Can You Varnish Over A Watercolour Painting?

You’ve just finished a beautiful watercolour painting, and might be wondering if there’s anything else you can do to protect and enhance your work of art.

One option you might consider is varnishing the painting. Varnish can protect your watercolour from fading and moisture damage, and it can also add a layer of shine that can make your painting look even more appealing.

In this post, we’ll explore the benefits of varnishing a watercolour painting, and we’ll also share some tips on how to apply varnish correctly. Let’s get started!

What Is Varnishing In Painting?

Varnish refers to a liquid applied over a dry paint layer to improve the quality and shine of the final image. It can also add protection to the painting against dirt and moisture.

The purpose of varnishing is to create a surface that will reflect more light, making the image look brighter and cleaner. In addition, varnish seals the paint layer, which makes it less likely to suffer damage over time. Over years and decades, the dust and dirt that accumulates on a painting can be difficult to remove, but it can be much easier to clean the artwork with varnish in place.

Can You Varnish Over A Watercolour Painting?

The quick answer is, yes, you can varnish over a watercolour painting! It will also provide some level of protection against damage from the elements. That said, you must know a few things before you do.

First, applying varnish will be a permanent addition to the painting. The paper used in watercolour paintings is typically absorbent, so the varnish will most likely penetrate the paper to a certain depth that cannot be reversed. If you are not happy with how the varnish has changed the appearance of your painting, varnish cannot be removed anymore. So, before you add varnish to your painting, just make sure that you really want to do it, and that there are no changes to make on the painting.

Second, the varnish may alter the appearance of your watercolour painting. Varnish can give a glossy or matte finish to painted artwork, which can change its look and feel significantly. Before applying varnish to your masterpiece, you should try it out on a similar piece of paper first to know exactly what effect will be achieved by adding this layer over the image.

The sheen level also varies depending on what kind of varnish you use. For example, the matte varnish will make the colours look slightly lighter, and the gloss varnish will make them darker. So if you are looking for a specific look, it is crucial to test the varnish on another paper with a rough painting on before putting it on the actual one that you want to keep.

Lastly, taking scans or photos of a varnished painting can be tricky because the glare from the varnish may obscure the colours and details in the image. It is best to take a scan/photo first without the varnish to capture the original texture of the artwork and then add it after if you like.

How Do You Varnish A Watercolour Painting?

Varnishing a watercolour painting is not as difficult as you might think. In fact, it is a process that can be completed in just a few simple steps.

Before you begin, it is important to make sure the painting is completely dry. This may take at least a day with watercolour, depending on the climate. Once the painting is dry, you can begin the varnishing process.

Also, always test a small area on another rough painting to ensure that you use the suitable varnish for your particular watercolour painting. Not all varnishes are created equal, and some can actually damage the painting if not used correctly.

You can varnish your watercolour painting by direct application or isolation coat to get started. Direct application is when the varnish is applied directly to the painting. On the other hand, an isolation coat is applied to the painting and then allowed to dry before another coat is applied.

Direct Application

If you varnish the painting by direct application, you must purchase an Archival Varnish. This special varnish is designed to protect paintings from moisture, dirt, and UV damage. This is usually in aerosol form that can be applied to a delicate painting, such as a watercolour painting.

Simply spray an even coat of varnish, preferably the gloss varnish variant, over the entire painting. Allow it to dry completely, then spray on a second coat and so on until you reach the fourth coat. The gloss varnish will help maintain the clarity and vibrancy of the colours in your painting.

Upon the fifth and sixth coat, you will need to use your sheen of choice: satin, gloss or matte. A total of six coats would be ideal for protecting and preserving your watercolour painting.

Isolation Coat

An isolation coat is an excellent option if you want to give your watercolour painting an extra layer of protection. It is also a good way to add some shine and depth to the colours in your painting.

There are two ways to apply an isolation coat: brush or spray.

If you apply it by brush, mix two parts of soft gel gloss and one part of water. Allow about one hour for the mixture to settle, and then apply it over the painting with a soft brush in even strokes. One or two coats would be suitable.

If you are going to apply it by spray, use a product like Golden’s GAC 500 by mixing two parts into one part of a transparent extender. Apply it in light even coats from a distance of about 12-18 inches. Again, one or two coats would be ideal.

Final Word

Gone are those times when only oil and acrylic paints could be varnished. Nowadays, many new materials on the market can be used to varnish a watercolour painting. Apart from adding a protective layer, it can also add shine and depth to the painting.

With the right varnish coatings, your delicate watercolour art will be protected for years to come.