Removing Varnish – An Experiment

Oh I’ve been remiss in updating y’all on some of my more recent endeavors.  I’m on vacation for a couple more days and have done SO MUCH and have posted mostly none of it.  Time away from a computer is so valuable.  

But I really wanted to share this because it’s something I’ve been so nervous about for so long!

I like to varnish my work with high gloss.  In thin layers it really makes the colors pop and provides nice protection – BUT but but… I do not, at all, like it on my abstract pieces.  In the grand tradition of recipes, I’m going to natter on for a bit about my thought processes before I give you that actual ‘how I did it’ bit.  My apologies.  

Feel free to scroll down to the next picture for the step by step.

Abstract work is new to me and I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m in love with the sensation of it.  Kinetic and organically engaging it’s like dancing, but with paint.  There are generally a mountain of layers of paint on the canvas when it’s done.  There are hills and valleys and sharp edges and surfaces so very silky they want to be touched.  I know touching an oil painting isn’t generally touted as something you ought to do … but you ought to!  Just get permission first y’all.  Consent matters and touching an oil painting has an impact on the material itself.  Like human touch, it leaves a mark.  Do so thoughtfully.

So the varnish … it mucks up the textures and the high gloss mucks up the light, particularly on those extremely velvety areas.  Can’t have it.  So I fixed it.  And I am well pleased.

The post header is a before picture I took, carefully arranged to not pick up any glare.  I wanted to get a notion of how the colors appeared under the varnish without direct light.  This is a pic just before removal, you can see the intense reflection.  I used Gamsol to remove.  I’m not convinced I had to as there are a million different mineral spirit options – but here’s the thing.  I’m not willing to do much research to figure out how to do things, which means I generally select materials by popular opinion.  This is what ‘they’ tell me to use, so I’m gonna.  I’m NOT going to read how to use it, because I’m stubborn that way.

I used an old cloth napkin my mother had given me.  I have a MOUNTAIN of them and the old ones don’t really get rotated out often.  This is a good use for them and I can begin my collection of ‘studio cloths’ now.  Thanks Momma!

The napkins aren’t linty, and that seemed wise.  So I took the cloth and placed it over the top of the bottle and got a smidge on there, and just started moving gently in circular motions over the canvas.  After a small bit I’d widen the circle and would eventually feel the napkin start to pull a bit over varnish it didn’t have the power to remove.

I’d wipe off the area I worked with a dry side of the cloth and keep going.  And it WORKED!  Yay for me.

There is still some sheen there, but I would expect that as it had some sheen before varnishing.  I did lose some color in the varnish removal.

But I feel it was minimal enough in nature to not have a huge impact on the final piece.  Here’s the after picture taking in the same indirect lighting as the before.  The colors remain true in both states and I’m so very pleased.  

And the velvety texture has returned!  BOOYAH!

tl;dr:  Sometimes varnish needs to be removed.  Use a lint free cloth.  Use Gamsol.  Use sparingly.  Small circular motions.  Be gentle.  Wipe off as you go.  Easier than you think.

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