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Learning how to care for your paintings once they dry is an important part of the studio process. Oil or acrylic paintings are better protected when they are varnished, which is also important to bring out sunken darks once the medium has dried. But learning how to clean an oil painting is quite a simple task and another way to protect your work.
How to Clean a Dusty Oil Painting
Here is a home-ready technique that will get rid of the average accumulation of house dust on your oil paintings.
1. Wipe off any dust by using a clean, soft brush. Do not use paper towel because little pieces will rip off where the paint has texture.
2. Buy a large unsliced baked loaf of bread and take a handful of the inside. Press the bread against the painting.
3. Use the same soft brush to wipe off the bread crumbs.
Using the bread allows you to get into the nooks and crannies of your painting without damaging any of the delicate paint texture.
The other option is to use a professional picture cleaner in case the dust is stuck onto the surface or it is stained. There are several products on the market you can use.
Winsor and Newton has a product called, “Artists’ Picture Cleaner. ” You would have to remove the chemical with distilled turpentine afterwards. They recommend using cotton wool pads to remove as much surface dirt possible beforehand.
This mini tutorial deserves mention of varnishing since we are dealing with protecting and preserving a painting’s surface. When an oil painting dries what you saw as dark areas during the wet painting process will lose their punch, making it appear as if the painting loses contrast.
Varnish will set your painting back in time to the darks you assessed during the live painting process. Manufacturers of varnish recommend waiting one year before varnishing heavy textured oil paintings and six months for average application of oil paint. Using alkyds you can dramatically shorten the waiting period to a few weeks.
For many artists though this is not an applicable pursuit since they don’t want their buyers to change their mind on a sale due to the long wait. Personally, I feel manufacturers are covering their bases from a law suit and are exaggerating their drying time period in case the painting cracks. After all paintings can escalate in value to millions of dollars. Many top pros ignore the extended waiting period and varnish paintings much sooner.
There are mainly two kinds of varnish on the market, gloss and matte. For some strange reason they don’t have an in between, which would be the combination of the two. But you can get a semi-gloss by mixing the two.
You can brush on varnish or spray it. Some artists wait a month and apply retouch varnish, which allows the painting to “ breathe” or to continue the oxidation process of drying. But this won’t protect the painting as well as a final varnish.
Another option is to add a coat of Liquin all over a painting that is dry to the touch. Winsor and Newton advises against this because they state you cannot remove the Liquin in case the painting is to be restored as you can with varnish. They also mention the painting can yellow overtime. I have not seen that happen.
Acrylic paintings are exempt from all this since they dry much sooner and can receive a full final varnish in about a week.
Meet Johannes Vloothuis
Johannes has taught over 18,000 students to paint in person and through his live online Paint Alongs for Network. The latest Paint Along is on Developing a Powerful Focal Point—sign up for the class now and enjoy live sessions that are also recorded so you can absorb the lessons Johannes teaches you at your pace and convenience!
As an art educator, Johannes has a large following of students because he has been able to verbalize, in easy-to-understand terms, the complexity of the subjective beauty of art. He feels that by teaching his students “the why” of something in a painting, the “how” follows by default. He is adept in all painting mediums and artists of any medium will benefit with his instruction.