Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Liquin as a final varnish?

I did a demonstration and talk today in East Boothbay, Maine. A very beautiful place. When I do demos I encourage the crowd to bombard me with questions, partly because if they don't I get hung up in the painting part of the demo and don't talk enough, but also because with a little encouragement they ask about things they want to know about, and if I know what they want to know, I can be of more use to them. I am a downloader, not a cheerleader.

One of the questions that came out today was something I think I have written about, perhaps in passing, but I think I will spell it out clearly tonight. I was asked "is it OK to use Liquin (alkyd medium) as a final varnish?"

The short answer is NO, but I will qualify that a little. Liquin takes care of some of the problems that one uses a varnish to solve. It does bring up the "dried in" (or matt ) areas of a painting. Some passages in a painting lose their oil into the layers below them and become flat, particularly the darks. Putting a coat of varnish or Liquin on the surface restores some reflectivity and returns the note to the color that it was when freshly applied. That takes care of that, and if you need to send the painting out to a gallery the problem is solved. In fact it puts a nice, even, satin finish on a painting that looks good and is easy to light consistently. I do it myself on occasion.

However Liquin does not do the other thing that a varnish should do. Here's what that is. Picture varnish is like the wax your dad used to put on his Country Squire wagon, it takes the road dirt and the beating instead of the paint on the car. Once a year or so dad would strip the wax off the car, taking the grime and Truman era strontium 90 with it. The wax shielded the paint on the car and could be removed and then replaced. Picture varnish works the same way, we put varnish on a painting as a bulwark against the dirt and chemicals that foul our squalid world. A generation or more down the road some restorer, using solvents, will strip the varnish from the soiled painting, and put a new coat on. The grime, and corruption are removed with it.

But Liquin becomes a part of the paint film, it can't be removed. It becomes chemically a part of the painting rather than a glistening protective condom stretched over it's surface. Therefore it is OK to use Liquin as a short term solution to the problem of making a painting presentable in the market, but the painting should still be varnished at a later date.

Now you may think "What do I care, won't I be dead by the time that happens?" Maybe yes or maybe no, but you owe it to your clients to make a painting that your clients children and their children can enjoy. Your customers buy your art with that expectation, they see the old paintings in the museum and assume that if they buy your painting it will last a very long time too. It is a matter of making a quality product. And

A painting has nothing to recommend it other than that it be well made.

15 comments:

Terry said...

Hi Stape,
What about spraying with a retouch varnish, someone reccommended KamarVarnish by Krylon? How do you get a painting back to do a final varnish? Do you spray Damar with your mouth atomizer? I bought one but haven't tried it yet. Can the final varnish be put on with a brush? I have varnished a lot of boat mahogany!
I looked for a book on Carl Peters as you recommended and found "Carl W Peters, American Scene Painter from Rochester to Rockport" a 'tome' 927 pages! but an amazing read about NE painters. Fascinating and fills in so much info around your tales of the early days. Thanks again, Terry

Deborah Paris said...

Hear, hear! Although I don't want the visual of a "glistening protective condom" in my head when it comes to my work, you've done your usual great job of explaining why Liquin shouldn't be used in this way and why varnish is important. Unfortunately there are some high profile landscape painters out there who tell people the opposite, so perhaps you can counteract the misinformation .

Lucy said...

In addition, Alkyd resin is a faster drier than anything with oil. If there's oil underneath the alkyd on top will eventually lead to cracking. Better to use retouch varnish after a month and/or picture varnish after a year. I lay the painting flat and use a flat sponge brush and stroke it across like varnishing a table. I have a friend who is a restorer who does use an atomizer in his shop.

Mary Byrom said...

I always had doubts about Liquin as a varnish and Deborah is right there are some landscape painters out there using it. Didn't you do a blog on varnishes? I've used several types/brands, which one is most economical? Do they all smell bad... so I always have to open up the windows & doors in order to breathe when applying it ?

Mary Byrom said...

Also how are you varnishing your sold paintings a year later? Lots of traveling?

Bob Carter said...

Hi Stape,
Let me add a chemist's stamp of approval to what you've said about this. Also, I second Lucy's point. It drives me nuts when I hear about prominent artists who ignore the sound practices that have been handed down by tradition. It's all based on solid chemistry, and ignoring that jeapordizes the longevity of the work. Reversing the roles, if I shell out the kind of money good art costs, I sure want to know that the piece will last my lifetime and that of my heirs.
-Bob
P.S. The strontium-90 reference did not go unnoticed. When I talk about this with my chemistry students, I'm generally met with stares of amazement that such a thing was a real concern.

willek said...

I have always been skeptical of patent products. They do not label them and everyone uses them with no question. I have been using 1/3 stand, damar and terps with 6 drops of cobalt dryer for 3 oz of mis for a long time and have seen no ill effects. I have used Gamblins 2 part semi gloss varnish and it seems O.K. It is not supposed to shrink on drying, But who really knows? it comes with a lot of rhetoric and has zero track record.

Carol Nelson said...

I'm a fan of Liquitex' Soluvar. I can brush it on and it's self leveling. It's removable, and has UV filters. I use it on oil,acrylic, and mixed media paintings.

Stapleton Kearns said...

terry;
I think thats the best fix. I have used that but generally I like to use the Winsor Newton.I sometimes use a mouth atomizer too.
.............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Deborah:
I wondered who would react to that bit of description. I try to not be boring.
Those western guys that do that re probably OK, but I still think a picture should be varnished.
.....Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Locy;
Maybe, but I have seen pictures of my own that received that treatment 20 years ago that are alright. I don't think alkyd is liable to crack, but who knows. It has a flexible almost rubbery paint film.
...Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mary:
If you make your own varnish with artists grade turpentine it will smell like pine. I love the smell but you might find it noxious. I don't really smell the paint anymore anyway.Try breathing through your ears.
..............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Bob;
You and I may be the only ones who remember strontium 90. I always know you are out there when I write anything that approaches chemistry. I think I flunked that. I always worry I will get something wrong. I like to use the word thixoptropic though. I like to think it makes me sound well informed.
........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Willek;
I have to check out that Gamblin 2 part varnish. I have had it recommended to me but have never tried it.Easy on that cobalt dryer, it can crack paintings too.
......Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Carol;
I have used that one and I know that restorers recomend it. But I still like damar. I know what it is, can remove it myself and it is tried and true.
...........Stape