Basic Oil Painting Techniques: Layering, Scumbling, and Glazing

If you want to master oil painting techniques, you will need to learn the concept of “layering” and also how to apply glazing and scumbling. Read on a for a quick introduction to these important topics.

Layering: wet into wet, wet into semi-wet, or wet into dry oil paints

Layering is not so much a painting technique as it is a way of talking about how much you let layers of paint dry before applying the next layer. Simply put, fresh layers of oil paint go on top of either semi dry layers or dry layer.

Alla prima (or direct) painting is definitely a wet into wet technique.

One or two layers is about all you can get away with before the colors get muddy. On the other hand, alla prima is the most immediate and spontaneous technique.

The advantage of the wet into dry layering method in oil painting is that you can keep the colors clean, you have better control of the tones (values), you can extend the range of dark rich colors, and you can create translucent effects. A wet into dry layering method allows you time to think things through and correct your mistakes.

Many oil painters use mediums to speed up the drying process or simply use retouch varnish to moisten any areas they want to work on before they add a fresh layer. It all depends on your needs—just stick to the rule of 'fat over lean' and make sure the top layers are thicker (more medium, less solvent) than the layers below.




So, once you decide on the laying method you want to use with your oil paints, you can move on to:

Oil Painting Techniques: Glazing

Glazing is when you apply a darker transparent oil paint over a lighter--usually dried--opaque underlayer. You can't do it any other way. It's actually a bit like glazing in watercolor.

Originally the old masters in Europe used this unique technique to extend the range of values they could paint with oils. Oil paints, like any other medium, are limited on the light end of the colors. No matter what you do, white paint is never going to be as bright as natural sunlight. The old masters understood that the transparent darks allow the dark end of the value scale to expand.

Orange squash, oil painting


How I further rescue a painting: A thin layer of sap green glazed over the shadows on the squash for more drama; viridian green is both glazed and semi-glazed around the squash to revive the drab background

Orange squash, oil painting

How does it work? You drag a thin layer of transparent color on top of an already dried coat of oil paint. For instance, paint thinned ultramarine blue over dried cadmium yellow. The result is a luminous green that you just cannot get from mixing the two colors directly. Don't believe me? Try it yourself.

A final tip: remember 'fat over lean'. Your thin layer of glaze is usually thinned with oil medium and a little bit of mineral solvents.


Oil Painting Techniques : Scumbling

This technique is theopposite of glazing; you paint a lighter, thin opaque layer over a dried (or semi-dried) darker paint. You keep it thin to make it translucent Do this either by adding oil painting medium to it, or just use less paint in your brush.

The result is a cooler, slightly bluer color, because the fresh layer has more white than the dried under layer. The color is less saturated, and the underlying color is not completely obscured.

Scumbling is very effective in softening textures. You might use it for soft fabric, young skin, etc. For example, if you are painting a peach, you can scumble its surface to make it look fuzzy.

If you use opaque color on top of the dried layer, then it has a semi opaque look. Almost like you add a veil to it. It lightens the color underneath but makes it more chalky.

So you see that scumbling lightens up the dried layer, making it more opaque, where glazing darkens the tone of the color on top. Both oil painting techniques are used often with dried underpaintings.




If you want to learn more, read the page on semi-glazing and scumbling.

You can get a more in depth lessons on oil painting techniques here.

> > Scumbling, Glazing And Layering

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