How I Varnish Acrylic Art

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I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the varnish I use on my canvases, so it’s time for a little info dump.

First of all, why varnish your paintings?

I don’t believe in following all art rules, but varnish is one of those things that I adhere to religiously. Every canvas piece I finish gets at least two coats of varnish. If your art will not be displayed behind glass, then you should varnish it. (Some work with loose materials, like charcoal or pastels, could also use a coat of spray varnish/fixative to keep particles from falling off even when displayed behind glass.)

Here’s why I varnish my work:

  1. It protects the work- a coat of varnish will protect your paintings from dust, moisture, fingerprints, and other random things. Some varnishes (like the one I use) protects work from UV light.
  2. It enhances colors- Darker colors under a gloss varnish can look much deeper and more vibrant.
  3. It creates a consistent surface finish- Some paints have varying gloss or matte finishes. A varnish will bring everything together.

I’m sure there are more reasons to varnish your work–but that’s my list.

Two dried coats of Liquitex High Gloss Varnish.

Products I usE to Varnish my Art:

Liquitex High Gloss Varnish (Amazon or Blick Art Materials)

I LOVE this varnish. It’s non-yellowing, it’s archival, and it’s shiny AF.

COVID has caused inventory issues for Liquitex. When the High Gloss Varnish is in stock, I suggest buying in bulk. In the meantime, the Gloss Varnish (Amazon or Blick) might be a good substitute. I haven’t tried that one yet.

If you aren’t a fan of glossy finishes, then I definitely recommend Liquitex Matte Varnish (Amazon or Blick). I use this varnish occasionally.

Cheap 2 inch Foam Brush (Amazon or Blick Art Materials)

Streaks are an issue. Do not use bristled brushes with this varnish. Use a cheap foam brush.

Yogurt container with a lid– I don’t rinse out my foam brush with each use. I’m lazy, and foam brushes break down easily with wear and tear. I saturate my brush while varnishing and then store it in a washed out yogurt container between uses. Once black chunks start to fall off the brush, I toss it and grab a fresh one.

How I apply the varnish:

You can see from the video below, I apply this varnish with slow and even strokes. I try not to pass over an area more than 3 times. It begins to dry quickly, so don’t rework areas you covered after moving on. Read the directions on this varnish. Do not water it down. Do not over work it or it can get foggy. Apply a thin coat and wait 3 hours between before applying the next. I apply two coats total.

I paint and varnish the sides of my canvases as well.

Tiny bubbles can form. I don’t have any issues with them after the varnish dries, but sometimes I will blow on the canvas to pop them, slap the back of the canvas a few times, or tap the canvas frame on my table to vibrate the surface, pop bubbles, and even out any areas that pooled.



Let me know if you have questions! If you enjoy learning about the supplies I use in the studio and want to know more, let me know through Instagram or Email, or consider becoming a Patron of mine to support more content like this. Now go get messy and share your creation on Instagram using #messyeverafter!



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Further Reading: