting for years, but the truth is this process is something I never remember discussing in college so I never really thought to do it on my own.

So I did a little research to figure out if it is absolutely necessary to varnish paintings or not and discovered a few things.

1. Varnishing is not an absolute necessity, though there are usually those who strongly favor varnishing and those who don't.

2. It is recommended that you need to wait a minimum of 6 months (longer if your painting is really thick) to allow your piece to dry before you varnish.

Many artists like to varnish their work to protect it. Paintings can collect dust and dirt over the years and varnish makes it easier to clean artwork. When cleaning, restorers will remove the varnish layer, along with the grime, without compromising the actual painting. However, there are those, like Pablo Picasso apparently, who abhorred varnish because the glossy finish can sometimes cover up texture or nuances in a piece that the artist wants to keep. So, basically it comes down to personal preference.

The general rule of thumb for varnishing seems to be to wait a minimum of six months before varnishing to allow paintings to dry. No surprise, then that my college professors never got to show us how to varnish our work. Classes usually end after four months - too soon to give a painting enough time to dry. I found it's important to wait the prescribed six months because if a piece is varnished before that, there is a chance that cracks can appear in the artwork and/or the top layer of the painting can meld with the varnish. Why would melding with the paint be such a big deal? Well again, if someone is restoring a painting and cleaning off the old varnish that has melded with the top layer of the painting, they will wind up removing the actual paint rather than just the varnish and dirt.

So after learning about the process of varnishing I decided to try it on one of my stained glass pieces, Illuminated Garden. I like the thought of not only protecting my work but also giving it a sort of sheen, which should add to the idea that it's made out of glass rather than just matte paint. If you are an artist, how do you feel about varnishing your work and do you have any tips for those who have not tried the process before?

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