Why Not DIY?
Why making your own supplies should be the only option.
I have always been fascinated by process; how a painting was made, how a canvas was built, how paints were ground out from pigments. I can't explain it, but something about making it yourself just “does it” for me. I get a kick from learning that someone in 2017 actually goes out of their way to make, from scratch, their own oil paint when it would take less time and money (typically) to go to a store and buy a tube off of the shelf. That shows passion. To go that far out of your way for minimal perceived gain shows a great deal of drive and thirst for knowledge. This drive and thirst for knowledge is something that is inside of me as well (at least when I am not being completely lazy).
So, in an effort to show that I too want more from life than I can buy from a store, I decided to become one of those annoying DIY’ers who just has to show people how it's done.
Why buy a small bottle when you can make loads yourself for less? Here's how it’s done:
Step one: Gather your supplies
Damar varnish starts out as Damar crystals (which come from the dried sap of a specific tree in Asia) and can be purchased relatively cheaply from any decent arts supply store.
These crystals are both sticky and powdery at the same time; odd yet fascinating at the same time. We need to break these crystals down, and there is only one way to do it: mineral spirits. The mineral spirits will slowly dissolve and mix with the damar crystals, suspending the particulates inside itself.
I use thin women’s stockings to hold my crystals, but the old art books recommend using cheese cloth. If it works, use it. Typically you want a 1 part crystal to about 3 parts spirits for a decent batch. To be honest I just eye-ball it.
Step two: Suspension
The best way to dissolve the crystals is to suspend them in a large jar and pinch the stocking in the lid. This keeps them from sitting on the bottom and clumping together. Close the lid tightly, give a slight shake and set in a dark and cool spot.
Step three: Wait
As tough as it may be, the bulk of this process is waiting. It typically takes about 3-5 days for the crystals to completely dissolve. It’s probably a good idea to give the jar a slight agitation each day to make sure things are mixed well. You’ll be glad that you did.
Step four: Feel pride
You've done it. You have re-created a medium that would make an old master proud. And you made a higher quality product and more importantly a cheaper product than you could ever buy in a store. Your damar varnish can be used to finish and protect your paintings or mixed with stand oil and turps (in even ⅓ parts) for a lush glazing medium. And if you are like me, this amount will last you months or even years.