Oil painting drying time?

Bill Henry-

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
Aug 17, 2002
Boondock Bowerbank, ME
Retired from the grind
A customer brought in a canvas on which is a reproduction of Monet’s “Water Lilies” done in oils. She purchased it from China from where it was shipped to her rolled. The surface was covered with a thin, transparent, “Saran Wrap” type material.

When I removed the Saran Wrap, little or no pigment stuck to it’s surface. However, to the touch the surface of the canvas appears slightly tacky and the odor of the oils is quite apparent.

She needs it stretched and framed. I know one cannot be precise, but approximately how long need I wait before I can work with it? One week? Two weeks? A month?

I would appreciate your best guesstimate. I need to tell her something.
Bill, the artist who shares space w/me, says 6 months from time it was painted. But...for some of her shows, we have framed w/in 3 months. Alot depends on how thick the oil is applied to the canvas, texturing, etc. But, in all fairness, maybe someone who paints will answer your question. Do you have any idea how long ago this canvas was actually painted?
Do it now.

The only delays that I've heard about is when varnishing.

I would think, that the wetter, the better.

If you're concerned about paint sticking to the rabbit, float the canvas slightly.

But, let's face it, it's just a cheap copy.
Less is right, just stretch the thing. Oils can take six months to a year to dry. Having it stretched will be much better for the painting while it is drying.

I have read in several places that oil paint never completely drys. It will always remain in somewhat of a soft state. Hugh would be the technical reference for something like this. I vote with Less on this one, stretch it and frame it! Just handle it gently.
Thanks for your responses.

Do you have any idea how long ago this canvas was actually painted?
No, it was done to order. But I assume that with transit time from China it was probably finished at least two weeks ago. Although it still has a distinct odor, it has somewhat diminished over the weekend. I am assuming that they somehow accelerate the “drying” process before they cover it with “Saran Wrap” and ship it.

But, let's face it, it's just a cheap copy.
Not so cheap, Les, she paid at least 400 bucks for it!

From my untrained eye, when comparing it to a poster of the same work, it is nearly an exact replica (except for the fact that it is only 36” x 48” ). From her description, it sounds like it starts off as a canvas transfer, but their “artists/craftsmen” painstakingly re-render it in oils. It’s really an interesting piece.

I will take your suggestions and stretch it within the next day or two, … if for no other reason that they are taking up a lot of work space.
Linseed oil is VERY slow drying, but if it can
be handled, stretching it should not be a problem.
The client knows its history and should not be
surprised if it still smells a bit. Since the paint is supposed to dry from the surface in, putting a backing board on it should not be a problem, either. There may be some vapor build-up between the painting and the backing board, but not enough to harm the canvas.

Less mentioned varnishing.
It is important to have the painting varnished to prevent it from drying out altogether, though as Hugh mentioned, it will take a long time. Varnishing retards the drying process and keeps the paint elastic. Unvarnished, the paint will dry and contract resulting in cracks and dulling of the color of the paints.
Perhaps Hugh or Lesster can post a recommended schedule for varnishing new oil paintings and kinds of varnishes recommended. I have heard differing opinions on this subject and would like to see something a bit more definitive.
I have always used re touch varnish after the painting is six months old and feels dry to the touch. After one year, regular Damar varnish.

Oil paintings never totally dry out, but should be varnished after 6-12 months or longer if a heavy impasto technique was used.

There are two primary reasons to varnish a painting:

1.) Oil colors dry with a different amount of glossiness depending on how the color was made and pigments used. A varnish gives a nice even sheen to the painting. You can control this sheen by using either matte varnish or gloss varnish or a mixture of the two.

2.) The varnish protects the painting from environmental hazards such as smoke or pollution. If a painting is not varnished, these pollutants become impregnated in the painting rendering it uncleanable.

Before the advent of acrylic (synthetic) varnishes damar varnish was used. It is inferior as a varnish because it yellows over time and is much more difficult to remove than synthetic varnishes. Retouch varnish is intended for the artist to use as he/she paints and is not intended to be a final picture varnish.

An oil painting is "cleaned" by removing the old varnish. Use an oil painting cleaning solution and cotton balls. Slowly start from one corner of the oil and work in a circular motion over a small (2.5" x 2.5") area until you see color on the cotton ball. STOP when you see color. Move to a new area and proceed.

After the old varnish is removed, allow to dry for an hour or so and then apply a coat of salamander restorative. Allow several days to dry and then revarnish using a synthetic spray or brush on picture varnish.

A painting can be framed without varnishing, but I wouldn't advise it as it is awful easy for a customer to forget to varnish the painting later. An unvarnished painting is UNCLEANABLE since the only way to clean the painting is to remove the top layer of paint and destroy the painting.

Some mediocre results can be obtained by using a mild soap detergent solution. It is only a method of last resort and removes only surface dirt. Do not soak the painting by getting it too wet!

Artists and galleries do a disservice to their customers by selling a painting that has not been varnished and not informing the customer of the importance of varnishing.

I'm a third generation art supply dealer and framer and started in the business when I was six years old. The above information is very basic as I'm the first to admit I'm not an art conservator. Study up on any process you use before attempting it with a customers work as you leave yourself open to liabilities. Cleaning an oil is a simple and profitable procedure, but do not practice on a customers work.

If you are not comfortable working on original art, make an aliance with a qualified conservator to job this type of work out. Don't turn the business away, but be sure to work with someone qualified to do the work who is insured.

Dave Makielski
Bill, I agree with John and Less...go ahead and stretch away. Ask your client to bring it back in one year so you can varnish it for her. If you are uncomfortable stretching it, bring it on in and I will help you with it. I stretch a lot of canvases. I will have the canvas pliers and staple gun warmed up...I'm doing 3 on Wednesday! Be sure the stretcher bars you use are big enough to support that size canvas without bowing. It might be a good idea to add cross pieces to add stability.
If you are uncomfortable stretching it, bring it on in and I will help you with it.
Thanks for the offer, Diane, but I’ve already got the strainers built (1” x 2-1/4”). We do a fair amount of stretching (a whole lot of that “Island Junk”), so it shouldn’t be a problem. I was just a little concerned about the “freshness” of these pieces.

We’ll be in Milford this weekend – if “Harry Potter” is still at the drive-in.
I'd love to meet you but my shop will be long closed by the time the drive-in opens! The Hot Air Balloon Festival is also in town this weekend. Friday night there is the "GLOW"...the balloons go up after dark, tethered to the ground, lit from within. I have yet to make it to the Glow. Saturday and Sunday the balloon s go up a little after sunrise and then again at about 6PM if the weather and wind permit. Lots of rides and other things for the kiddies, too, and live music all weekend, food, craft tent, the usual. Check it out before the drive-in and if you are in town Friday before 5 or Saturday before 3 come by and say hello!