We’ve had some crazy weather over the last week here in Boston. There were several balmy days in the upper 60s, melting virtually all the snow we got earlier in February. But temps dropped over the weekend and Saturday night saw furious rain and wind lashing at our windows in the dark. It pounded loudly against the sides of our greenhouse, which had reach 92 degrees inside just a day before. Now it’s chilly again.
In the studio I’ve been catching up on varnishing oil paintings long since dried and cured. It is very satisfying work, revisiting and sprucing up canvases that were starting to look a little dull. A good coat of varnish gives a painting a whole new dimension. “Hiker’s Rest” has even more depth now as I gaze at it from across the room. (You can see a few mesmerizing video clips of varnish going on at my Instagram page).
Varnishing is a simple task, but so important for oils on canvas and panel boards. It protects paint in the long term from pollutants in the air, dust and grime, light, and conditions that would cause the paint to dry out too much and crack. All it takes is a thin layer brushed across the entire surface in one direction, then brushed out perpendicularly to the first pass to assure even coverage. You can instantly see a deepening of color as it goes on. Details are reborn and the painting seems to come into sharper focus. Maybe it is the just the close inspection involved in varnishing - perhaps I’m just seeing details I had forgotten over the intervening months.
The act of refreshing a canvas in this way is like spring coming anew to the gray winter atmosphere to which we’ve become accustomed. You see details and things about the landscape you had somehow forgotten over the winter. In our neighborhood daffodils and crocus are starting to poke their heads up through the leaf litter. I’ve heard blackbirds already and the geese are back. I can run home from work almost entirely in daylight (or at least without the use of a headlamp). We still have March to contend with and it could bring the snows rushing back since it is still technically winter, but for now, remembering a few things about spring is pretty nice.