Author Topic: Gamblin: Gamvar Varnish  (Read 1763 times)


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Gamblin: Gamvar Varnish
« on: July 13, 2012, 01:15:51 PM »
Gamblin Gamvar Varnish


Gamvar is a varnish that some of you may not have used before.  I'm sure there are others that have fallen in love with it as well.  I will try to cover the basic aspects of this varnish and give a good overview.  I confess I do love this varnish and that I am not entirely impartial.  I have been using it for quite some time, but that also gives me insight into how it works a little bit more.   

I am going to break this particular review down into two main and aesthetics.  In my experience, people only varnish their paintings for two reasons.  They want to protect their paintings from future damage (of all sorts) as well as bring the painting back to a "freshly painted" aesthetic.  One of the most annoying things about oil painting is the drying of the paints on the canvas.  When paint is first applied the colors are vibrant and the values have proper contrast.  Colors dull and values change when the paints dry.  Varnish allows the artist to bring the painting, aesthetically, back to its original state (or close to it at least). 

So let's dive in and take a look at Gamvar. 


Gamblin has done a great job with their packaging and information. 


Contents of package: 
-Bottle of Solvent
-Jar of Resin
-Pamphlet (Directions for use as well as tips/etc..)
-Two foldout guides of Gamblin's mediums and artist colors
- 4 stickers that allow you to write in the date your painting was varnished. 

So there are a lot of great items included with the varnish.  Gamblin tends to take this approach company wide.  I really appreciate the fact they don't send you the varnish in a padded envelope and tell you to "put it on your painting".  They go the extra mile and I think that speaks to the quality of their products. 

They even provide the solvent separate from the resin so that the varnish will be "fresh" when you use it.  Little details like that are very helpful for any painter. 


There are a couple of things in mind when it comes to applying Gamvar.  I will give you a write-up of their instructions to give you an idea of how you use it. 

1.  To use Gamvar, add the solvent in the brown jar to the resin mix in the clear jar. 
2.  Agitate the solvent/resin mixture every hour for eight hours or until the resin is completely dissolved.
3.  To make Gamvar more matte, dissolve one (1) tablespoon of Gamblin Cold Wax Medium in 2 fl. oz. of gamsol or another odorless mineral spirits of equal quality.  This is your matting agent.  Add matting agent to Gamvar.  Experiment until you find the mixture you prefer.  Gamblin Cold Wax Medium can also be used as a top coat matte varnish. 

Here's an example from their site to show you how they recommend varnishing:

They do provide some warnings as well:   Gamvar solvent contains hindered amine light stabilizers (HALS) which protect paintings from ultraviolet light by absorbing UV radiation.  Some people may be allergic to HALS........

So like any painting product, you want to be careful how you use it.  They also state that the HALS has the best effect when you varnish within the first month you combine the mixture. 

The other thing to keep in mind is that Gamvar is highly reflective.  Some may like this , but I prefer more of a matte finish to my paintings.  The high gloss can be distracting unless lit perfectly.  Now you can see an image here that I have taken that showcases two different types of application.  You can see with the high gloss that the value looks even deeper (which is an effect I didn't expect).  It's more pronounced in the photo than it is in reality, but i did notice a slight difference in reality as well.

The center "column" is the dried paint.  The left side is a 25% diluted mixture of Gamvar (diluted with Gamsol).  The right side is straight Gamvar applied to the surface.  You can see that there is not much difference in the diluted side.  Given another couple of weeks of drying time the difference between both sides would be a little bit more pronounced.  However, if you want a matte surface you really have to cut this varnish with gamsol.  A 50/50 split seems to work well for me or even a 60/40 split (in favor of Gamvar).  That seems to give me the protection I need for the painting as well as a semi matte surface.  This information is also given by Gamblin:

Gamblin Cold Wax Medium can also be used as a traditional matte varnish. Apply a thin layer of Cold Wax Medium on to the painting. With a circular motion, apply the Cold Wax paste with a lint free cloth. Cold Wax Medium can be applied as a varnish as soon as the painting is dry enough not to be disturbed by the act of applying the wax paste. For large paintings on flexible supports, consider backing the painting before applying Cold Wax Varnish. Wait approximately 24 hours and then buff the painting to the desired sheen. The Gamblin Cold Wax Varnish is easily removed with odorless mineral spirits.

Gamvar may also be used as a retouch varnish (1 part Gamvar to 5 parts OMS).

However all of these good aspects pale in comparison to the "removability" of gamvar.  If anyone has ever had to remove the varnish on a painting, fix something, and reapply it, then you know the horrors of working with a bad varnish.  Gamvar can be removed with ease.  One application of Gamsol (or a similar solvent) will take the varnish completely off.  That's good news 100 years from now when a conservator wants to clean your painting and reapply the varnish.  They won't have to rub the painting completely off just trying to get rid of the varnish. 


Manufacturer:  Gamblin
Price Paid:  $10.77

Manufacturer Information:
Gamvar is a low molecular weight synthetic-resin gloss varnish developed by conservation scientists at the National Gallery. Package makes enough varnish for 8 X 10 sq feet of paintings made with oils as well as acrylics. Gamvar can also be used for retouch.

With a high refractive index similar to that of natural resins, colors are fully saturated to bring out the best in the painting.

Unlike varnishes made from natural resins like damar and mastic, Gamvar does not yellow with age or become more difficult to remove. It contains a UV stabilizer and offers some measure of protection to less lightfast pigments, depending on how thickly it is applied.
Gamvar Picture Varnish is available in the following size: 5.4 oz: 2oz (pre-mixed).


Price:  5/5
Painting Protection: 4.5/5
Archival Strength: 4.5/5
Aesthetic Quality:  4.5/5
Ease of Use: 4.5/5


This is a low cost and extremely effective varnish.  It applies easily and is removed easily.  The fact that it has to be diluted is only a minor issue. I highly recommend giving this one a try.  It's one of the best varnishing options currently available to painters.  Give it a try and tell me what you think!  Post up your paintings before and after varnishing them.  Then we can all be the judge of what the varnish can do.


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Re: Gamblin: Gamvar Varnish
« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2012, 12:50:05 PM »
Thanks Jon for the review of Gamvar, I've used it to varnish a half-dozen smaller canvas and it really does work great. Mixing it up is straight forward, and it is easy to apply. I was always a bit timid about the complexity of varnishing oil paintings, but the Gamvar product documentation was clear & informative and I varnished three smaller sketches my first time using the product.


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Re: Gamblin: Gamvar Varnish
« Reply #2 on: July 15, 2012, 10:21:21 AM »
thanks for the review Jon, I haven't varnished anything yet so this was perfect timing. i wonder, could you do another review on Liquitex's Soluvar Varnish, I think it was Schmid that recommended it.

"VARNISH: I always apply a finish varnish to a painting when it is sufficiently dry. I allow at least three months of drying time for a work with average paint thickness, and six months for the more heavily painted. I like to use Soluvar“ gloss final picture varnish diluted 1:1 with pure turpentine. Soluvar“ is made by Liquitex“. It is recommended by most conservators because it does not yellow with age, and it can be easily removed with turpentine if necessary. I prefer to apply it with a 2Ēwide bristle brush or an ordinary varnishing brush from my hardware store. Damar varnish works well too, though it will yellow slightly in time. "

It would be cool to see some reviews and different medium combinations as well.
"I then do a larger version in my studio using a photo as reference for drawing and detail. The larger painting is always worse, and i feel stupid."


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Re: Gamblin: Gamvar Varnish
« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2012, 10:49:04 AM »
Wonderful review, Jonathan, thanks!  I haven't varnished anything yet, either, but when I do these tips will be most useful and I will try it out on sketches first...nice idea, Aaron.
"Painting is easy, you put the right color in the right place."~ Edgar Payne


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Re: Gamblin: Gamvar Varnish
« Reply #4 on: July 16, 2012, 08:31:25 AM »
Awesome feedback guys.  I've got that soluvar on the list now.  That's a great suggestion.  I've also got an amber varnish on the list as well...very interesting stuff. ;)...the amber one is expensive too haha.