Learn the Oil Painting Techniques of Scumbling and Semi- Glazing to Beef up Your Artistic Toolbox

The oil painting techniques of glazing and scumbling, glazing and scumbling ,were both much used by the European masters of earlier times. Using them, you can create some truly wonderful effects: the glow of radiant colors, the appearance of soft skin, or the look of a misty morning.


Below is an oil sketch of an angel that I copied from the French Academic painter William Bouguereau to illustrate the techniques. He belonged to the Venetian school, and was known for his perfect rendition of smooth and youthful complexions in subjects such as angels, cherubs, and countryside children.

If you're looking to learn how to draw or paint angels or children's portraits, he would be one of the old masters you could learn a lot from.

What you see here is a half-finished painting of this cherub. I have yet to add the more subtle transitions in flesh tones. I'm paying less attention to the accuracy of the drawing, because the purpose is to illustrate three oil painting techniques. I cover drawing elsewhere on the site.

Here is the process I used for this painting

  1. First, I laid down a completely flat opaque underpainting of skin tone all over the angel's upper torso and his face. At this stage, I leave the edges soft to allow for later adjustments as necessary.

    Touches of scumbling and semiglazing over a flat skin tone gradually transform the angel into a 3-dimensional entity

    Learn scumbling and semi glazing from Willliam Bourguereau

  2. When the base coat is dried, I mix a darker tone and some lighter tones for the shadows and middle tones on the angel's torso, face, and his arm. These colors are also opaque, but darker than the dried underpainting. I test the colors on a piece of white scrap paper and hold it next to the angel's skin to make sure I have the values right.

    I use a very thin layer of paint--without thinning it--and stipple it onto the surface (i.e. use a tiny amount of paint and apply it with a dabbing motion using a flat-tipped brush held perpendicular to the painting surface). In this case, I also use my finger to spread it! (I can do this because I'm using water soluble oil paints— be careful what you put your fingers into!)

  3. Once I take care of the darker sections of the angel's skin, it is now time to scumble. I apply a fairly opaque layer of skin tone that's lighter than the skin tone of the underpainting to give it a transparent effect. I also have to test and adjust the tones of the scumbled paints. The skin of the angel really cries out to be pinched after a bit of scumbling here and there.

  4. I add a lot of white and some oil medium into the paints and scumble it into the light areas of the skin Using the same stippling method, I immediately soften the skin to gives it the transparent look that skin is supposed to have. I add some medium into the color mixtures as I need to remember to build my new layers 'fatter' than the earlier layers

  5. I use my finger (or a piece of clean cloth) to wipe away the excess paint from my new semi-glazes (either transparent or semi-opaque) and scumbled patches. At this stage I need to carefully look for tonal balance to avoid patchy opaque look.

You can still see the first layer of underpainting at the bottom of the painting and on the angel's forearm.....

Compare the difference between that and the areas with two layers of paint. With each scumble and semi-glaze added, the depth increases and the skin looks more transparent.

I am amazed at the economy of these oil painting techniques when compared to

the alla prima method. With scumbling and glazing, so little paint is required to achieve the desired effects! Little wonder that the old masters, who were born in an era with fewer paint choices and a need to economize, used these methods.

Here's a helpful tip - when you practice these oil painting techniques of the old masters, keep a bit of clean cloth handy so you can remove excess oil paints.



So, to sum up the sequence of these oil painting techniques:

  1. Create an underpainting on a carefully drawn sketch.(If you are confident of your drawing skills, you can take more liberty on the initial sketch). Let this dry before proceeding.

  2. Add, wet into dry, thin layers of opaque, semiopaque, and transparent oil paints.

  3. Use the oil medium as you build more layers on top, but use it sparingly.

  4. To avoid a lot of adjustments- removing or wiping out sections, make use of your preliminary thumbnail sketches or studies. This is essential if you want to avoid hair-pulling frustration!

Follow these guidelines and practice, practice, and practice.

Be sure to try things and remain clam if you make mistakes. Keep at it, and you will surely make progress as you explore these oil painting techniques.

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