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Protecting Your Paintings by Robert Genn

Protecting Your Paintings
by Robert Genn

Yesterday David Harper of South Carolina wrote, "I've been working with acrylics and have recently switched to oils. I must say the depth of color and blendability make oils a winner. My problem is with the varnishing. The length of time needed before varnishing is so long (unlike acrylic when only a few weeks are necessary). Must oils cure for 6 to 12 months before varnishing? It is important to me to protect them. Any advice?"


Thanks, David. Unlike you, I started in oils and switched to acrylics. I loved oils, still do, but begrudged the inconvenience and the drying time. Also, (please keep this quiet) I was paranoid about what I was inhaling. I did have a ploy, however, and your letter reminded me.


I was in the habit of sending my oils out into the world in as little as three or four days. They shipped in wet-boxes where the panels or canvases were separated. In those days, dealers often varnished for you.


One day I had an interesting letter from a dealer. He told me that some months before he had sold one "in minutes" and it went to the collector "still wet." The dealer had offered to come by the collector's home in six months and properly varnish the work. Impressed by the dealer's integrity and free follow-up, the collector insisted on buying two more paintings that the dealer just happened to have in the trunk of his car.


After that letter, in the name of quality, I put a note in with each delivery: "Please varnish this painting, sold or not, sometime this coming June." Dealers actually thanked me for this note. Like the ten-thousand-mile-free-checkup on a new Mercedes, customers often brought in their paintings and bought another "for the kids."


My paintings are guaranteed for life. My life. I welcome people into my studio for a free cleaning and re-varnishing. I'm the best guy to do it. Often I'm able to do it while we chat. When I'm finished I note on the back that I did the cleaning, any repairs made, what varnish I used, and the date. Apart from what some people say, the art business is a people business. Apart from that, people are curious to meet artists, particularly when they're funny looking. People will drive right across a country to see how funny.


Best regards,




PS: "Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort." (John Ruskin)


Esoterica: A drop or two of cobalt driers in the medium is the time-honoured method of speeding up drying in oils. Used sparingly, your paintings won't crack or crumble. Don't use Japan driers--they're too violent. While a lot of great artists don't agree with me, a good shine can be the final touch of quality. An uneven shine interferes with this illusion. Poor priming can be the culprit. Further, earth pigments (the siennas, ochres and umbers) tend to "sink in" more than other pigments and leave dull areas. This can often be corrected with a light spray of retouch varnish (comes in an aerosol can) right after painting. This helps in the drying too.
Robert Genn has given ARTAZINE permission to post from his twice-weekly newsletter. For more of his artistic insights, visit his blog at www.painterspost.com.

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