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Step 5 - Applying the Final Varnish

As a final varnish I use Golden Polymer Varnish with UVLS ((UltraViolet Light Stabilizers). I prefer the gloss type because it really brings out the colors in a painting. It makes the surface shiny which works great with my subject.

This is a waterborne acrylic polymer varnish that dries to a protective, flexible, dust-resistant surface. I always thin it with water, 3 part varnish to 1 part water. For this artwork I applied nine coats, waiting 3 hours between coats. The varnish cures completely in one week. 


Here you can see my varnishing tools:
- a wide, great quality brush for the top surface
- a smaller one for the sides
- a plastic container for the varnish
- a measuring cup for mixing varnish and water

I work in a dust free room and place the painting on top of boxes to elevate it from the table. I alternate between horizontal strokes in one session and vertical ones in the next.


My varnished artwork (upside down) by a window after been sealed with 12 layers of Golden Archival Spray Varnish and nine coats of Golden Polymer Varnish.

I feel very confident to frame my art without glass. I've verified on my own that the UV protection these varnishes provide is outstanding. I did a rigorous lightfastness test using the Blue Wool Reference cards and following strict ASTM standards. Even the pigments with the lowest lightfastness ratings performed amazingly well when protected by these varnishes.


On my next and final post in this series I will talk about framing.

Step 1before varnishing

Step 2sealing the artwork

Step 3mounting the artwork on a panel

Step 4digital capture of the artwork

Step 5: applying the final varnish

Step 6: framing the artwork


Step 4 - Digital Capture of the Artwork

One of the most important steps in the art reproduction process is the creation of a digital file. A high-resolution, properly lit, color-managed capture is critical to getting the sharpness, detail and color accuracy needed. Even though I have a good quality camera, I let a professional do the work.

The company I use, DaVinci Digitale, not only assists with art scanning, photo capturing and digital color correction, but offers many other services such as giclee printing on different surfaces, art stretching and mounting, custom framing and art packaging and shipping.

I take my artwork to be professionally photographed always before applying the final gloss varnish to minimize the glare of a glossy canvas.

Below is the color corrected image of “Good Vibrations”. The original file is 677MB and measures 18830 x 12562 pixels at 300ppi resolution.


On my next post I will talk about the process of applying the final varnish.


Step 1before varnishing

Step 2sealing the artwork

Step 3: mounting the artwork on a panel

Step 4: digital capture of the artwork

Step 5: applying the final varnish

Step 6: framing the artwork


Step 3 - Mounting the Artwork on a Panel

At the beginning of the mounting process I realized that I didn't have a table big enough for the arwork so I had to be creative and decided to place a mirror closet door on top of the smaller table I had available.


First I carefully trimmed the extra canvas around my piece. The trimmed canvas at this point is a bit larger than the cradled panel to account for possible misalignments during mounting. The wood panel I always use for mounting my art is an Ampersand Claybord


My favorite mounting adhesive is Gudy 831, a very aggressive double-stick adhesive film especially suitable for applications on rough or textured surfaces. It's acid free (pH 7), it passed the photo activity test (PAT), and will not dry out or discolor with age. It's available on rolls with a single release liner. Gudy 831 can be purchased online from Talas in different size rolls. However, if you don't use a large quantity of adhesive as I do or are just experimenting, I suggest you buy Grafix Double Tack Mounting Film which comes in sheets of different sizes. This is also acid free and archival. 


After carefully unrolling the adhesive onto the surface of the Claybord, I burnished it with a brayer and trimmed the excess around the edges. I punctured the air bubbles with an X-Acto knife and burnished the area until the air was gone.


Next I created a fold on the release liner to expose a 1" wide section of the tacky area of the mounting adhesive.


I positioned the canvas over the Claybord and, when perfectly centered, I pressed the canvas on the exposed 1" section of adhesive. 


Then I slowly pulled away the release liner while unrolling the canvas over the adhesive. With a sheet of tracing paper covering the canvas, I gently rubbed the surface with a rag until all the release liner was pulled out. As I forgot to take a picture of this step, I'm using a reference from an older artwork. 


I turned the board upside down on the mirror to trim the extra canvas with an X-Acto knife.


Trimming the extra canvas.


Here's the canvas mounted and trimmed.


I rolled a rubber brayer all over the surface protected by tracing paper.


Then I placed the board under weights overnight. Heavy books will do especially with smaller pieces. 


Finally I painted the sides of the cradled board with acrylic.


On my next post I will talk about the process of getting my artwork professionally photographed.


Step 1: before varnishing

Step 2: sealing the artwork

Step 3: mounting the artwork on a panel

Step 4: digital capture of the artwork

Step 5: applying the final varnish

Step 6: framing the artwork


Step 2 - Sealing the Artwork

After cleaning up the artwork from debris and cat hair, as explained in Step 1, I taped the canvas on a piece of gatorboard. Any rigid surface like cardboard or foamboard can also work for this purpose. Then I took it outside to begin the sealing process.

Sealing the piece creates a separation layer between the painting and the final varnish. Because the final varnish ages and collects dust and grime through the years, it needs to be removable for conservation purposes; if it sticks to the painting it would be impossible to replace. 

However, there's another very important reason for sealing. In my technique, beside colored pencils, I use wax pastels (Neocolor), both the water-soluble and water-resistant ones, and blend them with heat . If I were to apply the final varnish without sealing, the water-soluble pastels would get wet and possibly smeared by the brush during the painting process. I use a final varnish because I frame my art without glass.  

I sealed the artwork with Golden Archival Spray Varnish, gloss. This sealing varnish contains ultraviolet light filters and stabilizers (UVLS) to provide archival protection and inhibit light damage. It's a mineral spirit varnish and therefore I apply it outside while wearing a dust mask on a non-windy day. I lean the artwork on a wall so that big droplets fall onto the pavement and not on the painting. 

Golden Archival Spray Varnish can be used in place of fixative by colored pencil artists who frame their work under glass. It not only protects from UV damage but it also completely suppresses wax bloom formation, a problem that occurs with some wax-based colored pencils. For this purpose, 5 or 6 light layers are sufficient.

Considering that my piece is very large and needs complete sealing, I sprayed a total of 12 light layers, waiting at least 30 minutes in between. After each layer I bring the artwork inside the garage and let it dry away from sun and moving air. I rotate the artwork from a horizontal to a vertical position at each spraying session and always spray from side to side at about 10" distance. When the sealing process is finished I let the artwork rest inside for a few days. 

On my next post I will show you how I mount the canvas on a 40" x 60" x 2" Claybord.

Step 1: before varnishing

Step 2: sealing the artwork

Step 3: mounting the artwork on a panel

Step 4: digital capture of the artwork

Step 5: applying the final varnish

Step 6: framing the artwork


Step 1- Before Varnishing

I've finally finished my 40" x 60" piece and now I'm preparing the surface for varnishing.

Step 1: I begin by going over the highlights that lost their brightness with a white Neocolor. I will then examine every single square inch of canvas (in this case 2,400 sq inches) with my strongest magnifiers. If you work with colored pencils and wax pastels like Neocolors, you know how easily tiny debris of pigment can become embedded in the surface. The goal is to lightly scrape off the debris and the occasional cat hair using a small X-ACTO knife. This takes some patience of course but it's a worthwhile effort; it's very disappointing to notice debris after varnishing because, at that point, there's nothing one can do. 

I will post five more steps to explore and update the intricacies of my method of glassless framing. After more than 10 years of experience with this method I have developed a reliable technique that I'm always happy to share. 

Step 2: sealing the artwork to create a separation layer before the final varnish

Step 3: mounting the artwork on a panel

Step 4: digital capture of the artwork

Step 5: applying the final varnish

Step 6: framing the artwork


Almost There

This piece was definitely a challenge due to its size and complexity. So many times I wanted to give up! Over the last few years I put it aside for other artworks; I took several long breaks but always went back to it.

A method that helped me persevere was to concentrate only on a small section at a time, sometimes just a single pebble. I imagined that pebble to be like a small painting so I could feel a sense of accomplishment when it was finished. I then pretended to start a brand new painting with the next pebble. I also never compared how much I had accomplished with how much more I had left to do.

Now I can see the finish line and I’m so proud of myself.

Here is a quote that inspired and comforted me throughout the long process:
“Small steps may appear unimpressive, but don't be deceived. They are the means by which perspectives are subtly altered, mountains are gradually scaled, and lives are drastically changed.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich

Size: 40" x 60"
Medium: Prismacolor and Luminance colored pencil, Neocolor artist crayon
Surface: extra fine texture canvas primed with Art Spectrum Colourfix primer

How I prime canvas:
Development of one pebble:
Technique: Icarus Painting Board


Copyright Theft

Here we go again, another copyright theft, the third one from Asia.
Baoke, a large Chinese stationary company, is using the image of my artwork “Social Network” on colored pencil tins and boxes without my permission.
Here are some websites that offer these products:



Inspiring Children

A group of children from an elementary school in the UK, year 3, who were learning about rocks and stones, were inspired by my art and created their own version of colorful pebbles in oil pastels. What a wonderful job they did and what an honor to inspire young minds!