How To Varnish A Watercolor Painting

Contributed by Kathryn Ragan
Kathryn Ragan Watercolour Gallery

There are two basic approaches to varnishing. In the first, you complete the painting and then fix it to a prepared frame, finally spraying with an archival varnish. The second involves gluing your watercolor paper to a prepared frame, and then painting it. Because of my style of work, I prefer the first method.

I first prepare the cradled frame, sanding the top, sides, and exposed bottom rim.

Then I apply at least two coats of the wood stain.

I then apply a smooth coat of gesso to prepare the surface for the gel and paper.

I apply gel medium to the frame surface, then carefully place it on the frame.

I cover it with acid-free paper, and gently use the rolling pin to fix the work to the frame.

When dry, (and it dries quickly), I trim the edges with the exacto knife. When set, I apply the varnish treatment. The entire procedure takes about three days


- acid-free paper to protect while rolling

- brayer or rolling pin

- exacto knife

- old hard-bristle brush

- old house-painting brush for applying wood stain


Cradled frame or fibreboard cut to size

Acrylic gesso

Gel medium

Krylon Kamar Varnish
Medium sandpaper

Your Choice of
a stain and preservative
finish for the frame