Thursday, March 8, 2012

Experiments with Colored Pencil and Varnish

This photo is a cropped portion of a 12x16" colored pencil and pastel drawing I did several years ago. In fact it was accepted into and shown at the 2007 CPSA Explore This! Exhibition in Brea, CA (before Explore This! exhibitions became on-line only). I did the drawing is on black Stonehenge paper with colored pencil and bumped up the vibrant colors with pastel on top. The drawing looked so vibrant until I put it under glass to frame the piece. It made the rounds to different exhibitions but never sold so it came back to my studio and hung for a few more years. If it was light in the studio, the piece looked very vibrant but if it was a dark day, it looked dull. I kept glancing at the piece and wondering if I could somehow varnish it so that it wouldn't need to be shown under glass but I was afraid to varnish paper. After reading and learning about Ester Roi's blog entries on glassless framing, I came up with an idea. What did I have to lose? Just a piece of artwork ... but it was worth a try.

First I unframed the piece and adhered just the drawing to a 12x16" Ampersand Claybord with Grafix double tack mounting film adhesive. Next I sealed the drawing with Lascaux UV Protect spray, let it dry and then sprayed two coats of Krylon Kamar Varnish to seal and protect the drawing. I thought the spray might darken the colors but they were vibrant enough and remained so. The drawing sat for 24 hours and next I brushed on several coats of Golden UVLS Polymer Varnish Gloss letting each one dry in between. Here came the problem; I wasn't careful enough when brushing on the varnish, not only was I getting tiny air bubbles but I was getting brush marks. I tried to smooth out one "gloppy" area after the varnish had begun to dry and thus ended up with brush marks. Because the surface is so glossy, if I held the piece to the light, one could see all the imperfections. I learned that you have to be very, very careful when applying the Golden UVLS Polymer Varnish, any imperfection on the surface can be easily seen and detracts from the artwork.

I remembered that when I called Golden company tech support, the person I spoke to told me to be sure the artwork was sealed and protected with a spray varnish before brushing on the polymer varnish. The polymer varnish is water based and he told me that for conservation purposes, if museum quality artwork needed to be cleaned and re-preserved years from now, the polymer varnish could be easily washed off, the piece cleaned and preserved as the layer of spray varnish would not wash off and preserve it.

I was very frustrated with my piece so I took it to the sink and proceeded to wash off all the layers of the polymer varnish, holding my breath and just hoping I wouldn't damage the artwork. All of the polymer varnish washed off but the piece looked wet and cloudy for about a day. I was worried and discouraged I might have ruined it but was pleasantly surprised when I came back to the studio two days later and found the drawing perfectly dry, looking like it had before I started. The double tack mounting film kept the drawing perfectly adhered to the claybord also. I was really happy! I began again brushing on coats of the polymer varnish, much more carefully this time. I made sure I diluted the varnish exactly two parts varnish to one part water and let each coat dry before I applied the next. I didn't count how many coats I applied but I think probably about 6 or 8. I'm very excited because I accomplished what I set out to do, with a little bump in the road in which I learned from. I'm ordering a frame and will exhibit the piece in my studio or in a gallery and will most interested in viewers' comments.


Katherine Thomas said...

I am so intrigued by the varnishing idea... but that sounds so risky! I'm glad it worked out well!

Ester Roi said...

Kendra, I'm so glad it worked out at the end! I've gone through many frustrations myself but was also lucky to always be able to fix them. Like you said, the two most important steps in this process are to seal the artwork very well and to mix the UVLS varnish and water in the right proportions. I'm sure your artwork looks even more scrumptious without glass. :)

Teresa Mallen said...

Glad this had a happy ending - I was worried when I read the part about the dark and cloudy day. :-)

Anne Winthrop Cordin said...

OMG, you at the sink sounds like the intrepid artist that you are! So glad it turned out in the end. Beautiful.

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Lana said...

Hello, This is great info and beautiful work, thanks for sharing your experience with varnishing colored pencil! I also have tried to varnish colored pencil with some frustrating results. I have followed Estre Roi's technique, and I love the results, if I could just get a good smooth finish! No matter how I try I end up with bubbles or brush marks or little imperfections from dust etc.

My question is concerning spray varnishes. I noticed that you said you started off by spraying with the Lascaux UV Protect, which is described as a varnish, and then you sprayed with Kamar varnish. What kind of finish did the spray varnishes give? Could you just spray with several coats of spray varnish and skip the brush varnishing? Just wondering, as it seems it would be easier to control spray varnish then brush.

Thank You,