Tutorial: Oil Painting Basics Glazing and Scumbling

Hello! I hope your break time has been productive. Here is a refresher course to help with motivation and to answer some questions you might have. I will post again in about one week with a continuation of the process.

Following is a demonstration of the first stages of a still life in oil from my class Oil Painting Basics.

Please choose your own still life subjects and set up and work from life as you proceed.

IMG_7910Choose some simple shapes with obvious directional light. Use a view-finder to decide what to include (and what not to). Make sure your opening matches the format of your canvas.

square opening=square canvas.


Simplify and focus.


zoom in, pan out.

Take time with this first step.

Look for a variety of shape sizes from very big to very small. All things and shadows of things and highlights on things are considered shapes and have sizes! Even background things are shapes with sizes. It is easy to see this if you frame it all with a view finder. The edges of the finder are the borders of outside shapes (like the edges of your canvas).



Look for the subtleties of light in the cast shadow and reflected areas.



Also notice subtle color and color temperature variation.

Light from artificial light sources have a color to them.

I have two different light sources here although one is much more dominant. The direct light from the right is an incandescent brood spectrum bulb meant to mimmick daylight-it has a faint pink cast. The light on my palette is white LED which has a cool blue/green cast. Cool light casts warm shadows. The LED light is hitting the shadow side of the egg shape and making the shadows there cooler (almost turquoise)…colored light is bouncing all around! So, paint what you see and use the rules to generalize if necessary.

Punch up the saturation and it becomes more obvious.


Now, to paint.

We are going to build this painting up over several sessions, allowing the paint to dry in between each session. This method is slow and careful and helpful for seeing (and keeping) value/color relationships.

We’ll start with a value (light and dark) painting first to map out the patterns of light and shadow.

But, we won’t use black or white to do this. Instead, we’ll choose a primary palette and mix our “black” out of our three colors. Then we’ll rub out our lights back to the white canvas. Our paint will be thin and the application of the first layer will be more like staining the canvas than “painting” on it.

So, we need to pick some tubes of paint. Since we are building up over time, we’ll use transparent and semi-transparent color instead of opaque. You can identify the level of transparency of your tube color by looking at the labeling.


Different manufacturers use different indicators. See above the words OPAQUE and TRANSPARENT.


See the little square half blacked out. That means semi-transparent.

IMG_7920There are quite a few transparent colors to choose from. As long as you have one each of blue, red and yellow that’s fine. Use Zinc white (semi-transparent) instead of Titanium white (opaque).


My selection: Alizarin crimson Permanent, Gamboge yellow and Ultramarine blue, Cerulean blue and Zinc white. You can use yellow ochre for yellow too (semi-transparent).


To mix the palette: Squeeze out a blob of each color. I mix a little bit of copal painting medium into each primary blob. Copal makes the paint looser and helps it dry quicker. You can also have a little pan to dip into. Careful not to use too much.

Pull off a little bit of each primary blob and mix in white to see the tint of the color. Zinc white is weak so you don’t need much color to overpower it.


Mix red and yellow together for orange. Mix red and blue for purple and blue and yellow for green. I add cerulean blue to the palette (later) to make more vibrant greens and purples. Ultramarine is not the best mixer for greens in this case.



Now, to make a tone for the canvas. Looking at the still life I decide that there is a warm purple undertone to some of the darkest parts so I’ll tone my canvas this mixture.

I take some blue and mix in red to make purple then add a tiny bit of yellow to dull it and warm it. See the blob in the lower left corner of the palette.



After painting on the tone with a soft brush, I begin to draw into the wet paint with a round or filbert shaped brush dipped in a tiny bit of Gamsol (odorless mineral spirits).


Use a cotton rag to wipe out large areas of “light”.



Now, pull paint from the darker piles on the palette to fill in the darker areas on the canvas. Look for variations in color in the dark areas. Some are warmer (redder) others cooler (bluer). Notice how my cast shadows are bluer than the form shadows. Really look for differences, comparing one area to the next. Exaggerate the temperature shift.

If you don’t have a color on your palette that you see in the still life, mix it!


Keep the edges of shapes soft at this stage.


You’ll have time at a later stage to define edges and get into detail but NOT YET.


I am using soft synthetic animal hair brushes for this glazing technique.


You can mix paint on the canvas as well.


Especially if you put down something that’s not quite right and need to change it.



Add a bit of white or more opaque paint. This is called scumbling. Cerulean blue is semi-transparent. See it scumbled below with alizarin for the shadow of the egg shape.



Continue to add glazes, wipe-out, scumble  and make adjustments until the entire canvas is covered and your shapes are accurate and your values are accurate ( you can take a picture of your painting and transform it to a black and white image, then compare it to a black and white image of the actual set up). Continue to wipe out paint to make areas lighter if necessary. It is easy to start piling on the paint in hopes that somehow it will work out but…this can lead to mud and just too much paint on the first pass. It won’t dry evenly and you’ll loose interesting canvas texture.


Stop and wait at least 16 hours ( or until dry to tacky) for the next go round. Three hours is plenty of time for each session.

Suggestions for thinking about your painting:

Put your painting in a place where you will see it occasionally. Quick unplanned glances at your work can give you insight into what changes you might need to make next time. Act on impulse…and use your head too.

Make mental  (or written) notes of what you’ll do next. Set it up in your mind.

Turn the painting upside down if shapes don’t look right. Seeing them from a different angle will help you find problem areas.

Remember. Value and shape accuracy are important at this stage.

Color is more subjective and even symbolic.  Our main concern here is temperature and contrasting warm next to cool in varying degrees.

Please feel free to respond to this post with questions for next time-or send me an email.

Now, get busy!


3 thoughts on “Tutorial: Oil Painting Basics Glazing and Scumbling

  1. How you are able to communicate the process of making your beautiful art to even charter members of the graphic arts illiterati like me constantly blows my tiny mind. These posts are always educational, entertaining, illuminating and most of all … stunningly beautiful. Thank you, Meredith!

    PS Loved the gorgeous renderings of my Bird (and Doggie) Buddies in the previous one! :^)}

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