Varnishing failure

Last night I suffered a mild case of that wargamer’s nightmare, varnish failure.  I had finished painting the next batch of Minden SYW British infantry, and gave them their usual brush-coat of Vallejo matt varnish.  This is a varnish I have used on all my miniatures for the last few years as, after much trial and tribulation, it was the only varnish I have found that gives a near-matt finish.

Anyway, I applied the varnish just as I normally do, on an evening that wasn’t too hot, too muggy or too cold, and left them to dry.  A half hour later, I came back to look at them, and was horrified to see that the varnish had dried to a milky white wherever it sat in a crevice (for example between arms and bodies, and in engraved lines separating belts from each other.  The whole overall colour of the figures looked  a bit washed out, too.

So for the next few hours I did a touch-up, inking in the crevices again and pumping up the colour with some re-coats of the bigger or more visible areas.   All in all, I probably got them so most people won’t see the difference.  But, as they are my figures, I know, and I’ll always feel a little unsatisfied with this batch. 

Here are four figures, two of which suffered the varnish problem (the left figure in each pair). This photo was taken after the repairs, and even I can't tell the difference in this pic, so maybe I am being too anal about this!

I’m still not sure what went wrong.  Up till now I’ve been very pleased with this varnish.  I’ve only once had a similar problem, and that was definitely caused by trying to apply too thick a coat – I learned fast after that!  I partly suspect the culprit in this case might not have been the varnish, but the brush.  Although I did wash it carefully, I had used the same wide brush a week ago for dry-brushing the white gaiters (the part I hate most about painting 18th century miniatures!).  Maybe there was still a microscopic amount of white pigment in the hairs.

Anyway, for the next batch, I’ll first varnish just one figure with a new brush, and monitor the results, before doing the whole lot.

8 thoughts on “Varnishing failure

  1. Dear Roly,
    My experience with varnishes tells me that one of several things might have happened. I strongly expect that it was the humidity or warm temperature or both. The other problem might be simply a bad batch of varnish or one that wasn’t quite shaken up sufficiently.
    I sure hope that this doesn’t happen again for you.
    The American Fusilier

  2. Nope, Jerry, not humidity or warmth – yesterday was very average and dry, certainly no different from many other days I’ve varnished. And the batch was the same bottle I had used before, well shaken as normal, so nothing different there, either. I’m still suspicious of the brush itself.

  3. Saw your post on the OSW group – looks like you’ve made a great start to blogging. Just the right balance to my liking between text and pics.
    Shall watch it develop with interest.

  4. Sounds like the brush to me. I’ve made the mistake of using a brush I’d previously painted with and not 100% cleaned. I’ve also had a similar problem with a spray.

    My mate Jim however wins the prize when he picked up matt white spray instead of matt varnish. Oddly the air was blue!

  5. I allways use gloss varnish before varnishing in matt. I use Humbrol poliuretane varnish. With the gloss coat, is less probability that the matt varnish go white.

  6. I usually have good results using Testor’s Dull Kote matt varnish. Once in awhile, I get a fogged up effect, but that is usually due to humid conditions, but it sounds as if humidity was not the problem in your case.

  7. Then again, there’s somebody now putting out a new Satin varnish ….
    but I’m wondering, by any chance did you use a new paint? In making chess pieces way back when, I ran into a similar problem of interactions between the varnish and other surfaces …

I hope I've given you something to think about - please do leave a comment with your thoughts or reactions.

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