Varnished or Tarnished ?

Having read many horror stories concerning varnishing with the traditional stuff (sandarac, ethanol & lavender oil) which made images disappear at times I felt very lucky never to have encountered this. I began to think maybe other people were just being sloppy with their varnish. Up until yesterday.

Quinn made a plate of me the first time I went to the photo fair in Bièvres and it was beautiful. They just didn’t have time to varnish the photo but I offered to do so myself back home. Once back home I never dared to varnish it thinking something might go wrong and at a certain point even forgetting about it. Until yesterday.

My boyfriend went to varnish the plates, he has more fireproof hands than I have, and he came back up showing me the plate of Quinn partially having vanished. What caused it? I don’t know. The plates before and after that one came out just fine. Maybe the plate was too old? Maybe the ethanol used in my varnish decided to fight with the ethanol used in the collodion mix by Quinn? Who knows. It happened and this is the way it looks…

At least now I know the plate will live for over a 100 years 😉


  1. Oh Indra, you poor thing .. my heart sunk when I saw this .. and of all the places it could have damaged .. I suppose the only consolation is you have a scan of this (such a slight consolation I know). I am having a nightmare with varnish .. thankfully just testing it on my still life, so no sentimental value .. some work, some just slide off the plate 😦

    1. Ha, thanks Deb! It’s quite sad as I found it a really nice plate of me. Having the scan is at least some sort of consolation 😉
      Luckily it wasn’t one of my own good plates. I actually never had the issue and hope to never encounter it again!

  2. Hi Indra,

    This has happened to me also some times.
    recently i discovered adding a little water to the varnish will help.
    It really sucks when this happens. It’s always with you best plate……


  3. I’ve had this problem, but only when I use old collodion with new/fresh varnish. Love what you do with the process!


    1. Yeah, not sure what caused it in my case oh well…keeps it exciting! Some people say they fixed this issue by adding a little water to the varnish so we’ll see I guess. Have to test it but it won’t be until next year I guess…too busy!



    1. Hi,

      I think this happened because in that image the collodion that was used to make it had a different kind of alcohol than the one used in my varnish. Also, when the alcohol in the varnish ages I suspect it of being harmful. You can fix it by adding a little bit of water to the varnish. And I had some varnishing issues last time where the varnish would make a darker spot in the middle of the image and I’m going to add a bit more alcohol to the varnish (also contains water) to try and fix it.

      One thing you have to do every time before you varnish your cool plates: first varnish a test plate from that same shoot to see how your varnish responds. This is the best way to make sure you don’t screw up your beloved plate 🙂

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