Historic Varnishes and Finishes: Japanning & Oil Finishing (short course)

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Why study this course?

Suitable for both beginners and professionals, this course will teach you the decorative art of japanning and oil finishing. You'll learn how to prepare grounds for applying lacquer, build up coloured layers, lay decoration and polish the surface of your work to a late seventeenth-century European recipe. You'll also experiment with a range of traditional oil finishes suitable for use on fine timber.

More about this course

This short course aims to give both beginners and those within the profession the opportunity to get hands-on with paint and varnish, refine skills and understand the material and historic context of japanned and varnished surfaces. You'll gain an understanding of fundamental principles of the lacquering process and its development in Europe since the seventeenth century.

The areas covered by the course include:

  • an introduction to the japanning process
  • the nature and production of European and oriental lacquers
  • choosing tools and materials 
  • the gesso ground
  • making paint and varnish
  • practical lacquering and polishing
  • decoration and gilding
  • the application of a range of oil finishes 

This course is taught by Alex Schouvaloff.

Fees and key information

Course type
Short Course
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Who's this course for?

The course is suitable for those with careers in conservation or the arts who wish to understand the principles, history and process of japanning surfaces. This includes professionals and volunteers in museums, galleries and heritage organisations such as the National Trust and English Heritage.

What our students say

"I loved this course. Alex was a fascinating tutor with wonderful insights into the process. I will absolutely be coming back."

"The tutor, Alex, was brilliant: very engaging, informative and helpful. We covered a lot."

After the course

At the end of the course, you'll be able to:

  • prepare gesso grounds for application of a decorated surface
  • mix lacquer and pigment in readiness for application
  • apply coloured lacquer layers
  • decorate and polish the lacquered surface
  • select and apply oil varnishes

Course dates

Course dates Autumn dates coming soon!
Length One evening a week for eight sessions
Day and time Wednesday, 6pm to 8pm
Maximum class size 12
Contact hours 16


A 20% discount is available for:

  • those who are registered as unemployed and in receipt of Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit
  • those whose sole or main income is a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) state retirement pension
  • those who are registered as disabled and in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
  • full-time and part-time UK students on credit-bearing courses
  • London Metropolitan University students on year-long day courses
  • London Metropolitan University alumni members
  • London Metropolitan University staff

If you're eligible for the 20% discount, please contact us before booking.

What's included in the price?

The course fees include the cost of materials.

Terms and conditions

Please read our terms and conditions before booking. 

How to apply

Booking for this course isn't open at this time as the dates of the next intake are not yet confirmed. Please get in touch for further information or register your interest to receive notification as soon as booking opens.

When to apply

Please note, the deadline to book a place on one of our short courses is one week before the start date. If you have missed the deadline, please get in touch and we will do our best to accommodate you.