removing varnish from oil painting

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annmiltiades wrote
on 10 Mar 2014 4:51 PM

I have a few oil paintings, spray varnished, that I want to redo-improve.  Is this possible?  Can I oil paint over varnish?  I have learned a valuable lesson-not varnishing until I have viewed the painting for weeks!  Mistakes are not readily seen--for me, anyway!  Thanks for any suggestions!

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JDWooldridge wrote
on 11 Mar 2014 10:39 AM

Definitely do not paint over the varnish.  In order to remove it, you must use a solvent that is at least as strong as that in which the varnish was dissolved initially.  Turpentine is usually about the strongest solvent used in painting and it should be able to take the old varnish off.  However, it is possible it may take some of the paint film with it.  Whether or not this a legitimate problem will depend upon how you painted it to start with.  If you used thin glazes, this may be a major issue but if you used thicker layers then you may not have any problems.  If you still have the can of varnish you used, check it to see if it tells you what the solvent was and then use that same solvent to remove it.  It will probably take a good bit of effort and several tries to get enough of the varnish off to paint back onto.  If you do decide to use turpentine, use it in a well ventilated area.

If these paintings are more than a couple years old and you have been working diligently on your art in the interim, you may be better off just repainting from scratch.   Your skills should have improved and you may produce a much better overall work and it may be easier and less time consuming than removing varnish, again depending on how you paint.

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annmiltiades wrote
on 13 Mar 2014 1:26 PM

thanks!  I tried with odorless mineral spirits and it didn't touch the varnish.  thinking of just tossing the canvas!  the barn was great but I needed to fix the green in the trees..  oh well, but appreciate your input!

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Jay Babina wrote
on 14 Mar 2014 8:50 AM

I re-worked a few old paintings that were varnished. I wet sanded them to de-gloss them and give some tooth to the varnish. You can buy wet sand paper at almost any hardware store. I just use a sponge and dampen the surface and sand it. Then clean it with a sponge / papar towel. Why wet paper? because you can get very fine grits like 600 - 1200. I use 600. You can just sand the painting with regular paper too. But if it's too coarse, it will leave scratches. Oil paint will adhere perfectly to sanded varnish.

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annmiltiades wrote
on 14 Mar 2014 9:17 AM

I like it!  I will certainly try this!  Thank you, Jay.

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stephanberry wrote
on 14 Mar 2014 11:54 PM

I am not sure about that you can paint over varnish or not, but the preferable way is remove the Varnish first before oil painting again. I totally agree with JDWooldridge that you can use Turpentine which is the strongest solvent which can remove the effects of varnish. You can also go for Artisan Varnish Remover which is available online at Jerry's Artarama web store.

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