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How to Conserve Your Art Collection

Simple Ways to Varnish Your Originals to Improve Their Longevity

Friday, May 3, 2024

Now that I have been creating oil paintings for almost two decades, I have become more interested in art conservation. How can I ensure my paintings will last for generations and make it into the Louvre one day?

My team and I have extensively researched how art museums conserve their oil paintings and prevent them from fading. I want to share my knowledge with you.

How to Conserve Your Art Collection

As you know, ultraviolet (UV) rays are responsible for color fading in original artwork and prints. Ambient light coming from nearby windows is not a major issue, but direct afternoon sun should be avoided.

Warm pigments like red and orange tend to fade first with exposure to ultraviolet sunlight. Red pigments absorb higher energy light rays (blue light), and this changes the complex molecules that create the red pigment.

But don’t worry! There are things you can do in your home to prevent damage from UV rays. You can use UV glass in rooms with original artwork (UV glass is perfectly clear, not tinted), or you can also use UV-filtering shades. 

The heat generated from halogen and incandescent bulbs can also damage artwork over long periods of time. I recommend using high-CRI LED bulbs, which don’t generate any heat. High-CRI means the bulbs have a high Color Rendering Index, which means they illuminate the full spectrum of color. This has the added benefit of making your artwork look better since you can see the cool tones and the warm tones in your painting without the colors looking muddy. I recommend Soraa Vivid LED bulbs, which come in assorted bases to fit different light fixtures.

Those of you hanging your artwork over a fireplace don’t have to worry about damage from heat as long as you have a thick mantle. A fireplace mantle prevents heat from reaching the painting.

When my paintings come off the easel, they are put on open drying racks to cure for eight weeks before they are framed. This gives the impasto oil painting a chance to harden enough so it can be varnished. We use a retouching varnish as the initial layer of varnish on the originals.

A retouching varnish gives a layer of breathable protection over a freshly painted oil painting, preventing small particles of dirt from embedding in the oil paint. It is called a “retouching varnish” because it is used in museums to protect fresh oil paint added to touch up a painting.

It is important to allow an impasto oil painting to dry for two to three years before applying a finishing varnish. The paint should be hard enough so you can’t make a dent with a fingernail. (If you apply a finishing varnish while the painting is still curing, it will cause the oil paint to rot and crack underneath since oil paint needs to be able to breathe to cure properly.)

Neither retouching varnish nor artist’s dammar finishing varnish (the most-often-used varnish for oil paintings) provides UV protection for your painting. However, we recently discovered a finishing varnish made for museum conservation which provides full painting protection, including protecting it from UV rays.

We now recommend using Conservar Finishing Varnish by Rublev Colours, which is available online from Natural Pigments. This is the only painting varnish we have found that offers UV protection. Another benefit of this varnish is that it won’t yellow for a hundred years, unlike dammar varnish, which yellows after ten years.

In conclusion, your new Erin Hanson oil painting has a layer of retouching varnish that provides scuff and dirt protection, but not protection from UV light or heat. If your painting has been dry for at least two or three years, you can apply a finishing varnish with UV protection (Conservar Varnish).

However, regardless of varnish, you can prevent UV rays from reaching your art collection by using UV glass or screens in your home, and you can replace your heat-generating light bulbs with Soraa Vivid LED bulbs.

Watch this video to learn more about how to clean and varnish your painting. 

Do 3D Replicas Need to be Varnished?

My 3D Textured Replicas are fully varnished with three layers of UV protective varnish. If you are collecting them, you should still protect your prints from direct sunlight, but these 3D replicas have built-in resistance to fading.

Future Conservation Plans

I am designing a floater frame for my original oils that will float a piece of UV museum glass above the painting. I just need the equipment to cut glass in my wood shop...

I’ll be sure to let all my collectors know when we have our new “EH Museum Frame” available for purchase. 


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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