I used to dread the process of varnishing a violin. Even thinking about it kept me up at night as I anticipated an outcome that I wasn't happy with. I'm a visual person, and I have opinions about what looks "right" to me, and it seemed that I couldn't ever get the varnish to look the way I wanted it to. I didn't want it to be totally uniform and perfect (the factory look), but it needed a sense of being intentional, and a kind of aged look without intentional antiquing.
Part of the problem, in retrospect, was that I was using a varnish that was too tacky and difficult to apply, but more of the problem was in how I was applying it and also how uptight I was during the process of varnishing. I would kind of freak out if I sensed that the varnish was getting too streaky on the top as I was brushing it on, and since I wasn't sure how to remedy that streakiness, I'd kind of panic.
Needless to say, I've had a change of heart about varnish. I actually enjoy it now. Largely thanks to some good advice and a good varnish recipe, I started making my own oil varnish in my back yard here, and also gained the insight that wet oil varnish is meant to stay workable for as long as you need it to. If it starts getting streaky, just rub it out and move it around. Relax! Apply thin coats that are heavily pigmented so that you don't need too many to get the color right.
Varnishing can make or break an instrument; after spending months carving, scraping, and fussing to get a really nice looking violin "in the white," a poor varnish job can cheapen the whole look and create an expectation of a bad sounding instrument. As I mentioned before, I'm a person who really cares about the aesthetic and the whole "vibe" of the violin, so by the time I start varnishing, the instrument has been through a lot of scrutiny to get it looking the way I want it to (not that I'm always totally successful with this!). You see why I'm such a slow builder. But rather than dreading the varnish stage, I've come to think of it as one of the final steps before stringing up the instrument, which is the ultimate joy in violin making. . .