gouache how to Issues

How to varnish gouache

If you’re a fan of gouache painting, then you might be aware that this medium can be a bit fragile. That’s why it’s important to protect your gouache paintings from dust, humidity, and other environmental factors that can damage your artwork. In this article, I’ll share my top tips for varnishing gouache paintings – a crucial step in ensuring that your artwork looks its best for years to come.

Disclaimer: this is not the only way to do this. Just my experience here! And the methods here are final. Meaning that you won’t be able to remove the varnish.

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What varnishing is and why it’s important for gouache paintings

So, what exactly is varnishing? Well, think of it like a protective shield for your artwork. Essentially, varnish is a clear coating that you apply over a painting to protect it from elements like dust, dirt, and sunlight that can cause it to deteriorate over time. But as gouache is never dry and can be reactivated with any liquid, you can’t apply a liquid varnish with a brush, you would mess up all the color on your painting! You need either a spray or a wax varnish.

Spray varnish

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to varnish your gouache paintings, then the spray method might be just what you need. The great thing about this method is that it’s virtually mess-free – just make sure you’re spraying outside so you don’t breathe in any toxic fumes. And you may want to use the was method if you’re sensitive to odors, because even outside, it stinks!

Make thin layers, crossing the way you spray. It’s better to have two or three thin layers than a thick one, as thick layers can be prone to cracking or yellowing over time. Once you’ve finished spraying, allow the varnish to dry for a couple of minutes, and you’re good to go.

Not only will varnishing your gouache painting help protect it from humidity and other environmental factors, it can also enhance the colors and give your artwork a more professional finish. Personally, I like to use a varnish for oil and acrylic, which works just fine on gouache. However, it’s always a good idea to make some tests before applying any varnish to your final painting, just to make sure it doesn’t react in any unexpected ways.

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Another option for varnishing your gouache paintings is to use a varnish that will protect against UV damage. This can be especially useful if you plan to display your artwork in a sunny room or other bright environment. However, keep in mind that even with UV protection, it’s best to avoid hanging your gouache painting in direct sunlight, as they may still fade over time, even if you chose the most lightfast pigments.

Cold wax varnish

If you’re looking for a more traditional way to varnish your gouache paintings, then you might want to try using a cold wax varnish. This method involves applying a relatively thin layer of wax onto your painting, which helps to protect it from humidity and other environmental factors. To apply the wax, you can use a tissue or a cotton pad and apply it in the same direction. Once you’ve applied the wax, you’ll need to let it dry for 24 hours before polishing it with a tissue to remove any stickiness. Follow the specific instructions on your wax.

Once the was is dry, you can add water to your gouache painting and it will slide on the varnish, without touching the paint.

Using a cold wax varnish is a great option for gouache painters who prefer a more traditional look and feel to their artwork. Plus, the wax can also enhance the colors of your painting and give it a more polished appearance. However, keep in mind that this method can be a bit messier than the spray method, and it does require more time for the wax to dry and set properly.

Applying the was on the finished gouache painting

Whether you choose to use a spray varnish or a cold wax varnish, the most important thing is to protect your gouache paintings from the elements so they can stay looking their best for years to come. By taking a little extra time to varnish your artwork properly, you can ensure that your gouache paintings will continue to be a source of beauty and inspiration for years.

In my experience, the best brand for varnishing with cold wax is Dorland wax. Easy to apply, with no bad smell, and will last long.


So it’s up to you to varnish your gouache paintings. You could frame your artwork behind a glass to protect it from dust and humidity. You’re not compelled to do it if you keep it in sketchbooks or pile in your studio. But once hanging on a wall, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

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