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How to Properly Conserve & UV Protect Your Oil Painting

A step-by-step guide for properly conserving and UV protecting your oil painting.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

It has been two years or more since you purchased your oil painting. You want to protect it from UV rays and other damage, but you aren’t quite sure how to properly conserve your artwork.

Does this sound like you?

If so, you are in luck! Erin Hanson has created a step-by-step guide for properly conserving and UV protecting your oil painting.

How to Properly Conserve & UV Protect Your Oil Painting from Erin Hanson on Vimeo.

Retouching Varnish at The Erin Hanson Gallery

Before we get started on your painting, here is a brief introduction to the varnish that is likely already on your artwork.

How The Erin Hanson Gallery uses retouching varnish to protect paintings:

Step One: When Erin finishes a painting, she leaves it to dry for 6-8 weeks.

Step Two: After the painting is dry to the touch, we apply a retouching varnish. The varnish we use is called Winsor & Newton Oil Colour Artists’ Retouching Varnish. This is a temporary varnish that gives the painting an even sheen as well as a layer of scuff protection. It has the additional benefit of allowing the oil painting to cure underneath a layer of protective varnish.

If you feel this varnish is sufficient and have an Erin Hanson oil painting, congratulations! You don't need to do anything further. If you are concerned about the painting's exposure to UV rays, keep reading and learn how to apply conservation varnish with added UV protection to your artwork.

Note: Even if you are satisfied with the varnish already applied to your painting, you may enjoy reading on to find oil painting cleaning instructions. We also bust a list of cleaning myths. Just read on to find out more.

Applying A Finishing Varnish

This section will show you how to clean a painting and apply a finishing varnish.

Because Erin's paintings have very thick paint, it's best to wait at least two years before applying a finishing varnish. A finishing varnish is not required to protect a painting, but Erin recently found a conservation varnish used in art museums that provides UV protection for the artwork. The varnish she uses in the video is called Rublev Colours Conservar, Finishing Varnish, Regalrez Gloss Varnish with UV Stabilizer. 

Erin explains in the video that this is “like putting a pair of sunglasses over the artwork.”

It's not necessary to apply this conservation varnish. But if your home gets a lot of sunlight, applying a layer of this varnish may be a good idea.

Cleaning Your Painting

The very first step is to clean your painting. Before we get started with the proper cleaning instructions, we want to do some myth-busting about cleaning oil paintings that you may have seen on the internet.

Myth: Many different items can be used to clean a painting. 

Fact: The only items you should use to clean a painting are a very soft, clean brush and damp, latex-free makeup sponges or Q-tips that have been thoroughly rinsed in deionized water.  

Items you should NEVER use to clean an oil painting include:

Microfiber cloths: Microfiber cloths will snag on the painting and may rip off paint pieces.

Paper towels: Paper towels will also snag, leaving bits of the paper behind.

Cleaning solvents: Do not use cleaning solvents, including Windex or vinegar. They will damage the oil paint.

Potatoes: A surprising number of blogs suggest that you use potatoes to clean an oil painting. We checked with museum conservationists, and they said this was not a good idea. There are chemicals in the potatoes that will eat away at the painting.

A weird thing you can use to assist as you clean your painting is saliva. In a pinch, you can use saliva to get a small piece of dirt or food off your painting. We verified this with an art conservationist. Who knew?

Now that we have the myth-busting out of the way, it's time to clean your painting.

What You Will Need to Clean Your Painting

-Latex-free makeup sponges

-Q-tips (also latex-free)

-Deionized water

-A soft, clean paintbrush (Erin uses a 2” (50 mm) Raphaël Softacryl brush)

How to Clean Your Painting

Step One: Select an upright and secure spot to varnish.

Set your painting in an upright position. It must be vertical when varnishing, and placing it in this position now will allow gravity to assist you as you dust.

The painting could be hanging on a wall or leaning against the wall and supported on a soft mat – like a bathmat or a foam pad. You want to ensure it is secure and will not move while you are working on it.

Step Two: Set up your cleaning space.

Take latex-free makeup sponges or Q-tips and dip them in deionized water. Squeeze the sponge/Q-tip in the water several times to remove any chemicals. The water will likely become cloudy.

Place your paintbrush within easy reach. In the video, Erin uses a 2” (50 mm) Raphaël Softacryl brush to dust the painting. It doesn’t have to be this brush, but it must be very soft and clean.

Step Three: Dust the painting.

Now that you have your tools together, the first thing to do is dust the painting using your soft, clean paintbrush. Remove any dust to ensure the varnish traps no particles.

Step Four: Clean the painting.

Using a washed/damp Q-tip, dust along the inside of the floater frame or (if no floater frame) around any crevices or other challenging-to-reach areas as well as corners that could collect dust.

Use your Q-tip or makeup sponge to gently dab at any specks of dirt, food, or other debris. You don't need to worry about it if it doesn't easily come off. Just clean the painting as best as you can without damaging the paint.

Step Five: Wait.

Wait a few hours for the piece to fully dry. It’s clean and ready for conservation varnishing!

Tip: While waiting, rinse your brush and let it dry too. That way, you can use it for the varnishing step.

Varnishing Your Painting

What You Will Need to Varnish Your Painting

-Conservation varnish (Erin recommends Rublev Colours Conservar, Finishing Varnish, Regalrez Gloss Varnish with UV Stabilizer)

-A soft, clean paintbrush (You can use your Softacryl brush; just make sure it's been wiped down or rinsed off and dried after your cleaning.)

-A plastic cup

-A paper towel

-Wax paper

-Plastic gloves

-A stable place to rest your tools

-Excellent air circulation

-Conditional: Painter's tape

How to Apply Conservation Varnish To Your Painting

Step Zero: Make sure your painting has sufficiently cured.

Ensure your painting has cured for at least two years before applying additional varnish. It is vital that the oil paints are sufficiently cured before you apply conservation varnish.

Step One: Get set up for varnishing.

As above, you want to place the painting in a stable, upright position. It can be hanging on a wall or leaning against the wall and supported on a soft mat. You want to ensure it is secure and will not move while you are working on it.

Open a window for air circulation and put on your gloves. Then, place all of your tools in one stable location. It's ideal to place them on a board, tarp, or painter's cloth in case of spills.

Set down wax paper to protect the frame. Most of Erin's paintings come in a floater frame, and you can place the wax paper between the art and the floater frame to keep the varnish from getting on the frame. Generally, you only need the wax paper tucked into the bottom of the frame. If your painting has a different frame type, you may need to apply painter's tape to ensure protection.

Placing the varnish in a container (Erin uses a plastic cup).

Keep a paper towel handy for cleaning any excess varnish from your brush.

Step Two: How to varnish.

a. Take the brush and dip just the end of the bristles into a shallow cup of varnish.

b. Tap off any excess varnish. You want the end of the bristles to be coated but not dripping.

c. Apply the varnish as evenly as possible. Erin starts from the top left-hand corner of the painting and continues over to the right corner, then down.

NOTE: Varnishing is hard to mess up. You don’t need to stress, just be patient and enjoy the process. The main thing you have to worry about is not splashing varnish onto the frame. So, slow and steady is key.

d. Be as systematic as possible. Erin looks at the painting from the side as she varnishes. This allows her to see the sheen and note where she has varnished and where she has not.

NOTE: If you are concerned that one area is not getting even or proper coverage, it is okay to go over the same spot several times. This will not hurt the painting.

e. As you cover the piece with varnish, you may see the varnish collecting on various ridges or paint strokes. Go ahead and use the brush to even out those spots.

You can also remove excess varnish by wiping your paintbrush with a paper towel and using the semi-dry brush to remove any drips or even out areas that look too wet.

Step Three: Let the varnish dry.

Drying time should be about 24 hours, depending on temperature and humidity. If you aren't sure it'll dry within that time, give it 48 hours.

Step Four: Clean up.

Once you have set your painting to dry, clean up the space. You can also use turpentine, mineral spirits, or similar brush cleaner to clean your brush.

Now that your painting is cleaned and varnished with UV protection, hang it up and enjoy your artwork. We have an article with lighting recommendations called How to Light My Artwork that you can use to help you find the perfect lighting for your painting.

Enjoy the art!


Erin Hanson ArtistERIN HANSON has been painting in oils since she was 8 years old. As a young artist, she worked at a mural studio creating 40-foot-tall paintings on canvas, while selling art commissions on the side. After getting a degree in Bioengineering from UC Berkeley, Erin became a rock climber at Red Rock Canyon, Nevada. Inspired by the colorful scenery she was climbing, she decided to paint one painting every week for the rest of her life. She has stuck to that decision ever since, becoming one of the most prolific artists in history. Erin Hanson's style is known as "Open Impressionism" and is now taught in art schools worldwide. With thousands of collectors eagerly anticipating her work and millions of followers online, Hanson has become an iconic, driving force in the rebirth of contemporary impressionism.

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