Today we talk Varnish.

Varnish for Acrylics and in a couple upcoming episodes we’ll finish off with Varnish for Oil and Watercolour (yes, watercolour).



This is Lezley Davidson with Peeling Onions and Art Answers & Ampersands or Art A&A as we’ll eventually call it, I’m sure.

So today we’re going to talk about varnish. Sheila… Sheila? Yes, Sheila from Newmarket asks:

“Do I really have to varnish my paintings?”

Short answer, yes, yes you do. Alright, end of podcast, bye-bye, see you later… No no, just kidding.

Seriously varnishes are really really important for paintings – you don’t want environmental factors like dust and humidity and Yick, general Yick to land on your paint film. That’s the purpose of the varnish- is to create an isolation coat between your paint film and your painting itself.

Today I’m going to talk specifically about acrylic varnishes because there’s quite a bit to cover with oil and also watercolour, I decided to split them into different podcasts so for acrylics there’s two different types of varnishes that you can use. There’s spray varnish on Windsor Newton Blair there’s a bunch of different styles of varnish. Golden has an archival varnish which is quite good quality.

My own personal preference is that I don’t like sprays because they go on pebbly. You should spray them quite a distance away probably 30 centimeters and the keys to do light coats and do many light coats, but I’ve never been able to put a really really smooth application on with a spray – it’s always pebbly because it’s atomised, right. So I moved into using a brush on varnish.

There’s two different types of brush on varnish for acrylics – there is your standard water-based, it’s a polymer varnish. Golden has one… Liquitex, they’re very common. I use a Golden varnish. It comes in Matte, which is flat, a gloss and Satin which is basically a mix. You can buy gloss and matte and mix equal parts of both and you will get a satin.

So it is important to read the directions – the Golden varnish needs to be thinned out approximately one part varnish to three parts water so it does thin down quite a bit sorry I did that wrong that’s three parts varnish one part water. I would do a little bit more [water] generally, but that’s just me. You want to use a wide as possible nylon brush (or sable if you can get it… unlikely to use for varnish) to apply it because it’ll go on really really smooth.

For larger pieces you want to start in the middle and brush outward okay and set up a lamp so that you can kind of see across the surface of your painting, make sure you got everything. I’d recommend at least three coats and be careful if you using Liquitex because it’s already been thinned down with water – it says explicitly do not thin any further and keep that in mind when you’re making your choices based on quality and cost. Liquitex and Golden are definitely very good qualities but you get more out of Golden because you can actually thin with water.

Okay so that’s pretty much it for acrylics and varnishes. Definitely varnish, people. All varnishes can be removed and replaced and cleaned – you can scrub the crap out of a varnish, you do not want to scrub the crap out of your paint film. You will abrade it and ruin it okay… so varnish! varnish! varnish! varnish! varnish!


So next week I’ll talk to about oil varnish. If you like this podcast please subscribe with iTunes or head over to our podcast page on iTunes and give us a rating or comments or go to our website at or and you can ask us a question on the podcast page on our website. You can also leave a voicemail on our voicebox toll charges apply – you have been warned.

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