Adding an isolation coat to an Acrylic painting

by Will Kemp

in acrylic painting

golden-soft-gel-gloss

What is an isolation coat?

An isolation coat is the coat between your finished painting and the varnish.

It is transparent and creates a physical separation between the varnish and your painting.

This is key because otherwise the varnish will stick to your painting and be a nightmare to try and remove. Varnish is not permanent, it just acts as a dust collector that you can remove and replace, every 5 to 10 years depending on how dusty the environment your painting is kept in.

To make an isolation coat I use GOLDEN Soft gel gloss. This medium is off the hook, and I highly recommend you buy it along with an Acrylic Glazing liquid gloss if you are starting acrylic painting. These bad boys are all you need.

A full gloss finish can do amazing things to your paintings…

Step 1: How to apply an isolation coat to an Acrylic painting

Checklist before applying an isolation coat:

  • Make sure the painting is 100% dry, ideally leave at least 24hrs before applying isolation coat.
  • Look over the surface of the painting up close to see you don’t have any rogue brush hairs on the surface.
  • Photograph your painting. It is soooooo much easier to photograph a surface with a matte finish. The gloss of the isolation coat will reflect everything and if you can’t turn off the flash on your camera, the light from the flash will bounce off the reflective surface.
  • Sign your work, a signature under gloss just looks lovely.
  • Use a clean brush and then only use this brush for varnish, it will be tempting if you are in a rush to use another brush that you ‘think’ is completely clean. I’ve done it before and the polyurethane loosened off dried on acrylic paint and went over the painting, not a good idea.
  • Find a clean jar, same reason as the brush, clean is good for isolation coat or varnish.
  • A flat, dust free area. You need to be able to leave the painting in this position for an hour or two

Pro tip: If you are coating the sides of a canvas you can slightly raise each corner with a small piece of wood so the painting doesn’t stick to the surface below.

Pro tip: If you want a matte finish and have used an absorbent ground (such as ground for pastels) it is important to add an isolation coat. Even though it seems counter-intuitive to put a gloss isolation coat down first then put another matte varnish coat on top. If you left it without the isolation coat the matting agent in the varnish would remain on the surface, the solvent would be absorbed into the ground resulting in a white residue.

Step 2: How to mix your isolation coat

1. Mix two parts soft gel gloss to one part water - Mix more than you think you will need, trying to match the exact consistency if you run out is not fun!

2. Add the water – little by little as it will mix in better.

3. Do not be tempted to add more water

4. Re-read point 3 – the mixture will appear too thick, too white, and just a little scary, it isn’t.

5. Get a clean, wide brush – I usually use a 2 inch flat nylon brush, you can use a ‘varnish’ brush but it is not essential. I wouldn’t recommend a decorators brush as it will show too many brush marks, you want a brush that is smooth to the touch so you can just glide it over the surface.

6. Lay your work on a board -I use a piece of mdf, or newspaper, you are bound to get some overspray and/or drips.

7. You need to work quick – paint the soft gel gloss over your painting in all directions to make sure you don’t miss a bit. (Don’t be tempted to go over semi-dry areas as it can easily pull up the isolation coat.)

8. Work side to side, left to right, slightly overlapping each stroke – you are aiming to have no visible brush-marks

9. Squeeze out excess soft gel gloss from your brush so it is practically dry, smoothing out any raised areas of soft gel gloss.

10. Gently brush over the surface – check the sides for any overruns, get down to eye level with the painting and look at the reflection at an angle, this helps you to see if you have missed any bits.

11. Leave to dry

12. Admire

An uneven finish to a painting, some parts matte, others gloss can be very off putting to the viewer.

A unified finish both enhances the colours and it can be a great way to add a professional finish to your paintings to add dollars to the sale price.

One final thought if you’ve never applied an isolation coat before.

Making a Test Varnish

If you’ve never used an isolation coat (or applied a varnish) your best investment to achieve a good result is to practice.

Just don’t practice on a painting you’ve been working on for weeks.

Make a few small test pieces (6 x 4 inch) and paint them with a range of solid colours.

The test pieces can be made on thick card or scrap canvas, make sure you have one that is dark, preferably black so you can see how a matte or glossy finish alters the final finish.

Then you can try a variety of brush applications and different finishes of varnish until you find the perfect combination for the aesthetic you’re after.

Pro tip: If you’re not sure if your painting is finished, or you are nervous about varnishing it, you can leave an isolation coat on for ages, and then repaint on top in the future. Just bear in mind the surface will be super slippy and won’t soak up moisture (see: How to paint over an acrylic painting) so paint thick!

You might also like:

1. How to apply a varnish to an Acrylic Painting
2. Why some artists Varnish their work (And others don’t)
3
. 7 Questions you need to ask yourself before Varnishing an Oil Painting

Resources:
Golden 236ml Soft Gel Gloss

 

 

{ 200 comments… read them below or add one }

Rachel August 8, 2012

Hi Will, I found this informative blog and I have a problem I would like to run past you.
I have applied an isolation coat to a large painting, but didn’t realize it should be a gloss medium. I have applied a matte medium. Is this a disaster? Can I varnish over it or will there be issues?
Rachel

Reply

Will Kemp August 8, 2012

Hi Rachel, this will be absolutely fine, the basic medium is exactly the same, just the matte medium has added matting agent added to it.

I recommend using the gloss medium because you can achieve a clearer film. Sometimes (particularly if the painting has very dark areas) the matte medium can give a slightly milky appearance. But there won’t be any technical issues with adding a varnish ontop, it’s just more of an aesthetic.

Hope this puts your mind at rest!

Thanks,
Will

Reply

Jacklyn Young August 15, 2012

Hi,
I use acrylics in my art journal. Would varnishing the pages as you describe stop the pages from sticking together?
Thank you for your time, Will!
- Jacki

Reply

Will Kemp August 15, 2012

Hi Jacki,

It depends how heavy duty the paper of your journal is, the Soft Gel gloss might be to liquid for your artwork and you run the risk of it buckling your paper or it running over the edges.

Have you ever tried a spray varnish? Winsor & Newton, along with other manufacturers, make an ‘Artist all purpose Spray Varnish’ that can be applied to all sorts of craft work including paper and acrylics, it is non-removable but the benefits are, it be applied in fine layers (so it doesn’t get too wet) and it’s more controllable. This should help prevent pages sticking together (a gloss finish would be the most suitable for non stickiness but it depends on the aesthetic finish you’re after.

I would try it out on a couple of test pieces first, (it’s rrp in the u.k is around £10)

Let me know how you get on,

Will

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Amrita August 30, 2012

Hi Will,
I have just completed my first ever acrylic painting and I wanted to apply an isolation coat on it but I am not sure where to buy it from. Any advice? Also please do let me know if I am to apply it directly on my dried painting or is there any catch here?

Reply

Will Kemp August 30, 2012

Hi Amrita,

Firstly, congratulations on completing your first acrylic painting! You can find the soft gel gloss on Amazon, dickblick in the US or any one who stocks ‘Golden Artist colors’. You will be able to apply the isolation coat directly onto the painting, no catch!

Good luck,
Will

Reply

Jo Ann September 9, 2012

My first foray into acrylic and it is on a plywood 34 x 56. I used the spray varnish a couple of times and I am not happy with the results (Golden Archival Satin). Can I use this as an isolation coat and revarnish with a brush product. help!!

Reply

Will Kemp September 10, 2012

Hi Jo,
As you have already applied the Varnish the isolation coat wouldn’t make much of a difference, you could still revarnish on top with a brush though. (some Old master paintings have as many as 20 layers of varnish)
Thanks,
Will

Reply

michijo September 27, 2012

I read that this gel protects from UV damage. Is this really true?

Reply

Will Kemp September 29, 2012

Hi Michijo,
Yes it does, it helps to protect from ultra violet light filters and stabilizers for protection against fading.
Thanks,
Will

Reply

michijo October 11, 2012

I just tried this gel coat. It was scary, and seemed to have milky brush marks, but I refrained from touching it, hoping it would at least dry clear and have brush marks as a flourish, but the brush marks sunk away and it dried perfectly. I mixed the water solution and let it sit overnight as per the instructions on the golden website.

Reply

Will Kemp October 16, 2012

Hey Michijo,

Good one! Sounds like you got the perfect result.

Will

Reply

Sally October 22, 2012

First, I want to tell you that I love your site, since jumping headlong into painting, you’ve given me so much practical advice…thank you!

I’ve just completed a 2 foot x 4 foot acrylic, I’m pretty new at this all around, but this is my first big piece…and one that I want to preserve properly…I’m nervous about doing an isolation coat on a piece this big! Do you have any special tips?

Reply

Will Kemp October 22, 2012

Hi Sally,

It should be no problem as I often apply an isolation coat to paintings size 4 ft x 6ft and it works fine. You do have to work quite quickly though and one tip I use is to pour the isolation coat mix onto the canvas ( when the canvas is flat on the floor) and then paint the mixture as per instructions above. By pouring the mixture it saves time dipping the brush back into the pot and gives a nice even finish. But, when you first pour it on you might have a slight panic attack as it looks too opaque, this is normal.

Hope this helps,
Will

Reply

michijo January 13, 2013

Will this gel, say over many years, ever crack like over-dried glue? Especially if I add an isolation coat, then add more details over top, then another isolation coat? I know the shelf-life of acrylic has not been tested over long periods due to it’s newness. I feel a nagging suspicion about whether this soft gel wont reach a point of entropy of dryness.

Reply

Will Kemp January 17, 2013

Hi Michijo,

I highly doubt that the Gel will crack over time but you can always email Golden technical support as they’ll have more details on the lab tests to help reassure you.

Cheers,

Will

Reply

Crumplehorn February 26, 2013

I have just put an isolation coat on three paintings. When it was first put on I checked against the light and they seemed evenly covered. Now that they are touch-dry they seem more patchy, with a few streaks looking quite matte. I assume this is because some parts of the painting are more absorbent than others (?). What can I do? Should I cover the entire paintings in another coat, or would it be better to just touch up the matte areas? I want to apply a gloss varnish on top.

Reply

Will Kemp February 26, 2013

Hi Crumplethorn, this can happen when, as you thought, some areas are more absorbent than others. I wouldn’t try to touch up the matte areas as it can be very hard to achieve an even sheen, and can make it worse.

I would just go straight on with the gloss varnish and you’ll be fine.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Crumplehorn February 26, 2013

Thanks for the quick response :-)

Reply

Will Kemp February 26, 2013

You’re welcome!

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Tatiana March 8, 2013

Hi, can i use OPEN Acrylick Gell (Gloss) for the isolation layer?

Thanks.

Reply

Will Kemp March 10, 2013

Hi Tatiana,

I personally would only use the Soft Gel Gloss, as the ratio with water makes the perfect consistency, however it might be worth an email to Golden Technical support to double check,

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Orla March 20, 2013

Hi Wil,
Firstly may I say that I just subscribed to your web blog a couple of days ago and I am finding your website most informative and I’m enjoying your video tutorials. They are so helpful.
Three questions for you…
1.
You suggest that Golden is the best that you use as an isolation coat. I am due to buy some gels and mediums in the next couple of weeks ( never having used them before) and I had in my mind to buy Winsor & Newton. But after reading your thread here would it be a better option for me to try and find somewhere that sells Golden or is W&N just the same?
2.
If I use any impasto texture effects in my acrylic painting how is it best to apply the isolation coat and varnish so that it doesn’t look blotchy with an uneven shine due to the texture bits sticking up and catching on my brush?
3.
If I use a gloss glazing medium on only a few parts of my painting will there be an uneven shine-to-matt blotchy appearance across my canvas that will end up being difficult to photograph prior to isolation coat?
Regards,
Orla :)
(in Dublin)

Reply

Will Kemp March 23, 2013

Hi Orla,

Pleased you’re finding the videos helpful, to answer your questions:

1. You suggest that Golden is the best that you use as an isolation coat. I am due to buy some gels and mediums in the next couple of weeks ( never having used them before) and I had in my mind to buy Winsor & Newton. But after reading your thread here would it be a better option for me to try and find somewhere that sells Golden or is W&N just the same?

They will be pretty similar, I just personally prefer the Golden, but Winsor & Newton are a great brand.

2. If I use any impasto texture effects in my acrylic painting how is it best to apply the isolation coat and varnish so that it doesn’t look blotchy with an uneven shine due to the texture bits sticking up and catching on my brush?

It would have to be extremely textured for the isolation coat to pool, for Varnishing you can use a spray aerosol varnish in thin layers to hit all the difficult spots.

3.If I use a gloss glazing medium on only a few parts of my painting will there be an uneven shine-to-matt blotchy appearance across my canvas that will end up being difficult to photograph prior to isolation coat?
Regards,

I’ve found the Golden Gloss Glazing medium isn’t massively glossy, but yes, it will give an uneven shine over the painting. I’ve known other brands to be glossier, so a more pronounced difference, but it hasn’t ever been a problem photographing the work.

Hope this helps,
Cheers,

Will

Reply

Orla March 25, 2013

Thanks for that Will. ….and I forgot to ask, is an isolation coat needed for an oil painting or do I just varnish the canvas when the paint has dried?
Cheers,
Orla :)

Reply

Will Kemp March 28, 2013

Hi Orla,

That’s right you only need the isolation coat for Acrylic painting, not for Oils.

Cheers,

Will

Reply

cara April 13, 2013

Hi Will,

I mixed some isolation coat about a week or so ago, how long do I have to use it? Is it better to use it quickly after the 24hr ‘settling’ period? I’d rather mix up a new batch if there’s a chance the stuff from last week wouldn’t have good consistency. I’ve got a couple large pieces I’m so nervous about coating!

Thanks,

Cara

Reply

Will Kemp April 15, 2013

Hi Cara, I’ve had a tub of isolation coat mixed for a couple of months and its been absolutely fine. Just check the air bubbles have settled and you’re good to go. If the consistency has changed at all just add a touch more water.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

cara April 15, 2013

Thanks, Will!

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Susan April 13, 2013

On the side of the Golden soft gel medium it says DO NOT USE AS ISOLATION COAT. Can you explain why it says that vs what you are recommending?

Reply

Will Kemp April 13, 2013

Hi Susan,

In this article and on my website, I recommend Golden’s Soft Gel Gloss, as an isolation coat. This is taken from Golden’s website:

Soft Gel Gloss is useful as a non-removable isolation coat, applied over an acrylic painting prior to varnishing (must be thinned with water – 2 parts Soft Gel Gloss to 1 part water

But you bring up a good point, as they don’t recommend Soft Gel semi- gloss or matte for this purpose, as you lose clarity in the picture film.

Which soft gel are you using?

Hope this helps,

Will

Reply

Susan April 13, 2013

I do have the semi-gloss not gloss so that is no doubt why. Thanks

Reply

Will Kemp April 13, 2013

Cheers for letting me know Susan,
Will

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ColorWonder May 22, 2013

What happens if you do not do anything to your acrylic painting- no isolation coat and no varnish? I have read that varnishes can yellow and that they are removable and should be removed and reapplied every 5-10 years. I do not want to have to do that. (Oh, and thank you for your answer about the soft gel semi-gloss. I had the same question)

Reply

Will Kemp May 23, 2013

Hi ColorWonder,

If you don’t do anything to your painting the actual physical structure of the paint will be fine, its more a protection for dust and grime over the years. Also, depending on the pigments you’ve used, some acrylic colours are more susceptible to fading if exposed to sunlight. Most modern varnished have UV protection helps to keep the colours as you intended them, so it depends where the final painting will hang and the atmospheric and aesthetic conditions surrounding it.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Mararty May 29, 2013

Thank you so much, Will Kemp, for your site and your very clear and full explanations, BUT please tell me what does “off the hook” mean in your sentence :”To make an isolation coat I use GOLDEN Soft gel gloss. This medium is off the hook.”
Also, I have just finished an acrylic painting which has very “dry-looking parts, and crumbly-looking parts, and has lots of scrapes and bumps (deliberate!) and is very very matte indeed. I wish it to keep this appearance so can I use the Golden Soft gel gloss as an isolation coat without ruining this appearance? If I can, please tell me the name of the ideal matte varnish I should use after the isolation coat. Thank you very much indeed for your help.

Reply

Will Kemp May 29, 2013

Hi Mararty, pleased you’re enjoying the site. ‘Off the hook’ is slang for ‘really very good!’

The soft gel gloss, is exactly that, very glossy, but will remain clear when dry. So when you apply the matte coat the varnish will brush on smoothly.

The quote below is from the Golden acrylics website explaining the importance of an isolation coat if applying a matte varnish:

“The isolating layer is of critical importance when applying a matte varnish over an absorbent surface to prevent a cloudy or “frosted” appearance from occurring. This frosted appearance results from the varnish and solvent being absorbed into the support, while the matting agent remains exposed on the surface. While we have carefully selected the matting agent that is in Golden varnishes to be as transparent as possible, it is still a dry particulate material. When the matting agent is deposited onto the surface, and is not a part of a continuous varnish layer, it appears as a white solid.”

The Golden polymer varnish Matte (brushes clean with water) gives a nice matte finish.

Hope this helps,

Will

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Mararty May 30, 2013

Thank you, Will.

I have heard somewhere that Liquitex Gloss Medium & Varnish can be used for the isolation coat. Do you agree? I have some here so instead of buying yet another product, if it is OK, I would like to use it. It says on the label : Vehicle: Acrylic Polymer Emulsion.
Thank you in advance.
Mararty

Reply

Will Kemp May 30, 2013

Hi Mararty,

On the Liquitex website they recommend creating an isolation coat using Liquitex Gloss Varnish:

“Apply 1-2 coats of Liquitex Gloss Varnish as an isolation barrier. The barrier coat physically separates the acrylic painting from the Liquitex Soluvar Varnish and seals the surface. This aids in a more even application of Liquitex Soluvar Varnish and protects the painting if the Liquitex Soluvar Varnish needs to be removed. Allow to dry for 3 days.”

The same principle applies as the Golden soft gel gloss- a clear gloss finish that you can apply a varnish on top of so that final varnish can be easily removed and replaced in the future without damage to the picture surface.

Cheers,
Will

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Krista July 28, 2013

I have a question, one I couldn’t find anywhere else:

I use gold leaf and silver as well as crystals in my paintings. Well, it’s more a three part question lol. 1). Can I use the isolation coat and varnish over gold/silver leaf? 2). Can I use an isolation coat and a varnish over crystal without them frosting or losing their luster? 3). How would I apply an isolation coat in order to not disturb the gold/silver leaf that is loosely embedded in my painting?

Thank you so much! I’m hoping you have the knowledge!

-KDBear

Reply

Will Kemp July 31, 2013

Hi Krista,

To amswer your questions:

1). Can I use the isolation coat and varnish over gold/silver leaf?

I would only really suggest a spray application over gold leaf as with a brush you run the risk of disturbing the gold leaf, so would be tempted to apply the varnish without an isolation coat in this instance. If you’ve got a test piece and it can handle the brush application then this would also work.

2). Can I use an isolation coat and a varnish over crystal without them frosting or losing their lustre?

I personally haven’t varnished over crystals, but again, just test painting or spraying varnish over a couple of crystals and judge the effect on the frosting. Gloss varnish will be the clearest.

3). How would I apply an isolation coat in order to not disturb the gold/silver leaf that is loosely embedded in my painting?

Same as answer 1) I would only use a spray application not to disturb the surface.

Hope this helps,
Will

Reply

Krista July 31, 2013

Thanks Will! This helped a lot! :) I’ll try it out and let you know how it goes (with the crystals at least)

KDBear

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Will Kemp July 31, 2013

Good one Krista, I’ll be intrigued to hear how the varnish affects the crystals.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

deborah franklin July 30, 2013

“To make an isolation coat I use GOLDEN Soft gel gloss. This medium is off the hook, and I highly recommend you buy it along with an Acrylic Glazing liquid gloss if you are starting acrylic painting. These bad boys are all you need.”

Hi Will, I was wondering what we use the Acrylic Glazing liquid gloss for?

Thanks,
Deborah

Reply

Will Kemp July 30, 2013

Hi Deborah, the Acrylic glazing liquid gloss is for blending colours and applying thin glazes of paint, it’s not used in the varnishing process but is a very handy medium to have in the rest of your painting.
Cheers,
Will

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Remya Kumar August 4, 2013

Hi Will, thanks for your very clear instructions, they’re most helpful!

I make fairly large paintings these days, around 3ft x 4ft, and I have them taken off the stretcher and rolled into a tube for delivery to my buyers. I was wondering if an isolation layer and several layers of varnish will inhibit the “roll-abilty” of the canvas. I worry about the protective layers being brittle. Do you know if this is the case?

Thanks!

-Remya Kumar

Reply

Will Kemp August 4, 2013

Hi Remya,
Thanks dropping by, pleased you’ve been finding the tutorials helpful.

Brittleness of varnish is usually most apparent in natural resins used in oil painting. With modern acrylic polymers there is an inherent flexibility in the material, so both the isolation coat and the acrylic varnish should be absolutely fine for a gentle roll. Hope this helps,

Cheers,

Will

Reply

Krista August 5, 2013

Hey Will,

So I experimented with the varnish coat on the Swarovski crystals and my results were as follows:

1. No frosting occurred, but the sparkle of the crystal was dulled with each layer of varnish, resulting in a dew-drop like appearance as more layers were added.

2. By removing the varnish from the crystal, it allowed the crystal to sparkle while leaving the painting protected (A VERY time-consuming and tedious task, though.)

I did not experiment with an isolation coat. I wonder if I were to spray the painting with a layer of varnish first (in order to hold the gold/silver leaf in place) then go over it with an isolation coat and finish with the varnish if that will work? Again, if I find anything out I will be sure to let you know. :)

-KDBear

Reply

Will Kemp August 5, 2013

Cheers Krista, thanks for sharing your varnish experiments with the Swarovski crystals, I personally wouldn’t try to varnish, then isolation coat, then varnish, as it defeats the purpose of the isolation coat.

Thanks again,
Will

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Krista August 5, 2013

Adding to my comment:

It is best to apply the crystals AFTER varnishing (and possible isolation coating should it work). :) (I just had a few paintings that I wanted to protect, so sadly they won’t be able to enjoy the benefits of an isolation coat AND I will have to spend time de-coating the varnished crystals… :( )

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Krista August 6, 2013

Okay, I’ll take your word for it :) Love your stuff, btw, it’s absolutely beautiful :)

Best wishes!
-KDBear

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Debbie June 27, 2014

Hi Krista, I wish I saw this before I applied my Swarovski crystals!!! Just wondering how and what you used to de-coat the crystals after you applied the varnish?

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Pat August 25, 2013

Hi,

Can we use the liquitex permanent varnish instead of a medium mix solution for isolation? Iv’e got white residue on my painting with a gloss medium and water mix. Maybe it’s the quality of the medium, it’s not Golden, but maybe there is another way to do an isolation coat… Less risky? I work a lot on my paintings, I don’t want to blew it with a milky coating right at the end.

Thank you

Pat

Reply

Will Kemp September 7, 2013

Hi Pat,
I personally haven’t used the liquitex permanent varnish as an isolation coat because if you then applied another layer of varnish on top, when you wanted to try and remove the top layer of varnish for cleaning in the future, you would run the risk of disturbing the first varnish layer.

The white residue usually comes from the matting agent in medium, so I’m not sure why it was in the gloss medium you’re using, most gloss mediums dry to a clear finish.

I appreciate not wanting to ruin your painting, so the best thing to do is to just try a trial piece on a similar colour canvas, and then you can judge how the effect works for you.

Hope this helps,

Cheers,

Will

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Mary Mellen September 17, 2013

Can I use Golden regular gel medium (gloss) over the Golden Archival Varnish?

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Will Kemp September 19, 2013

Hi Mary, nice to hear from you. The only issue I can see with applying the regular gel over the varnish would be of the gel actually sticking and adhering to the varnish to create a solid film as the Varnish is often a shiny, glass-like finish. You could check with Golden technical support to be doubly sure as I personally have never tried the Gel medium on top of a Varnish layer.
Cheers,

Will

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Mary Mellen September 19, 2013

Thank you. I did call Golden technical support, and they said that it’s fine to do so!

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Will Kemp September 19, 2013

Brilliant stuff Mary, thanks for letting me know.

Cheers,
Will

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deborah franklin October 2, 2013

I am just learning to paint and have done a couple that friends want. I know these people would never go to the trouble to remove varnish to clean the painting in 5-10 years or ever. Do I still need to do an isolation coat or can I just varnish? Thanks!

Reply

Will Kemp October 3, 2013

Hi Deborah, It’s a personal choice, you can apply the varnish straight to your canvas knowing it’s a permanent finish to the painting and can’t be removed.

Cheers,
Will

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deborah franklin October 4, 2013

Thanks, that is what I was thinking.

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Deborah Carroll October 5, 2013

Hi Will, I’m so happy to find your site. I finished a commissioned 4′ x 5′ landscape painting with a 2 1/2 deep profile, which has already been delivered to the buyer. They didn’t want to wait for the varnishing and agreed to let me come over and finish it when it had cured. I am so nervous to do this. I tried some samples and always got brush strokes from the isolation and the varnish coats (matte, semi-gloss, and gloss). However I used the Liquitex gloss gel so I see my first mistake. I have ordered the Golden soft gel. I read in another article where a sponge was used to make it smooth. My clients liked the 50/50 matte and semi gloss sample but because I didn’t use the right isolation coat I feel it was not a good representation. Also I didn’t shake the semi-gloss and I have since learned that this is important because the matte settles to the bottom and the gloss on top. I will make more samples. But what do you think about using a sponge on such a large painting? And in your opinion, what varnish, semi-gloss or gloss would be good for a landscape?

Reply

Will Kemp October 7, 2013

Hi Deborah,

So pleased you’ve been finding the site helpful, in terms of semi-gloss or gloss finish, it really is a personal preference and dependent on the lighting/subject matter/ viewing position of the painting.

A gloss finish will bring out the colours more than the semi-gloss but under a direct spot lighting can sometimes be too reflective. When you apply the isolation coat (which is a Gloss finish) you can then judge ii that is the appearance you prefer, or if a semi-gloss or matte finish would suit the painting.

For larger scale paintings avoiding streaks with the brush application can be harder due to the varnish drying out as you paint, personally I would opt for a spray Varnish application for the smoothest finish, although it is more expensive, and you need a well ventilated space to work within.

Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

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Gabriel October 5, 2013

Is the acrylic glazing liquid gloss the varnish? If it is not what varnish do you recommend?

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Will Kemp October 6, 2013

Hi Gabriel, no the acrylic glazing liquid is exactly that, a glazing liquid, for applying thin layers of paint. I use Golden brand of varnish for Acrylics.

Cheers,
Will

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Judi October 5, 2013

I isolated with Winsor Newton hi gloss and probably used an incorrect brush, so have a lot of brush marks showing. Can I re-isolate with a better brush? How long should I leave the first application to dry?
Great site!

Reply

Will Kemp October 7, 2013

Hi Judi,
The first application should try relatively quickly within an hour or two. When adding varnish layers you can often takeaway any brush marks left from the isolation coat as you can build up many layers of varnish on top of the isolation coat. If the brush you have is still too hard you can use a spray varnish to build up smooth layers. However, the relative cost of spray varnish it would probably easier to invest in a softer varnish brush.

Hope you achieve an even sheen!

Cheers,
Will

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Lorrie October 22, 2013

I am specifically looking for “drying time” between Isolation coats. “Leave to dry” does not cut it… I like to put about three coats on, so do need to know how long to dry between coats.

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Will Kemp October 23, 2013

Hi Lorrie,

When building up multiple coats, allow for 3 – 6 hours in between coats.

Cheers,
Will

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rahi October 24, 2013

Hi will i just completed my first wall mural and I’m just an amateur. I’m just curious that is it okay to not apply any isolation coat and just apply the matte varnish.

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Will Kemp October 24, 2013

Hi Rahl,

It depends on the absorbency of the wall surface, an isolation coat provides a glossy surface so when the matte varnish is applied it doesn’t leave any of the white matting agent on the surface.

Matte varnish can leave a cloudy or “frosted” appearance.

This frosted appearance results from the varnish and solvent being absorbed into the wall, while the matting agent remains exposed on the surface – the matting agent is usually white.

If there is any area of the wall you can test on to judge that would be the best method, to prevent the final matte varnish hiding all your hard work.

Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

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Melissa October 27, 2013

I am not an artist, and can’t paint. But I do enjoy a multitude of crafts. Lately, I’ve been experimenting and having fun with alcohol inks. I have been painting on dominoes and small clear glass tiles. I read that these can be sealed with an acrylic sealer. I did this and the inks smeared, and actually came off the pieces. I was surprised because I gave a gentle light spray. Before spraying, the pieces were water proof, but rubbing alcohol, perfume, or hairspray would remove the alcohol ink from the piece. I want to make jewelry and barrettes, so it’s important that the final piece be not only water proof but chemical proof too. I bought some Golden Soft Gel (Gloss). Can this be used as a final, permanent sealer on my dominoes? I also bought some Minwax Polycrylic (water based) clear protective finish. Although it’s supposed to be used for wood, I thought I would try it on the plastic dominoes and the glass tiles. The label says it ” resists damage from water, alcohol and other
common household chemicals”. Any advise is appreciated. I’ve been researching for days, and am totally confused. Thanks.

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Will Kemp October 27, 2013

Hi Melissa,

Sounds like quite a specific requirement for the dominos, I wouldn’t want to say 100% with the Golden soft gel gloss, as it is usually used as a layer before you add the final varnish to it, and varnish often has a harder finish to it once dry than the Soft Gel gloss.

Some of the topcoats from Golden can be used as a final finish, but I personally wouldn’t use the soft gel gloss as a final varnish.

Golden technical support will be able to advise on another varnish that would be more specific your your needs.

Cheers,

Will

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Erin November 1, 2013

Hi,

If I put down a gloss isolation coat can I apply a satin spray varnish (Golden brand) after?

Also, I read on the can of spray varnish that it makes the color less saturated. Is there a way to achieve a satin finish without compromising the color?

Thanks,
Erin

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Will Kemp November 2, 2013

Hi Erin, yes that’s right, apply the isolation coat first, then spray the varnish.

Satin will always make the colours slightly less saturated than gloss.

Satin varnish is a mix of gloss varnish (clear) and matte varnish (very slightly cloudy due to the matting agent used in the varnish being white) so there is a slight compromise in the colour saturation, but only slighty.

The best thing to do it buy some gloss varnish and matte varnish, then you can mix different ratios and test the finish to achieve your own perfect satin mix of varnish finish vs colour saturation.

Hope this helps,

Will

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Tony Kalemba November 5, 2013

Hi Will,
Hope all is well. Just wondering if you could possibly do a how to video on you tube in regards to pouring your isolation coat onto the surface of the painting and subsequent actions of spreading it around said painting? It would be good to see this done as it would eliminate possibly doing something wrong etc.
Cheers

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Will Kemp November 5, 2013

Hi Tony,

Thanks for the suggestion, here’s a video from Golden paints on how to apply an isolation coat that might be on interest.

Cheers,
Will

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Tony Kalemba November 6, 2013

Thank you Will, very helpful.

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Mararty November 15, 2013

Hi Will
Is it possible to do JUST an isolation coat and NOT put any varnish on? Especially if the painting looks OK after the isolation coat. If this is not a good idea please explain why! (I’m sure that it is not necessary to ask this last, as you are so patient and explain everything so clearly and thoroughly.) Thank you very much.

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Will Kemp November 15, 2013

Hi Mararty,

Yes, is is possible to do this, as it will offer some protection to the painting surface, but a varnish is intended as a removable finish, an extra layer that any dust etc from the atmosphere can adhere to and then in the future can be removed, and then a fresh coat of varnish applied.

The isolation coat is a smooth surface so the varnish is painted on easily, and when the varnish is removed and replaced in the future is an easy surface to remove the varnish from without risk of damaging the actual paint on the surface.

So you can just apply an isolation coat as this as it will offer some protection, but not the most protection.

It depends on the particular painting, if it’s a portrait to be passed down from generation to generation I would 100% varnish the paining.

Hope this helps,

Will

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beth November 15, 2013

Hi Will,
Thank you for your website. I refer to it often. My question is (I can’t see that anyone has asked this yet), what’s wrong with using the Golden Gel Semi-Gloss as a protective coat? Why only the Gloss?
Beth

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Will Kemp November 15, 2013

Hi Beth,

Pleased you find the website helpful in your painting, the gloss is used because the gloss varnish has the clearest finish and doesn’t contain any matting agent.

Semi-gloss is a mix of gloss varnish and matte varnish.

The Matting agent is white, and can sometimes leave a white residue on the surface of the canvas.

This is from the Golden website:

“The isolating layer is of critical importance when applying a matte varnish over an absorbent surface to prevent a cloudy or “frosted” appearance from occurring. This frosted appearance results from the varnish and solvent being absorbed into the support, while the matting agent remains exposed on the surface. While we have carefully selected the matting agent that is in Golden varnishes to be as transparent as possible, it is still a dry particulate material. When the matting agent is deposited onto the surface, and is not a part of a continuous varnish layer, it appears as a white solid.”

So if you want a semi-gloss finish, apply the gloss isolation coat and then apply a semi-gloss (satin) varnish.

Hope this helps,
Will

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beth November 15, 2013

Thanks for your quick response! I’ll give it a try.

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Tom Elden December 4, 2013

Great information on isolation coats. I just finished an important painting. All good except sky a little shiny in a couple places probably from over painting or use of water.
Not major but it has to be perfect. I followed the drill and applied two coats of isolation coat. Glossy. My next step will be a couple coats of matte spray varnish. Do you think the shine will diminish or go away or must I do something more drastic first.

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Will Kemp December 4, 2013

Hi Tom, the isolation coat is always glossy, as it is a Soft gel gloss, so will always have a sheen. Once you apply your matte varnish the sheen will completely disappear and you’ll have a matte finish.

Cheers,
Will

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Mararty December 10, 2013

Hi Will, Most probably this isn’t the right section for this question but, here goes! and thanks for any help. I have bought a certain ready-made mat/mountboard because it really suits a particular painting, but the mat looks as though it is full of acid. As the painting is on beautiful white acid-free paper do you think I could coat behind the mount with something in order to protect the sides of the paper which will be under it. If so, which product would do the job please? Thank you, Will.

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Will Kemp December 11, 2013

Hi Mararty,

Hope you’re doing well, most mount-boards are 100% acid-free, what makes you think it has high levels of acid in the mount?

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Maria December 12, 2013

I was wondering if there was a Golden Product to use an alternative to Liquitex Matt Medium?? Thanks

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Will Kemp December 12, 2013

Hi Maria, yes there is a Golden Matte Medium.

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Mararty December 12, 2013

Thank you for answering, Will, and with an interesting question. The reason for my thinking that there is a lot of acid in this particular mount-board is that whereas GreatArt mentions “acid-free” for almost all of their mount-boards, they do NOT mention “acid-free” for this particular GreatArt Canson coloured bevel 15204244 one. They only say that it is “laid and laminated onto a wood pulp board” .Second reason is that this mount-board is yellowish, compared to their other ones which they say ARE acid-free, and thirdly, I wrote a few lines on it with a Lineco pH Testing Pen (very reliable I have always found) and they have come out a yellowish violet but very pale indeed, almost colourless. Lines drawn on their mount-boards which they say ARE acid-free clearly come out lavender. I am unhappy about this, especially as these mount-boards are expensive. I really am loath to use it without protection of some sort and do hope you can help with a suggestion! and I thank you in advance!

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Will Kemp December 12, 2013

Hi Mararty,

Sounds like you have a great pH testing facility! Definitely sounds like it isn’t 100% acid free.

The only option would be to use a backing paper/card and cut that to the inside size of the mount so it goes in-between the mount and the picture.

This backing card from Hahnemuhle is a good choice, slightly thicker than paper (300gsm) but can also be used for backing other mounts.

Hope this helps,

Will

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Judy December 22, 2013

Hi Will,
Once again thanks for a fab article helping us to get professional results. I have just applied an isolation layer with Golden soft gloss gel but I had problems measuring out the proportions and I’m not sure I achieved the 2:1 ratio. If it’s not a daft question, could you advise me on the type of consistency I should aim for? My gel mix was like thick drinking yoghurt but when I painted it on the pics it seemed to be much thinner than I expected. Is this right? I use a long handled plastic spoon to get the gel out of the tub but it sticks to the spoon and a spoonful of water is a much smaller amount, so hard to judge. Now that they are dry, the pics are “sparkley”, but I expected them to be shiny. I’m tempted to put another layer of isolation coat just in case I mixed it too thin. I would be grateful for any advice these pics are sold and will be hung in a kitchen. Thanks for your kind attention.

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Will Kemp December 22, 2013

Hi Judy,

It sounds like the mix might be a bit too thin, as the finish should be pretty glossy and a consistency like double cream.

I usually decant some of the soft gel gloss into a shallow tray/small plastic pot using a kitchen measuring spoon, often a handy finger can help to grab the last bits from the spoon. Then I measure out the water in the spoon.

Here’s some more details from the How to apply an isolation coat article.

Step 2: How to mix your isolation coat

1. Mix two parts soft gel gloss to one part water – Mix more than you think you will need, trying to match the exact consistency if you run out is not fun!

2. Add the water – little by little as it will mix in better.

3. Do not be tempted to add more water

4. Re-read point 3 – the mixture will appear too thick, too white, and just a little scary, it isn’t.

5. Get a clean, wide brush – I usually use a 2 inch flat nylon brush, you can use a ‘varnish’ brush but it is not essential. I wouldn’t recommend a decorators brush as it will show too many brush marks, you want a brush that is smooth to the touch so you can just glide it over the surface.

6. Lay your work on a board -I use a piece of mdf, or newspaper, you are bound to get some overspray and/or drips.

7. You need to work quick – paint the soft gel gloss over your painting in all directions to make sure you don’t miss a bit.

8. Work side to side, left to right, slightly overlapping each stroke – you are aiming to have no visible brush-marks

9. Squeeze out excess soft gel gloss from your brush so it is practically dry, smoothing out any raised areas of soft gel gloss.

10. Gently brush over the surface – check the sides for any overruns, get down to eye level with the painting and look at the reflection at an angle, this helps you to see if you have missed any bits.

11. Leave to dry

12. Admire

Hope this helps.

Will

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Judy December 23, 2013

Thanks Will, that reply was really helpful. I’m much more confident about the consistency and so pleased with the results now. I will definitely go on to apply this to my other paintings. I really like the way the isolation layer unifies the surface of the picture and adds depth.

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Will Kemp December 23, 2013

Great to hear it Judy, so pleased it helped.

Cheers,
Will

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Brenda January 11, 2014

Hello Will,
I thought it would be a good idea to practice my painting on a piece of cardboard.
As I progressed, in the painting, I could see that wasn’t such a brilliant idea. However, I have fallen in love with what has been created just the same and would like to varnish. What will happen? I’m new to painting as you have gathered I’m sure but am so enjoying the process and the creativity that comes with each stroke of color I put down. What a wonderful muse to be lost in.
Thank you for your time and web page it prepared me to go from thinking about painting to trying it.
Brenda

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Will Kemp January 13, 2014

Hi Brenda,

If you use a polymer varnish it won’t damage the cardboard so you’ll be fine.

Cheers,
Will

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Tina Summers February 1, 2014

Hi Will,

I’ve just finished my first painting (touch of oil on acrylic) and I’m really happy with the results… I’m thinking of doing the isolation coat & varnish and your information has been really helpful. To say I’m a bit anxious about varnishing is an understatement (it’s for my Mum and will no doubt be shown off)! I’m trying to get it clear in my head before I begin… my first question, you mention painting the gel gloss in all directions and then say to go left to right, slightly overlapping? I’m a bit confused!

Also, my canvas was one I picked up from a cheap shop and is pre-mounted (is that the right term?) so I’ve painted around the edges because I like that look… how would I go about putting an isolation layer and varnish on the edges?

Thanks for your help, I love the clear way you explain things – a sign of a good teacher!

Tina

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Will Kemp February 3, 2014

Hi Tina,

Great to hear from you and so pleased you’re happy with your results.

If you have a mix of oil and acrylic you don’t need an isolation coat, as the acrylic isolation coat will prevent the oil from drying properly. Have a look at the latest oil varnishing article that talks about the way oil paints dry in comparison to acrylics.

I usually apply a coat to the edges first and then varnish the surface of the painting if I’m working with a thick edged canvas.

Cheers,

Will

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Tina Summers February 7, 2014

That’s great Will, thanks so much for the info… and really glad that I asked a few questions!!! I’ll check out that article.

Thanks for the tips!

Tina

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Will Kemp February 7, 2014

You’re welcome Tina,

Cheers,
Will

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Christopher February 12, 2014

Hi Will,

I’ve been painting on canvas shoes with liquitex basics acrylic paint and was wondering what you recommend to protect it. I intend to wear the shoes I paint but don’t want the paint to be easily washed or scratched off. I’ve worn one painted shoe for awhile with no protective layer and it hasn’t been damaged but if there is a precaution to ensure safety I’d prefer doing that.

You’re advice is greatly appreciated! Thank you!

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Will Kemp February 12, 2014

Hi Christopher, nice to hear from you, I would go for a flexible acrylic varnish, you can apply it straight on as you’re looking for a longer protection rather than to remove and replace in the future. This fabric medium is also nice for increasing flow if your need it.

Cheers,

Will

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Lindsey February 17, 2014

Hello Will,
I have an exhibition in a few weeks time and unfortunately i have vanished some of my paintings already without an isolation coat. Have I ruined therm? I have used Liquitex soluvar matte varnish straight onto W & N artists acrylics. They aren’t showing any signs of cloudiness as yet, I vanished them about a week ago. Also, I vanished one in a different varnish…Galeria satin uv. Could I go over this with the Liquitex to achieve the same finish? I’m quite worried now. Thanks,

Lindsey

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Will Kemp February 17, 2014

Hi Lindsey, no need to panic, your paintings aren’t ruined at all. Yes, you could go over the Galeria to create the same Matte finish.

Cheers,
Will

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Lindsey February 17, 2014

Thanks Will, that’s great news! And luckily, my paintings haven’t ‘vanished’ either! (Predictive text) I am wearing my glasses this time. I am very grateful for your help…again!

Lindsey

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Will Kemp February 17, 2014

You’re welcome Lindsey.
Will

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Vish February 22, 2014

Hi Will,

Your advice on varnishing has been invaluable :) Except I have had trouble putting isolation coats on paintings done with inks and water (lots of water). Even after the painting drying for nearly two weeks, the ink seems to bleed into the isolation coat :( sometimes when the weather is cold, they ink may have pickets if moisture left, which causes the bleeding…i have been using golden soft gel. Should I try using liquitex gloss varnish medium? Or stick with just solvent based spray varnish ? Bit confused as to what varnish system would be best for ink based painting.
Please help
Cheers

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Will Kemp February 22, 2014

Hi Vish, I personally wouldn’t apply an isolation coat over inks, I only use the technique with acrylics, as if the inks are watersoluble the moisture in the isolation coat will cause the bleeding. It would work if you where using thin acrylic paints such as Acrylic High Flow from Golden.

Cheers,

Will

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cj michaud April 5, 2014

Hi.. This seemed the best place to ask my question. Painting in acrylics. followed your instructions for 12 paintings and worked like a dream. Tried on another painting, small ( 8 x 10) flat canvas,series subject:chinese children, very cute BUT when I tried to put on the isolation coat the black in the hair ‘dragged’…UCK! Would you recommend trying a spray?
By the by, your site is amazing and I love your videos…so motivating with no fear factor! Hope you are financially compensated in some way.

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Will Kemp April 5, 2014

Hi CJ, this only normally happens when the paint isn’t a standard acrylic paint, have you tried a test just with the black paint on its own?

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dave February 22, 2014

How many coats of isolation do you need?

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Will Kemp February 23, 2014

Hi Dave, you’ll only need to apply one coat.

Cheers,
Will

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Marie February 28, 2014

Hi Will
I’m just learning about this ” isolation” technique that you’ve recommended before varnishing. I’d like to start doing that to some old acrylic paintings I did about 20 years ago which were never varnished or protected in any way. I’m sure they are dirty and dusty! How can I clean these before applying isolation and varnish?
I so love your site . Your warmth , enthusiasm and encouragement comes through in all your responses .
Thanks for that!
Marie

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Will Kemp February 28, 2014

Hi Marie,

It depends on the level of precision you’re after, one of the most effective methods for testing the dirt level is by using a cotton bud with saliva. This is from the Golden paint website on cleaning an acrylic painting:

“It involves moistening a clean cotton swab in the mouth and rolling it across the painting’s surface. Saliva is warm and contains enzymes which act upon both lipids and proteins, two common components of “dirt”. It is important to note that the correct procedure is to roll the swab across the surface, as opposed to rubbing it, which could cause abrasion.

The process must be extremely gentle and it is important to keep the moisture on the surface to a minimum. The procedure is started by testing in a small area of the painting judged to be least noticeable. At each step of the treatment, the painting is carefully examined for changes in gloss and color pickup on the swab”

But if this seems a bit extreme, then start with a lint free dry cloth, or a soft haired sable brush and work over the surface and vacuum the dust. Avoid using any household solvents and detergents. The classic spit and polish is the way to go!

Cheers,

Will

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Lo March 14, 2014

I just had the most horrible experience, which I think I can fix. I painted a few canvasses in a combination of acrylic ink and acrylic paint, both in light application. The background is gesso I tinted myself with acrylic paint. I haven’t touched them in at least two days. So today I tried to apply the soft gel as instructed above, and the paint started coming off. I was applying the gel with a sponge brush so as to minimise strokes. I wasn’t brushing hard against the canvas. I don’t know what the heck I did, or what happened. I hope it’s just a matter of having not let the canvasses sit long enough, but two days seemed plenty to me given the thinness of the paint application.

Any advice or thoughts you could offer on this would be greatly appreciated.

I’m hoping I don’t have to scrap the lot of the paintings and start over. Some of them were commissioned.

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Will Kemp March 14, 2014

Hi Lo, oh no! standard acrylics in a thin application will dry within a few minutes, and be able to have an isolation coat applied within 24hrs. The only way you would get a bleed is if the paint (it could be the inks) are watersoluble, or the acrylic you’re using is an interactive acrylic such as ‘Atelier Interactive’.

Try making a test swatch, one just using your acrylics, one using the acrylic inks. Wait an hour and then apply a coat of soft gel gloss to see if the same thing happens.

You will be able to paint over the isolation coat to rectify any parts that have changed.

Hope this helps,

Will

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Lo March 14, 2014

I need to varnish at least three of them, because they’re going into a restaurant. Is there any way for me to put on an isolation coat or varnish so as not to bleed the work, or am I going to have to start over?

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Will Kemp March 14, 2014

You could try spray varnishing, but again I would test a small sample first to see what happens, rather than trying on your paintings.

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Lo March 14, 2014

Turns out the main culprit is the ink. That solved, I can just use something different to paint over the spots that bled. However, the background came up also, and that was just regular gesso tinted with acrylic paint that did NOT bleed during my test. Also, it looks like Liquitex paint markers bleed also. So, as much fun as they are… and so on.

How would it work if I sprayed a watercolour painting style fixative, THEN the gel coat, THEN the varnish?

Lo March 15, 2014

I remembered that one of the paintings had NO ink on it, just paint. So I tried the gel coat on that. Nothing bled. Not even the parts with paint marker. There must have been something wrong with the test piece with paint marker. So, the only culprit is the ink. So, I can hope that painting over those areas with regular paint will seal in the ink and thus I can try a gel coat, or hope that watercolour fixative will seal in the water-soluble ink and then I can put on a gel coat. The background didn’t come up on this painting either, unlike on the first one, even though they’re the exact same stuff. I wonder what’s up with that. Ah well. I feel a little less panicked than I did earlier. The thought of having to redo six canvasses with nightmarish. :)

Jon R. Hallock March 17, 2014

Dear Will, Thank you for all your help. For my isolation coat on acrylic paint can the soft gel be put right over the Gesso? I just sanded, filled and cut in miles of white acrylic areas using Gesso.

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Will Kemp March 18, 2014

Hi Jon, the isolation coat only goes on just before varnishing, the layers would be:
Raw Canvas
Gesso
Coloured ground
Acrylic Paint
Isolation coat (to isolate the paint layer from the varnish layer)
Varnish

Hope this helps,

Will

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Tina March 19, 2014

Ack! Help! I just put an isolation coat on a painting with a very dark background and some of the light areas carried over in the brushstrokes to the dark area! Is there anything I can do to salvage this painting from these ugly smears?

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Tina March 19, 2014

Hi Will,

After experiencing bleeding and smearing when applying an isolation coat and managing to somehow salvage the painting (STRESSSFULLL) I am prepared to seal again. I am curious though, as I do not have access to a spray application of isolation coat, could I spray a varnish on and then use a brushed on isolation coat and then varnish again? I(with lots of drying time in between)

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Will Kemp March 20, 2014

Hi Tina, you can’t apply an isolation coat on top of the varnish, it defeats the object of an isolation coat – which is to isolate the varnish from the paint surface so it’s easier to remove and clean in the future. Hope this helps,

Cheers,

Will

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Dave March 23, 2014

Help please!
I applied the isolation coat, but it left streaks. Is there a way to cover them up or maybe even remove them?
Worst part is I didn’t notice them until after applying the varnish.
So varnish is dry and I’m left with streaks.
Please advise.

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Will Kemp March 24, 2014

Hi Dave, the only option would be to remove the varnish layer, repaint the section and then re-varnish. There shouldn’t be any streaks if you are using standard acrylic paints.

Cheers,

Will

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Orla Cahill April 5, 2014

Hi Will,
I understand that this isolation coat that you recommend is for acrylic paintings but have you any advice of how to seal watercolours?
Cheers,
Orla :)

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Will Kemp April 5, 2014

Hi Orla, you can use a watercolour varnish spray such as this one.
Cheers,
Will

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Orla Cahill April 5, 2014

That’s brilliant. Thanks Will. ☺

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c j michaud April 12, 2014

Asked this before but it doesn’t appear. My black acrylic paint is smearing when I try to apply the isolation coat. Is there a spray isolation coat for acrylic? Or should I just go to spray varnish>

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Will Kemp April 14, 2014

Hi C J,

The only way you would get a smear is if the paint are watersoluble, or the acrylic you’re using is an interactive acrylic such as ‘Atelier Interactive’.

Try making a test swatch just using the black, wait an hour and then apply a coat of soft gel gloss to see if the same thing happens.

Hope this helps,

Will

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c.j. michaud May 9, 2014

Hi…I am such a dolt! Just went thru my box of acrylic paints and what did I find…a tube of black aquarelle…which I must have used. Guess I can now call the pieces “mixed media”. You were soooooo right!!!
Thanks. Using a light fixative. And going to pay closer attention in the future!

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Will Kemp May 10, 2014

Ha, ha, no worries CJ, pleased you solved the issue.
Will

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Debi May 8, 2014

Hi Will

Firstly I want to thank you for such an invaluable resource here! I improve my acrylic painting so much with your sound advice, I have used an isolation coat ( golden soft gel gloss ) on a few works now, it looks lovely and gives my paintings a beautiful level soft sheen, I wanted to ask if it would be feasible to leave the paintings with an iso coat alone? on the tub it does say that it has UV filters so is it really necessary to add a varnish layer at all? I have added a varnish layer to the paintings I have done but honestly I much prefer my work with just the iso coat on! hope you can help :-) thank you

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Will Kemp May 9, 2014

Hi Debi, great to hear your acrylics have been improving!

Yes, you can leave the acrylic painting just with an isolation coat, it will still give it UV protection, even the sheen and protect the surface.

A varnish just gives you an extra layer of protection, and the option to remove it and replace it in the future, but if you’re finding that isolation coat gives a finish you’re happy with then it can be a great option. You might find this article of interest:

3 Reasons why artists varnish their work (and why some artists don’t)

Cheers,
Will

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Debi May 9, 2014

thanks you so much for your prompt rely, it is nice that I can have this option, you are so generous to give of your time to help other artists, many blessings to you Will! :-)

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Kim May 10, 2014

Hi, have been using gloss medium to finish off my paintings because I didn’t know about varnish. Does this work ok? If not, does it work ok for an isolation coat? I have heard of a product called “gloss medium and varnish.” Is this different than varnish? Or should I be looking for something that says just “varnish?” Thanks!

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Will Kemp May 10, 2014

Hi Kim, have a read through this article which goes through the various considerations of if to varnish or not.

Gloss medium & Varnish is a polymer medium that can be used as a medium or a varnish, it is a non-removable varnish, so can be used instead of an isolation coat for the final varnish. You only need an isolation coat if you are intending to apply a removable varnish.

Hope it helps,
Will

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Michelle June 11, 2014

Great informative site! Had no idea about varnishing until now. I have a teensy question though. Ive recently completed a decent sized multi media acrylic painting. I’m wanting to make it peel proof, but I’m worried about my contrasting mediums getting lost. I’ve painted all acrylic, used water to mix, then applied pouring medium in areas for a gloss effect. The pouring medium created a 3d pop and contrasting gloss to a matte background. I know I would need a paintable varnish, because of needed precision. Do you think an isolation coat and varnish would flatten the height and, if not, would it be plausible to do matte varnish on the background, then gloss varnish on the glossy medium?

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Will Kemp June 12, 2014

Hi Michelle,

It would be very tricky to isolate the different sheens on the surface to a matte and a gloss varnish. If the matte/gloss aesthetic of the piece is important I would personally leave it unvarnished.

However, If you want to experiment with varnish just make a super small version of your piece and test different varnish applications on that.

Cheers,

Will

Reply

Kelly ZumBerge June 17, 2014

I mixed with a hand blender and there are a lot of bubbles. I am using on silk paintings over canvas for uv protection to bring out the color more vibrantly like it is when it is first pulled from the steamer.

Will the bubbles go away if I allow it to sit? Will the bubbles hurt anything-I am assuming they are not good? Should I throw it out and start mixing by hand?

Reply

Will Kemp June 18, 2014

Hi Kelly, I would always mix by hand as you are trying to keep bubbles to a minimum, ideally mix by hand, leave for 24hrs for all the bubbles to disappear and then apply.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

bhavya June 18, 2014

Dear Will,

I am working on industrial ceramic rejects. I stick different pieces with a mixture of white cement and fevicol. I also add wood, wire…etc materials to the ceramic piece depending on the design.

I want to understand the procedure(materials) to color the ceramic(glazed and non-glazed)and other parts to make final finished products that lasts.

Following is the process I have followed to paint non-glazed ceramic-
1. clean the ceramic
2. apply a coat of emulsion – weather coat/ primer that is available in paint shops -leave for 5-6 hrs to dry
3. use artist acrylic colors by Camel brand to paint the artwork – leave to dry for 5-6 hrs
4. add a layer of protection – here I have tried varnish form Camel brand but the paint smudges. Thus I tried with water based glossy PU (used on walls/furniture). The paint does not smudge but the outcome is matt. I have also tried artist water colors and coated with varnish – this was ok. For some I have tried melamine – this was a little yellowinsh and difficult to work with brush.

On the glazed ceramics whatever colors I have used gets easily scratched. Ceramic paints and glass colors from camel brand are ok but these are too thin to paint with.

I request your guidance to understand what process should be followed. Also the products will be sold at very nominal price so I have to use paints/finishes that are not too expensive.

rgds
Bhavya

Reply

Will Kemp June 18, 2014

Hi Bhavya,

To have ceramic glazes embedded into the ceramic you would need to apply them and have them fired in a specialist kiln. You can read about the process here.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

bhavya June 19, 2014

Dear Will,
I donot have the option to glaze the ceramic. I have to paint them to realize
products. I want to understand the basic method I should follow to paint them – like base coat, kind of paints, protection coat…etc
Regards
Bhavya

Reply

Will Kemp June 20, 2014

Hi Bhavya, ahh, I see, I haven’t personally done a lot of painting directly onto to ceramics as I have more experience with actual industrial ceramic production. Here are some other techniques available you might find of help.

Hope they help,

Will

Reply

Prajakta June 19, 2014

Hi Will
First of all thanks so much for your simple videos.
I am acrylic painting beginner.
Just done with 3rd acrylic painting.
I am not sure about how to protect these from dust?
I am happy with matt finish of acrylic on canvas.
Please suggest what should I do to protect these from dust. I am not sure about glossy finish after varnish.
Regards
Prajakta

Reply

Will Kemp June 20, 2014

Hi Prajakta, you can apply an isolation coat or a coat of varnish to protect the surface.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

sally June 24, 2014

Hi Will,
Wonderful clear instructions and site- thank you!
I have a question regarding murals- I have used system 3 acrylics over the top of a household acrylic paint base (ie. on a pre-painted wall). I have done this before and the murals still look great after 12 years and even in a sun baked conservatory.
However, this time it is an area of high use and potential for spills etc on the wall so it will need to be wiped clean- so I am keen to varnish (matt).

1. Will it be ok to varnish over acrylics over household acrylics?
2. Do I need an isolation coat?
3. I can’t lay it flat so is spray best? ( it’s not a very well ventilated area and there will be residents around).
4. I have mixed system 3 acrylics with the household acrylic for some of the larger paint areas (to save on costs)- will this also be ok to isolate/varnish?

If you can point me in the right direction I would be really grateful thanks!

Reply

Will Kemp June 25, 2014

Hi Sally,

You might find this article helpful on painting exterior murals, that goes through in detail paint and varnish choices for best practice.

Hope it helps,
Will

Reply

sally June 25, 2014

Thanks Will- it is an interior mural but I will definitely check out the article you have suggested.
Many thanks!
Sally

Reply

Will Kemp June 25, 2014

Hi Sally,

Sorry, I thought it was for an exterior mural, for an interior mural:

1. Will it be ok to varnish over acrylics over household acrylics?

Yes, that will be fine.

2. Do I need an isolation coat?

No you don’t, but it can make application easier if you are applying by brush

3. I can’t lay it flat so is spray best? ( it’s not a very well ventilated area and there will be residents around).

You would be able to apply an isolation coat onto the wall without any drips as it is quite a viscous mix, polymer varnish is also quite viscous so could be applied with a brush without drips but a MSA varnish would be harder to achieve an even coat.

A gloss varnish would give you the most easily wipeable surface.

4. I have mixed system 3 acrylics with the household acrylic for some of the larger paint areas (to save on costs)- will this also be ok to isolate/varnish?

Yes, it will be okay to varnish, but would be harder to remove and replace the varnish, so I would act as if the varnish would be a permanent finish.

Hope this helps,
Will

Reply

Anna July 21, 2014

Hi, is it possible to add crystals to a painting without them falling off? How can I apply on a acrylic painting?

Reply

Will Kemp July 23, 2014

Hi Anne, you might find this article helpful on gluing crystals.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

bing August 1, 2014

hi will! my first brush with acrylic paints was in using them for my nail art but over time, I’ve decided to try doing the real thing. i just finished my first acrylic painting last night and i’m happy that i’ve read about acrylic painting beforehand so i was able to put in a gesso primer before everything else.. right now, i want to varnish it but i can’t find any isolation coat in the art store. is it okay to just varnish over the painting directly? i’m from the philippines btw so my options are limited >.<

Reply

Will Kemp August 3, 2014

Hi Bing, yes you’ll be able to apply a varnish directly ontop, it will just me very hard to remove it in the future if it ever needs replacing, you can read more about it here.

Hope it helps,
Will

Reply

Marcia Schorer August 3, 2014

I just used Liquitex Pouring Medium over the top of an acrylic/collage painting. It is very glossy and liquid looking and people are tempted to touch it. It is perfectly dry, but I am worried about fingerprints. How would I clean the surface if I have to?

Reply

Will Kemp August 4, 2014

Just a slightly damp cloth would work fine.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Rebecca Duran August 6, 2014

Hi Will,

I’m a beginner. I just recently finished three paintings,or on stretched canvas I and the other two on good Italian watercolor paper. I might have used acrylic medium in painting all three but don’t remember how much or even if I used it at all on a couple of them. In addition I collaged bits of fabric underneath the paint on the canvas piece for texture. So for sure there is medium on that picture. My question is: do I need to give a coat of medium on paper and canvas as a final step? And my other question is do I do this before or after making giclee prints of all three pictures? Thank you, Becca

Reply

Will Kemp August 8, 2014

Hi Becca, I would always photograph works before applying any gloss mediums as it will reduce glare on the camera lens. You don’t have to varnish the work or apply a varnish, you might find this article on varnishing acrylic paintings of interest.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

becca August 8, 2014

Hi Will,

Thanks so much for the reply. Love your site. b

Reply

Will Kemp August 8, 2014

You’re welcome Becca, pleased you find it helpful.
Will

Reply

jacqui August 27, 2014

Hi
I have put an isolation coat as per instructions on my acrylic painting which has a lot of black in the background.
Unfortunately there are a couple of cloudy rough patches probably caused by me over brushing these areas while apply the iso coat.
Do you have any tips to get rid of these?

Reply

Will Kemp September 2, 2014

Hi Jacqui, unfortunately once the rough patches are within the surface they are hard to remove, working back over the isolation coat when it’s semi-dry can easily cause these patches to occur (as I found out myself in the past).

Hope it hasn’t disturbed the aesthetic of your painting too much.
Will

Reply

Jacqui September 2, 2014

Thanks for your reply,
I re painted over the area in question then added another the isolation coat, carefully and quickly.
It’s had two coats of varnish now and is looking good.
Panic over!

Reply

Will Kemp September 2, 2014

Oh good one Jacqui, pleased you managed to get a good finish.
Will

Reply

Tommy September 12, 2014

Hi Will,

Thanks for your expertise and assistance! On my acrylic paintings, I like to do some fine line-work with permanent marker or ink. Will this smear when I add an isolation coat? If so, do you have any suggestions of products or methods?

Thanks!
Tommy

Reply

Will Kemp September 18, 2014

Hi Tommy, with a permanent marker is shouldn’t smear, however, many inks ( even if they label permanent) can smear, so the best thing to do is just to make a couple of small test pieces. Cover the surface we the different pens and inks that you use and just try them with the isolation coat. Then you’ll know for sure with the products you’re using, without ruining any of your work.
Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Tommy September 29, 2014

No smear with the permanent marker!
Thanks again, Will

Tommy

Reply

Will Kemp September 30, 2014

Good one Tommy, pleased it worked

Reply

Marie September 19, 2014

Hello,

thank you so much for this post. Well, I have to seal alcohol inks. I’ve tried different sealers, acrylic etc.. But each time, alcohol inks shifted. red turns orange for example even if I let the ink dry a long time. So I think about putting an isolation coat. My question is : could multi medium gloss by ranger do the job ? or do I have to use Golden medium ? Thank you.

Reply

Will Kemp September 21, 2014

Hi Marie, I haven’t personally used that medium so couldn’t say for sure how it would react with the inks.
Will

Reply

Marcia Schorer September 22, 2014

If you don’t mind a high gloss surface, try liquitex pouring medium.

Reply

Marie September 22, 2014

Thank you Will for answering me. So do you have an idea if I try golden brand ?
Have you already worked with alcohol inks ?
Marie

Reply

Will Kemp September 23, 2014

Hi Marie, I wouldn’t be able to say for sure how the alcohol links would work without testing, you could try contacting Golden technical help.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Marie September 23, 2014

Thank you Will.

Marie September 22, 2014

Thank you Maria. I look for a high gloss surface so i’m going to try your idea.

Reply

Dino Duncombe September 21, 2014

Can I use Mod Podge?

Reply

Will Kemp September 22, 2014

Hi Dino, I personally haven’t tried Mod Podge as an isolation coat.
Will

Reply

Lesley Birch September 24, 2014

Hi Will,
I’m wanting to put the professional touch to a finished acrylic painting which is very textured and matte at the moment. I’d like the isolation gel coat to fill in the gaps between the texutures, but visually it will still appear textured to the eye. Do you think the isolation coat would work for me? I then want to apply matte varnish over that to cut down the gloss effect? What do you advise. At the moment, the painting lacks finish.

Reply

Will Kemp September 24, 2014

Hi Lesley, in theory yes that would work fine as the isolation coat would fill in subtle gaps between the textures and then you would be able to put another matte varnish ontop to bring an even sheen together.

If the paintings is only slightly textured it can work really well, what I would do is make a really small 6 x 6″ test piece (or test pieces) apply a variety of textures of paint onto them similar to the way you usually work, and then experiment with different finishes of the varnish to see which one suits the aesthetic you are trying to achieve. Then you’ll be confident when you unleash the isolation coat onto a finished piece!
Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Kirsten Elizabeth Gilmore September 26, 2014

Will, have you experimented with brushing MSA varnish over acrylic pouring medium? I have been brushing on gloss polymer varnish, but would love to find something protective that better retains the high gloss sheen. I did try MSA spray varnish, but it beaded up on the surface, making a pebble-like texture. I know many artists leave the pour as the top coat, but over time, dirt, dust, hair, etc build up on the surface, just like any other unvarnished acrylic painting. I sell my work and do want to give collectors something more protected. But, I’m tempted to skip the varnish and tell them to occasionally wipe down the surface instead. What are your thoughts? Also, thank you for making this site as a resource for artists. It is excellent. :)

Reply

Will Kemp September 26, 2014

Hi Kristen, 90% of my paintings are varnished straight on top of the acrylic paint and don’t have any heavy medium underneath. It can be worth experimenting though if you’re after a specific textural or aesthetic effect. Pleased you’ve been finding the site helpful.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

paola October 17, 2014

Dear Will, I just finished a drawing on gessoed canvas and also applied a charcoal fixative on it. Would you recommend an isolation coat with Golden Acrylic sof gel?

Reply

Will Kemp October 17, 2014

Hi Paola, varnishing or applying a isolation coat to drawings can be very tricky, and applying acrylic spray varnish in particular can cause quite a change in the aesthetic finish of the drawing. Personally I would stick with a drawing/charcoal fixative.
Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Amanda Nijjar November 10, 2014

Hi there.

I recently completed a 3×4 ft acrylic landscape. I have applied a few coats of a gloss medium and varnish but the finish is very uneven. I can see brush strokes, especially on the darker parts of the painting. Would you advise using a gloss spray varnish over top to even out the surface? How many coats do you recommend? Thanks in advance

Amanda

Reply

Will Kemp November 14, 2014

Hi Amanda, the number of coats varies depending on the thickness of the brushmarks, more spray layers of gloss varnish would even out the surface, but it would be advisable to test of a small scrap piece first so you can judge if the final finish would be the aesthetic you’re after.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Shawn Huckins November 12, 2014

Hi Will,

I’ve been experimenting with isolation coats for my paintings during the past week. I typically apply a varnish over my paintings without applying an isolation coat. Upon my first tests with the isolation coat, the finish is quite similar to that of a gloss varnish ( I use Golden’s Polymer Gloss Varnish.) Can the isolation coat be used as the final ‘varnish’ or would you recommend still applying a varnish over the isolation coat?

Many Thanks,

Shawn

Reply

Will Kemp November 14, 2014

Hi Shawn, I would still recommend applying a varnish over the isolation coat. The isolation coat will still protect the surface and even the sheen more than no isolation coat, but it won’t be able to easily be removed. In order to have a ‘removable varnish’ you would need to apply a varnish layer on top. You can read more about it here.
Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Jacqueline November 20, 2014

Hi!
I saw someone using this gel medium you talk about here and was a little confused about what I did because she just covered her painting with it then proceeded to use it as glue for some paper cutouts. Thank you for this info. It cleared up some doubts. (Although, the whole site is pretty cool).

I have some questions though. A few months ago I took a painting on canvas workshop at a craft fair (first time). At the end he sprayed what I’m guessing it’s a varnish over it but didn’t explain anything about it really. Now, I want to do mixed media on canvas using acrylic paint, archival ink to stamp, and paper cutouts.

My questions:
1- should I use the gloss gel medium over the acrylic paints and THEN do the stamping? Or will the stamped ink be okay if I use the gel over it because the ink is acid free?

2-can I use the gel then a matte spray over it to kill the gloss? I would then over the matte glue other 3d attachments (screws, bolts, etc).

Thank you so much!

Reply

Will Kemp November 21, 2014

Hi Jacqueline, I would do a test first with the Inks as sometimes they can run when an isolation coat is applied. Yes, you can apply a matte varnish over the isolation coat.
Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Will Kemp March 18, 2014

Hi Lo, pleased you tracked down the culprit! good luck with finishing the commissions.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Tina March 19, 2014

can I touch up and then add another layer?

This is a disaster :(

Reply

Tina March 19, 2014

Ok. I just saw Lo’s thread above. Thanks. I’m going to try to fix this…. wish me luck:(

Reply

Will Kemp March 19, 2014

Hi Tina, hope Lo’s thread helps, but yes you will be able to paint over any areas that have changed, and I would go through a series of swatch tests to find the culprit! Hope you manage to save your painting.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Lesley Birch Artist September 25, 2014

Dear Will, Thank you so much for the quick reply with such clear and precise thoughts. I really appreciate it as I’m needing to sort out this painting v. soon. Can I just ask one more question — Do you think a spray matte varnish would be better than a brushed on one? Will let you know how I get on.

Reply

Will Kemp September 25, 2014

Hi Lesley, if you make sure you shake the spray matte varnish for a really long time then it can work well, the only problems can occur when you have a separation between them matting agent (which is white) and the rest of the varnish, it is not properly mixed together it can cause speckles of white onto the surface. The brush application is easier to make sure it is mix properly, however, you’re then more likely to have visible brush marks on the surface.
Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Lesley Birch Artist September 25, 2014

Thanks again Will. So knowledgeable.

Reply

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