Varnishing Your Acrylic Artwork

So you’ve created a masterpiece, now what?

Like many people the whole process of varnishing may intimidate you. Should I varnish?  What type of varnish should I use? How do I apply the varnish? Help!!!!  No need to worry, I will guide you through some of the basics so that you will fearlessly venture into the world of varnishing and never look back.

The main reasons an artist will varnish their pieces is very simple: protection, protection, protection. You have carefully thought out your color palette, style, application process and media type, so you wouldn’t want your lovely neighbor's toddler to come over and start smudging your masterpiece with her Nutella-covered fingers before you’ve had the opportunity to protect it -- or even think about protecting it. 

Most varnishes protect from ultraviolet light. Protection from harmful UV rays is an important step to ensure that your artwork resists fading and maintains its original color throughout the years along with protecting your painting surface. You will need to use a protectant varnish specifically designed for artwork. Check the label to make sure it’s also a UV protectant. Let’s dive in shall we?


Spray-on Varnish

A spray-on varnish is exactly that, a varnish that comes in a can that you apply by spraying carefully over your work. I prefer this method of varnishing. It is fast, clean and works well with my style of artwork. Using a spray on vs. a brush on method is especially important when you are covering not only paint, but also your marks created by using oil pastels, graphite, china markers, chalk, ink and anything else that may smudge through unwanted contact (remember your neighbor?). 


These materials will go on almost any surface.  The good news? These materials are soft enough that you can blend with your finger. The bad news?  They are soft enough that you can blend with your finger.

Choose Your Finish

Like paints, varnishes come in a variety of finishes. Typically, these are matte, satin, semi-gloss, gloss and high gloss.  Don’t fret; these choices all come down to personal preference.  Depending upon which piece I am working on will depend upon the final look I want to achieve.  Full disclosure, the majority of the time I will choose a gloss because I love the way it makes the color more vibrant and almost gives it an oil painting look.  Go ahead and experiment, throw a little caution to the wind and have fun.  You really can’t make a mistake here.

Prepare Your Space

First thing’s first, make sure your artwork is completely dry and clean.  If not, the varnish will mix in with the paint leaving an undesirable outcome.  If there is dust or lint on it, I hope you love it because it is now part of your masterpiece.  Next, find yourself a very well ventilated area or better yet, move outside to get started.  Remember varnish is a toxic substance-make sure you read the label and take the necessary precautions when using.


Cover your work area with paper or something else that you won’t mind getting sprayed. We all can’t be a Tom Brady with our accuracy.  Next, lay your artwork upright and flat, you can either place it on your workspace or if you are working with canvas, go ahead and place it on your easel but apply your varnish lightly so you avoid dripping.


Shake your can of varnish for at least 10 seconds to ensure it is completely mixed.  I always like to test the nozzle pressure by spraying on my work surface material.  Okay, ready? Hold the can approximately 8-10 inches from your art, now wait for it…spray. 


This should be done in a sweeping, evenly applied motion across the paper (or whatever surface you’re using). If you see puddling or drips your application is too heavy and you need to lighten up (literally).

Patience and Reward

Now, sit back, relax and let it dry. Don’t be curious and start touching to test, I know how impatient we can be... 


Let it do its thing and allow approximately 20-30 minutes to dry between coats. I will typically apply 2-3 coats, 2 for paper, 2-3 for canvas.  This will properly seal and protect your magnificent piece of work.


So go ahead, invite the kid over for a snack or even better your famous ribs!  You are now protected, well, at least your artwork is--