Shellac (paint varnish)

shellac flakes

In its raw form, shellac comes in flakes that you can dissolve in alcohol.

What is shellac?

Often confused with tree resin and lacquer, shellac is an excretion gathered from the lac insect that is useful as a sizing or an isolating varnish between paint layers. Because of its origins, it is not vegan, but it is a renewable resource, unlike its synthetic alternatives.

It is also a good fixative for charcoal and other drawings, and dries in less than an hour. Apart from its uses in art as a glossy varnish, it is commonly used in food, cosmetics and woodworking.

How to use shellac in art

There are two ways you can buy shellac: in raw flakes, or pre-mixed. If you acquire the flakes, you need to dissolve them in denatured alcohol to use them.Try to find an alcohol with a low water content, since moisture causes the shellac to dry with a milky haze.

Because of the rapid evaporation of alcohol, you have to work fast to apply shellac – particularly in humid environments, where the moisture can cause the varnish to dry hazy.

Shelf life of shellac

If you buy pre-mixed shellac, remember that it has a shelf life. White (clear) shellac only lasts about a year. To test if your shellac is still good, rub a small drop between your fingers. It should feel smooth; if it is grainy, the shellac has been sitting for too long.

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