Old Masters Academy

Painting Styles: The Scumbling Painting Technique For Softening And Adding Depth




Scumbling techniques have been used by master painters since the 1600s to create smooth gradations, modify a previously dried layer of paint and to add a sense of depth. This technique is accomplished by applying thin layers of light opaque colors over dark layers of dried transparent paint. The final results gives a painting a surface that various in how much of the under painting is revealed.

An ultra thin layer of an opaque paint can soften an area of a painting while giving it a misty, almost out of focus look that might be typical of background objects. Adding a thicker layer of paint to an area would naturally give that object an appearance of being in the foreground. However, scumbling too much of a canvas with thick opaque paint can result in a return to a flattened sense of depth.

The scumbling technique is often used to create a beam of light penetrating an otherwise darken room. It is also useful to add a glowing effect to accentuate individual objects and skin tones.

An advantage of scumbling is that if it does not produce the desired effect the still wet top layer can be removed with a clean cloth alone or with a solvent like turpentine as needed.

Famous painters and paintings that employ a scumbling technique include:

– Rembrandt and at least two of his famous paintings called “Artist Contemplating the Bust of Homer” and “Self Portrait”. Both of these were oil paintings on canvas.

– The French Master David Jacques-Louis and his painting “Madame Charles-Louis Trudaine”

Glazing is sometimes confused with scumbling but in reality produces depth in the opposite way by causing the surface of the painting to appear to be receding.

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