Category Archives for "Mindset"

How to Varnish an Oil Painting


How to varnish an oil painting

Varnishing an oil painting is an essential part of the painting process. (Photo by Will Kemp)

Varnishing an oil painting is an important part of the painting process. If you’ve completed an oil painting, you’ll notice that once completed and dry, the surface of the painting isn’t quite even. It has areas that shine and others that appear quite dull and matte. 

Varnish comes into play in these situations to protect, even out, and improve the aesthetic finish of an oil painting. Along with this, it can protect a painting from environmental damage, like dust, dirt, or smoke. When a painting is finished with a removable varnish it can be cleaned by removing that layer, and the dirt from decades or centuries that has affixed to the top layer can be eliminated without damaging the painting. 

Learning how and why artists varnish their work in an important part of an oil painting. The process can be done quite easily and can improve and protect the final oil painting.

An example of before and after varnish, with the colors brought back to the luster of when they were wet. (Photo by Cowans)

What Does Varnish Do?

Applying varnish to an oil painting helps to combat the uneven drying of paint layers. Because some oil paint pigments contain more oil than others, they may dry more glossy than others. Others contain less oil and dry with a matte finish. Darker color especially tend to dry and lose their original luster. Varnish helps to even out the final painting at the very end to unify the layers and different colors of paint. 

In addition to aesthetic uses, this protective coat offers a dust-resistance and protective final coat for the painting. Many varnishes have UV light resistors to protect the paintings from fading when exposed to light. Most are acrylic, some removable and mineral spirit based rather than water-based. For this reason, varnish should always be used in a well ventilated or preferably outdoor area. 

The in process restoration of "Portrait of a lady with a dog" 1590s, by Lavinia Fontana 1552-1614, restored by Rebecca Gregg Conservation. The left side has had the original varnish removed, while it remains on the right half.

Varnish in History and Restoration

The old masters used varnishing often in their painting process, with select artists writing about their experiences. Many renaissance painters favored a glossy finish to complete their paintings, which not only increased the feeling of a glow and atmosphere but increased the feeling of dimension in the painting. 

However, many historical varnishes became cracked, dirtied, and discolored over centuries. Due to the lack of knowledge behind the proper compounds to create a clear, colorfast protective coat, many famous paintings have had to undergo restoration to remove their varnish and restore the painting’s former luster. 

Fortunately, because of the use of ancient varnishes, many masterpieces have been cleaned, restored, and preserved. A restorationist will use a removing solution to carefully strip away the old varnish, without damaging the painting beneath. The painting can then be recovered with a modern solution to protect from dust, light, and other elements. 

An unique view of the layers of a painting and the protective varnished layer. (Illustration courtesy of Gamblin)

Which Varnish Should I Use and How?

Varnishes used for oil painting are typically acrylic and can be applied by either a spray or brush. Using a brush can often produce unexpected results, ranging from uneven coverage to bubbles on the surface of the painting. Here at Evolve, we urge our students to use a spray varnish, which evenly and lightly coats the surface of the painting. 

Aside from the application process, varnish can be roughly broken down into permanent and temporary. Permanent varnish, also called picture varnish, is just as it sounds: permanent. It can only be applied after the painting thoroughly dries, anywhere from 2 months to two years. Though conservationists can carefully removed it, the permanent version usually protects paintings that will not be retouched or cleaned for many years. 

Temporary varnish, also known as re-workable, temporarily restores colors and can be reworked upon. It is thin and can be applied to the painting as soon as it is dry to the touch. Because if it's thin nature, it allows the paint to continue to deeply dry without cracking. 

Choosing a varnish depends on your painting style, but re-workable options prove a good choice for beginner painters. 

An painting in the process of varnishing by Jason Walcott.


Varnishing a painting is an important part of the oil painting process. Both for aesthetic and protective purposes, this important layer should be applied to every painting a student creates once they dry. Remember to choose a reworkable varnish, so that your painting can always be restored to its final luster. 

For one of the Evolve recommended spray varnishes, click here.

For more information on historical varnish and conservation, click here.  

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How to Choose the Right Paintbrush for Oil Painting


How to choose the right paintbrush for oil painting

​Choosing the right paintbrush is an important part of learning how to paint.

As any beginner artist knows, choosing the right oil paintbrush can be tricky. With hundreds of styles and sizes, finding the right brush for your painting can be confusing and even frustrating.

But utilizing the right size and style tool for the area where you are painting is an important choice. While good tools don’t make good paintings, the right tools can help you to do better work.

Fortunately, there are a few easy things to learn about paintbrushes and their styles that can help you to make an informed choice before you begin to paint. Keep reading to learn more about your brushes and find out how you can choose the right oil paintbrush!

There are several different shapes of brushes that work well for different techniques and areas in your painting. (Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash)

Parts of an Oil Paintbrush

Each paintbrush has the same anatomy, and it is made up of three parts. These three sections of the paintbrush are the bristles, the ferrule, and the handle. The bristles of the paintbrush are simply the hair that carries the paint. They can be stiff or pliable, each one leaving a unique mark. Stiffer brushes are often made of hogs hair or a synthetic bristle that can be used for scrubbing paint onto the canvas or leaving behind texture. A softer bristle, often made up of  soft hair, will yield a smoother result and more control. 

Bristles can be made of natural animal hair or synthetic hair. Natural hair brushes are often the most sought after, as they tend to be very soft and fine. However, synthetic brushes are a fantastic choice and can come in a range of very soft to very firm. Here at Evolve, our students use a range of synthetic brushes for their paintings.

The ferrule is the metal band that attaches the bristles to the handle. It holds them in place and keeps them together. It is important never to allow the paint to reach up to the ferrule. If this happens, the paint can dry close to the metal and become hard to clean. Once it dries near the ferrule, the bristles often spread, making it difficult to gain control with the brush. 

The handle of the paintbrush can be long or short  and made up of wood or plastic. If you choose a longer handled paintbrush, you can get some distance from your painting, but a shorter brush can enable you to render details with greater control. 

Difference in sizes between brush styles. (Photo by Anna Daudelin on Unsplash)

Different Types of Paintbrushes

There are several different styles of paintbrushes to choose from. Time and practice will help you to discover which one you prefer, but the size of the are in which you are working and your painting style can also help to inform your brush choice. 

Here are a few different oil paintbrush shapes:

  • Round: Round shape with a pointed tip, that is often used for fine details with a smaller brush or signatures. The stroke of a round brush doesn’t vary, so it is ideal for control in small areas. 

  • Flat: Flat bristles with squared ends that can be used for filling large spaces or blending paint. Because they can carry more paint, they can cover larger areas and create smooth edges and encourage a sweeping stroke. 

  • Filbert: A flat brush with rounded ends that can be used to apply paint or to create softer edges. Evolve students start with mostly filbert brushes, as these brushes are ideal for blending gradients. 

  • Fan: These brushes are flat and shaped like a fan. They are excellent for blending paint or softening edges, or a well-used brush can create patterns and interesting marks. Each brush comes in a variance of sizes, ranging from very fine to larger than an inch. Keep in mind that different styles and brands of paintbrushes may vary in sizes, so always check before you buy. 

Differences in marks are due to pressure and brush shape. (Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash)

Which Brush Should I Use?

Finding the paintbrush that works best for your particular situation may take some time and trials. Start with a simple filbert, maybe in a 2, 6, and 12, and see where that gets you. You may want to explore a wider brush, or perhaps a round. 

Evolve students start their painting journey with mostly filberts, and as they grow in their techniques are able to experiment with different styles and sizes. 

Consider investing in a few, quality, medium to large stiff brushes, and a few smaller soft brushes. Explore which ones fit you best in your painting style. Don’t give up on a brush if it feels uncomfortable at first, instead, hold on to it as it may come in handy later. 

Evolve Paintbrushes are, at first, mostly filberts ranging from a size 2 to a size 12.


Finding the brushes that suit you best takes time. Just remember that in order to find out what you like, you must paint and practice! 

Take your time and experiment with different brush styles until you find what works best for your painting technique. 

Remember to take good care of your brushes

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