To Varnish, or Not To Varnish

To varnish, or not to varnish: that is the question – to misquote the Bard. I had never been fully convinced that varnishing models after painting them with acrylic paint was entirely necessary. I’d had good advice from expert painters that it wasn’t. Unvarnished figures could retain the finish of the paint and the paint itself was tough enough to protect itself. After all, you don’t varnish a wall after painting it with acrylic paint but you expect the finish to last for years. I’d sadly seen figures after hours of hard painting ruined by a few seconds of varnishing. On the other hand, gloss varnish hid a multiple of sins. The unnatural sheen on painted fabrics could be taken off by a true flat matte varnish. But matte varnish left metallic paint finishes looking dull. And spray varnishes were sensitive to temperature and humidity. They could be more worrying than throwing your figures around the room. To varnish, or not to... For my 1809 project’s 10mm playing pieces, however, I resolved to give varnishing a go. I had a good-sized collection of varnishes both bottled and in spray cans. For this small size of figure, I chose to use Vallejo’s acrylic varnish that came in small squeezey-bottles – a few drops at a time being enough to brush on to the figures as it dried quite quickly on the palette. All the figures I’d based recently were varnished with two coats of the Vallejo matte varnish then spot brushed with Vallejo gloss varnish on metallic areas like bayonets, swords and sashes. I tried first of all with a primary coat of gloss varnish, because the finish has a reputation for being tougher, finishing off with a final coat of matte.
However with figures this small, I found it too time- consuming to check whether or not I’d managed to brush over all the shiny gloss. All-in-all, I was happy with the results, thinking the matte varnish nicely dulled and brought together the natural shiny finishes of the various acrylic paints – even though small areas of metallic paint lost a bit of their pop and although the gloss varnish did a good job at giving shine to the weapon parts, it wasn’t as subtle as the original metallic paint finish. I’d emphasised here on the 1809 Blog that I thought it important to mount my 10mm figures on 3mm bases to encourage players to pick up the bases rather than the figures. Even with the figures varnished, it was a practice I wished to continue.
ABOVE I opted to use the Vallejo varnishes for their ease of use: they only needed a few shakes, then a couple of drops onto a palette and the varnish could be brushed on the 10mm figures with little effort.
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