Glazing, Scumbling and Washing: What’s the Difference?

Ask the Experts: Technical Questions Answered for Artists by Michael Chesley Johnson

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Glaze, Scumble and Wash

Q. What’s the difference between glazing, scumbling and washing?
Peter Kostoulakos, Lowell, MA

A. Although you can apply the terms glaze, scumble and wash to several different media, they’re most often used with oil painting. Glazing is the brushing on of a thin, transparent, darker paint layer over an area of dry paint. It’s a common technique used in a form of academic painting in which artists first establish a finely detailed, monochromatic underpainting (called a grisaille if done in grays and a bistre if done in browns) and then apply a series of colored glazes. This indirect method of painting achieves a visual depth that a direct method, such as alla prima, cannot.Glazing, Scumbling, Washing painting techniques

Within an alla prima piece, I’ve found glazing useful when I want to enhance a sense of atmosphere; a thin glaze of cobalt blue works like magic to make objects look far away.

For glazing to be successful, the layer beneath must be bone dry, and the glazing paint must be thinned with a glazing medium to allow for fluid application. Gamblin Galkyd thinned with Gamblin Gamsol makes a good, quick-drying glazing medium. Also, the paints used for glazing should be transparent in nature. For example, to warm up a painting that’s too cool, you might use a glaze of Hansa yellow, a transparent paint, rather than cadmium yellow, which is opaque. Finally, glazes may be applied to the entire painting or to just portions of it.

Scumbling is the brushing on of an opaque, lighter layer of paint. This technique is used to visually soften or lighten areas. Scumbling, like glazing, must be done over a dry paint layer, and you typically apply the paint unthinned, using a dry-brush technique. The paint can actually be quite thick, resulting in broken brushstrokes and a more painterly look. I use scumbling in skies, around the edges of clouds—brushing on a mixture of white and Naples yellow to create a backlit glow.

A wash is a thin layer of paint that’s usually brushed on in a loose manner. Washing differs from glazing and scumbling in that you apply a wash in the very earliest stages of painting in order to develop an initial, overall tone or color. Thinner, such as turpentine or a turpentine substitute like Gamsol, is used freely to create a wash.

Find more “Ask the Experts” Q&As here! Michael Chesley Johnson, longtime contributor to The Artist’s Magazine and the author of Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil & Pastel, teaches plein air workshops throughout North America. View free previews of his video workshops at Visit his website at


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