I am sure that the reason for the restrictions against varnish on watercolors is, to some extent, a means of maintaining the traditional definition of watercolor. However, I believe there are more reasons than that for the specification of "no varnish"—at least at this time.
Now almost all of the national watercolor exhibitions sponsored by the various watercolor societies throughout the country accept all water based media. However, most of these societies originated for the exclusive purpose of promoting watercolor as a method of painting. It is not surprising then that many of the entry rules and criteria for judging are more applicable to traditional watercolor. During the judging process of traditional watercolor, one of the points considered is how much of the natural clarity and brilliance of transparent watercolor has been maintained through the mixing and painting process. Varnish can alter the appearance of a painting—enhance the color to some extent. If all the paintings are unvarnished it makes for a more level playing field — at least for the judging process.
This is the way it is at this time. Chances are, these restrictions will change with time. The restrictions against varnish should not hurt the personal principles of anyone. These shows are a method of showcasing your best work. It would be a shame to not take advatage of them.
I have a few gripes of my own. I've had to have paintings re-matted three times and on another occasion I had to have a picture reframed and re-matted in order to comply with exhibition specifications.
I am beginning with watercolour to add an alternative to my oil painting and am most interested to learn the method, steps, materials, etc to varnish some of my watercolours. would Lori or someone else please provide me with the necessary information. I live in an idylic rural australian area with much great scenery to paint and I make my own high quality frames, but I want to avoid the mat & glass arrangement in doing my framing. Cheers , Trevor
Getting back to the original question... I agree with you totally, Mr. Sullivan.. watercolor should never be varnished... I relish the surface of papers... I've been selling my 400 pound Indian Khadi paper floated, without glass or plexi over it... people buy my paintings BECAUSE they love the texture of the paper... varnish is not for watercolor.