Sealing mixed media artwork on vellum paper

Reader Question: I am doing Illumination/calligraphy on vellum with imitation gold leaf, permanent ink, watercolors, gouache, and iridescent color pencils - basically a multimedia approach. This is a lot of work to ruin by using the wrong sealing product....Is there one spray sealer that I can use that won't bleed, run or ruin the vellum, etc?

Safely sealing your mixed media artwork on vellum is a tricky conundrum. Since your mixed media artwork includes watercolors, you can't brush on a sealant - otherwise I would suggest lightly brushing the artwork with an acrylic medium, such as Golden Gloss Medium (this links to Blick Art Materials, and if you make a purchase I get a small commission that helps support this site). In your case, brushing anything over the watercolors will only cause it to smear and ruin the piece.

This means that you will need to spray your artwork in order to seal it. Now comes the question: which type of vellum are you using:

  • vellum made from calfskin, which is the "original" kind of vellum used by artists for centuries for paintings and manuscripts, or
  • modern vellum, which is a paper form of imitation vellum, created from plasticized cotton. (I'm assuming from the title of your question that you are using paper vellum.)

If you are using vellum made from calfskin, you should be able to lightly spray it with a product like Krylon Crystal Clear, which will sink into the calfskin vellum and seal your mixed media artwork.

If you are using paper vellum, the danger with using a spray sealant is that the spray might either:

  1. form small puddles on the vellum, thus causing it to warp, or
  2. the spray might not sink into the vellum well enough for it to properly adhere and dry, which means that the sealant would remain runny and possibly smear the watercolors.

So you're faced with two choices: you can either leave the mixed media artwork on vellum unsealed, and just carefully protect it by getting it framed safely behind glass; or you can take your chances and use a spray varnish. I would also recommend Krylon Crystal Clear if you wanted to try to spray your artwork on paper vellum.

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If you decide to spray it, I would highly suggest you spray a test piece first. What you can do is quickly paint some watercolors (and some of the other media too, if you want) on another piece of the paper vellum. After it dries, carefully spray the artwork and watch what happens. The key is to spray lightly and quickly. If you spray too heavily or for too long, the spray will puddle and run. It's always best to practice first - plus, spraying on the practice vellum will clear any potential clogs in the spray nozzle. Also, make sure the spray is at least 12 inches from the vellum. If you are closer than that, you run the risk of the spray concentrating too much in one area and causing puddles.

I hope this helps. If you decide to spray it, I strongly suggest you take your time and do a test spray (or two) on practice vellum before attempting to spray your finished multimedia artwork on vellum. You don't want to ruin a piece you worked so long on, so it's worth the extra time to run a few tests. Good luck!

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