How to Restore an Oil Painting on Canvas

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How to Restore an Oil Painting on Canvas

As they age, oil paintings accumulate layers of dirt, get damaged, or become discoloured. Restoring an oil painting on canvas is the process of replacing vanish, touching up colours, or repairing holes. Whether an aged oil painting has sentimental or monetary value, learning how to restore it on their own saves people money and gives them a sense of accomplishment. In some cases, simply cleaning the painting brightens up the colours and makes the picture more clear. Other times the process is a bit more involved and requires a bit of a learning curve, but with a little effort and some simple directions, anyone can learn how to restore an oil painting on canvas.

About Oil Painting

Oil painting developed in the 15th century and is popular due to the artists' ability to blend colours more easily than they can with other paints. In addition, artists can create semi-transparent, fully transparent, or opaque glazes withoil paints.

During the restoration process, it is important to understand the various layers on an oil painting. How many layers the painting has effects how easy or difficult it is to restore the piece.

Layers of Aged Oil Painting on Canvas


Wooden Stretcher

A wooden frame that the canvas stretches over the edges to create a tight, flat surface to paint on


The linen material that artists paint on


Goes over the canvas to smooth out the texture and provide a base for the paint


Coloured oil paints used to create a picture

Varnish Layer 1

Goes on top of the paint to protect it and add a layer of shine

Surface Dirt

Build up on the painting over time

Varnish Layer 2

Sometimes a person tries to restore a painting by applying a layer of varnish to shine it up without cleaning it first

Sometimes restoring an oil painting means trying to figure out what layers exist. Simply removing and replacing a layer of varnish may not be enough if dirt is trapped between layers.

Clean the Oil Painting

Before cleaning the oil painting, make sure that it is dry and be sure to wear plastic gloves to prevent any oils from the hands getting onto the painting. Use a large, dry paintbrush to lightly dust off any loose particles of dirt. If the painting is textured, use a smaller brush to get in the crevices. Next, gently wipe over the surface with a clean, dry cloth. Do not get any water on the painting and do not use any cleaners.

Remove Old Varnish

Old varnish sometimes cracks and turns yellow as it ages. When this happens, owners must remove the varnish from the painting. Lay the painting down on a flat surface in an area with ventilation. Varnish has a strong odour.

Put on surgical gloves and then soak a cloth in varnish remover. Ring out the cloth so that there is no excess liquid and the rag is merely damp. Slowly start wiping the rag over the surface of the painting. If any paint comes off, try being more gentle. Do not push down while doing this because it could cause the canvas to stretch out or rip. Next, get a small paintbrush and dip the tips of the bristles into the varnish remover. Wipe off any excess varnish. Gently sweep the brush over one small section of the painting at a time until all of the varnish is gone.

Touch up the Oil Painting

Now that the varnish is gone, examine the paint for chipped or fading colours. If possible, blend new colours that match the existing ones. If this is too hard, have a professional do it.

With a very small paint brush and detailed strokes, paint over the faded areas. This is not as hard as it seems since people only have to match the painting underneath. When this is finished, apply a new layer of varnish over the painting.

Repair Canvas Tears

Repairing tears is fairly straightforward. Purchase some acid-free adhesive and get some scrap pieces of canvas that are larger than the tear. Turn the painting upside down and brush the adhesive onto the back of the tear. Make sure the tear is fully closed and then apply the scrap of canvas onto the adhesive. Wipe off any excess adhesive from around the scrap and then place something flat and heavy, such as a book, onto the scrap to keep pressure on it while it dries.

How to Buy Oil Paintings and Restoration Supplies on eBay

It is always a shame when an old oil painting starts to lose some of its former glory, but luckily owners can fix this by restoring the painting. Even just a new frame or a fresh layer of varnish can do the trick, but those who want to completely restore the painting can do that as well.

By shopping on eBay, you can get all the supplies you need in one place. Look on the eBay Deals page for daily sales or see what the thousands of sellers on the site have to offer. Just type a product name into the search bar to pull up a list of all the products.

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