Before we examine what we like and don’t like about Golden Archival Varnish with UVLS, we are going to look at the importance of varnishing acrylic and oil paintings.
The Importance of Varnishing Your Paintings
Varnishing acrylic paintings and varnishing oil paintings is an important step in preserving your work. Varnish provides a final layer of protection between your artwork and the environment. It also saturates the colours and gives the entire painting a consistent level of gloss. Modern varnishes come in two different types. Removable varnishes are designed to be removed from the painting after a certain period of time. The reason for this is that as time passes, dirt, dust, and other pollutants will become embedded into the varnish layer. When the varnish is removed, all of this dirt, dust, and pollution will also be removed with it. A fresh layer of varnish can then be applied. Permanent varnishes, on the other hand, are not easily removable. They will be permanently stuck to the painting. It is usually recommended that if you want your painting to last a long time, then a removable varnish is the way to go.
Removable varnishes are made by many manufacturers and come in many chemical make-ups. Most contain some kind of solvent in the mix that thins the varnish. More of the same solvent is usually used to remove the varnish.
What is Golden Archival Varnish with UVLS
Golden Archival Varnish with UVLS is available in two different formats. The first is a two-part system which comes in two separate containers. The first container contains the actual varnish. The second is the MSA or Mineral Spirit. Golden makes a specific mineral spirit product, but another artist grade mineral spirit can also be added. The two products are mixed together in a specific ratio. Initially the varnish part is very thick and has an honey-like consistency. After the mineral spirits are added and the two are mixed together, it becomes much thinner and brushable. It can then be applied to the surface of the painting.
Golden also makes this product in the form of an aerosol spray. This is incredibly convenient as it alleviates many of the difficulties that may be encountered with the two-part system. The aerosol varnish is already mixed with the right amount of mineral spirits. All that you need to do is shake the can well and then it can be spray applied. No brush needed! Both products are available in gloss, satin, and matte versions. You should keep in mind that the matting agents used in the satin and matte might create an opaque or frosted appearance on very dark colours and blacks. They also won’t saturate colours to the same extent that a gloss varnish will.
One component of Golden Archival Varnish is that is quite beneficial to the long term stability of your image is UVLS. UVLS stands for Ultra Violet Light Filters and Stabilizers. It helps to prevent ultraviolet light from reaching the pigment in your painting or image and fading or discoloring it.
It is important that if you are using Golden Archival Varnish on an acrylic painting that you use an isolation coat. An isolation coat is a thin layer of clear acrylic medium that will sit in between the painting and the varnish. Sometimes when a solvent like mineral spirits is used to remove a varnish layer, it can be strong enough to actually remove some of the painted surface as well. The isolating coat is basically a sacrificial layer. If the mineral spirit removes anything more than the varnish layer, it will remove part of the isolation coat, rather than part of the actual painting. Golden recommends mixing 2 parts Golden Soft Gel (Gloss) with 1 part of water for the isolation coat that can be brushed on.
What we like about it
Golden Archival Varnish is great product if you want a varnish that can be removed down the road. The two-part system is good for artists that have specific requirements and need to be able to adjust how thick or thin the varnish is.
The stand out product, in my opinion, is the aerosol varnish. The fact that is premixed makes things quite a bit more simple. Also the fact that you don’t need to use a brush to apply it helps a lot. Not using a brush means less of a risk of contaminating your varnish layer with hair and lint. It also increases the chances of achieving an even coat. The best part is the lack of a brush means a lack of brush marks. Sometimes if you are brushing on a varnish, some parts might start to set up. Dragging a brush through these areas can cause visible brush marks to show up.
It is also nice that the aerosol spray can allows you to cover larger paintings relatively quickly. Golden recommends applying the aerosol it in two thin coats for even coverage.
I have removed the varnish before using mineral spirits, and it was actually pretty easy. It was removed without affecting the underlying painting. I should not that this was an acrylic painting that did have an isolation coat.
What we don’t like about it
I have used this product on dozens of paintings and I have found a few issues with it. I will start off with the two-part system. The biggest downside to using the two-part Golden MSA varnish is the need to buy two separate products. It also takes longer to mix them properly, and requires that you use relatively accurate measurements for the mixing ratios. It also means more tools and containers that need to be cleaned after you are done the application. Another issue is that it get tacky pretty quickly so you need to work pretty fast. If you brush over a section that has already started to set up it can cause the brush to pull at the sticky varnish. The aerosol version is much easier to use and alleviates most of these problems.
If you are using the product over acrylic paint, then an isolation coat is recommended. This adds an extra step, and an extra chance of introducing bubbles or lint to the surface of your painting. Although this is really an issue with all removable varnishes over acrylic paintings, not just Golden MSA Varnish.
This stuff has quite a powerful smell, it you should use it in a very well ventilated area. The smell can linger for several hours after the application. Also be sure to read the label as mineral spirits can be harmful.
One thing I found was that small touch ups would be quite visible. Sometimes after applying the varnish I would find a hair or large piece of lint that I wanted to remove. After removing the hair I would “touch up” the area with a small bit of varnish. I usually found that this touch up was pretty visible. Usually the best solution was to apply another coat to the entire painting to ensure an even finish.
Another problem I found was that when it was used on certain surfaces it could remain tacky long after the application. This problem happened when I was applying the varnish to acrylic on aluminum panel paintings. The surface of my painting was very smooth and it would remain tacky for a long time after the application. This mean’t that I had to ensure no kind of wrapper would come into contact with the surface of the painting. I did not have this problem when working on canvas. I could roll the canvasses together or press them against glassine paper without any issues.
What other products can you use
Golden Polymer Varnish
Golden Polymer Varnish is a great alternative if you do not need the varnish to be removable. It doesn’t contain mineral spirits so it doesn’t have nearly as strong of a smell as Golden MSA varnish.
Liquitex Professional High-Gloss Varnish
Liquitex Professional High-Gloss Varnish is also a permanent varnish, so it won’t be removable. The thing that I like about this product is that is a very thin, almost watery liquid, so it is pretty easy to brush apply. It also has little to no tack one it is dry, which is useful for shipping.
Gamblin Gamvar is by far the best varnish I have ever used on acrylic and oil paintings. It is easy to brush on and it has a long working time so it doesn’t get tacky to quickly. It also makes touch-ups easy and the level of gloss can be controlled easily. Check out the full review of Gamblin Gamvar. After using Golden MSA Varnish for several years I started using Gamvar and haven’t looked back.
If you are looking for a removable varnish that can be easily applied with a spray can then Golden MSA Varnish is a great product. It comes in gloss, satin, and matte so you can select the right level of glossiness for your painting.