Scumble Technique in Oil Painting

by Jillian O'Keeffe Google
Scumbled paintings can have visual depth and realistic shadowing.

Scumbled paintings can have visual depth and realistic shadowing. Images

Artists use an array of techniques to add interest and detail to paintings. Scumbling is one of these techniques. It is a layering technique where the painter places one layer of paint on top of another. The method is not a new one, and the Old Masters, such as Rembrandt, used it in their work centuries ago.


Scumbling only applies to oil paintings and not to watercolors. With this technique, the painter creates a base layer for the painting that is known as a grisaille. This grisaille does not have the visual depth or texture that the finished painting will have, but the painter chooses the colors carefully, as the scumble layer will not entirely cover the grisaille coloration.


A painter can only scumble a painting that is completely dry, or partially dry. He cannot scumble a wet painting. Typically, an artist who wants to add a scumble layer uses paints that are quite dry. He can either take paint directly from the tube or thin the paint only slightly. He also only loads his brush with a small amount of this stiff paint. This is because he does not want to completely cover the base layer, but rather add texture and soften the look of the base paint. A scumble layer also generally requires a lighter color paint than what is already on the canvas. This paint is opaque or only semi-transparent. The method in which the artists touches the brush to the painting also matters, and scumbles typically involve the artist raking, dragging or scraping the brush across the canvas to give texture to the painting.


When an artist adds a scumble layer to his painting, he softens the objects and the light in the painting. Another feature of a scumbled painting is that the subjects of the painting display a sense of perspective and of distance from the viewer. If the artist adds too much paint during the scumbling process, he can inadvertently make the painting more flat and unrealistic, as he covers up the base layer that helps add perspective.


Glazing is another painting method that is superficially similar to scumbling. However, when an artist applies a glaze, he uses a transparent paint instead of the opaque paint of scumble. From far away, scumbling appears bright, as the colors are lighter than the background, whereas glazes appear dark, or highly colored. A single painting can have both glazed and scumbled layers.

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