Tuesday, January 27, 2009

About varnish 1

Painters used to use mastic, a softer varnish that is more prone to bloom, a white discoloration caused by humidity, mastics use is now limited to the making of mediums. Copal varnish, usually made from now scarce fossil amber has become rare and in any event formed a brittle film prone to cracking. Today copal is mostly replaced by synthetic resins like alkyd. I learned to paint with Taubes copal medium and used to love it, the formula has changed and it is no longer made with genuine copal. There are new and expensive final picture varnishes. I don't use them.
Dammar is the standard artists varnish today, it is a resin from a number of different trees found in the far east, mixed with turpentine to make it liquid. Dammar is the only varnish in my studio. I either buy a liter bottle from Winsor Newton or I buy it from Utrecht. Utrecht will sell you dammar tears in a cloth bag closed up in a quart can. You open the can, pull out the bag, fill the can with turpentine ( remember dammar thins with turpentine, mineral spirits won't do) drop the bag back in, retaining the end of the string that trails from the bag. Just like making tea. If you buy those little tiny bottles at the art store you will pay many times as much as if you buy it in quantity. The markup on those little bottles is astronomical. Sometimes I also stock a can or two of spray varnish in a can. They have a crazy markup too, but they are convenient.
Matt varnish is an abomination before God! Here's why. Lets look at the pictures in magazines for a moment, if you look at American Art Review, The American Magazine of Antiques, Fine Arts Connoisseur, American Art Collector (some of these magazines have been friends and supporters to me over the years so I try to list them all, ) or other high end magazine where top quality reproduction is important. They use a coated paper. Its shiny. That means that a lot of the light hitting the ink on that page is returned to your eye, giving you...brilliant color. Tabloids from the grocery store, or what we once called pulp publications are printed on cheap paper that has a matt finish, like newsprint. It returns less of the light that hits it to your eye and the result is dull color. When you put varnish on a painting one of the things you are doing is making the surface shiny like it was when it was wet. It returns more light to the viewers eye.......and you get the idea. Matt varnish robs your colors of their brilliance by interfering with the return of the light to your eye, So matt varnish absolutely KILLS your color. Also matt varnish is usually made by adding wax to the formula, which weakens its protective film as well.
When a painting dries, sometimes the oil drops down into the substrate particularly in the darks, and areas of the painting go matt. This is called drying in. Restoring the shine to these areas is done with a can of spray retouching varnish. At least these days. In the next post I will tell you how the old guys did it. I will return tomorrow with a blog about how they sprayed varnish in the 19th century and how you can do it yourself, saving a little money and amazing your friends with a bit of cool and nearly forgotten technology.
My wife is telling me I need to break these posts up into smaller pieces, she says blog readers won't read long entries. I will try to comply.


Mary Bullock said...

Hi Stape -
Your wife is probably right - but I read each and everyone of your posts and I recommended your blog to my daughter who is also an artist. She read your posts last night and likes them too.
Thanks for the information on varnish - I guess I have avoided varnish because it is so expensive, but I will definetly check into your suggestion on mixing my own.
I really like your post on art schools and I couldn't agree more.
I could never understand why they don't teach marketing in art schools.
Please keep up your posts - I am learning so much! Thanks -

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mary, Thanx.
I am used, therefore I am useful. I am getting a lot of hits on my profile so there may be a few others reading this blog as well. I am enjoying writing it. I am looking into adding a counter so I can track visitors.. Varnish is not expensive,you need to buy it by the liter and from Jerry's Utrecht, AWS or other national level suppliers who price and sell products competitively. One of the things I am trying to stress in this blog is keeping a check on the cost of materials. Painting need not be expensive, and if you are doing it for a living your costs have to represent a logical percentage of your overhead. ,, Stape

Mary Bullock said...

Well said! That is something else they need to teach in art school - good business practices for artists.
I use sitemeter.com for the counter on my website - it is free and gives you all sorts of useful information on the clicks and clickers.