Glazing is a technique oil painters use to create a transparent layer of paint that usually just contains a single pigment. The layer of glaze is applied over a dry layer of paint. Use a high proportion of medium to create a transparent effect.
It’s a technique that is used to alter the colours of a painting and increase luminosity. A glaze will give your painting depth and form, creating contrast in the colours and tones.
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What is glazing in oil painting?
Layers of single pigments are applied on top of one another, with each hardened, glossy film of oil sitting separately from the previous layer. The colour of each consecutive layer, therefore, alters those that have already been applied.
Some artists use glazing in each layer of their painting, gradually altering the colours of a tonal underpainting. Others will use it in the later stages of a painting to change colours and contrast.
By using glazes, you can create subtle shifts in hue, colour temperature, value and chroma. It will complement the layers below, rather than conceal them. The eyes perceive light moving through distinct layers of transparent colour, creating a cumulative final hue. The colours are not physically mixed, but optically mixed together. A painter can create far more intense hues in this way, when compared to the effect of mixing opaque colours on a palette then applying them in a single matte layer to the canvas.
The luminosity is created by light refracting through the layers of glaze, then reflecting off of the opaque layer beneath. Paintings with multiple layers of glaze will appear to have an inner glow. Glazing also works to increase the depth of shadows, as areas will appear darker with each additional layer.
When rendered with multiple layers of glaze, complex details such as those found in facial features can be striking. The indirect method of applying colour in separate oily translucent layers can feel smoother and more considered, when compared with a direct application of paint where colour is mixed first then applied in opaque layers.
Where do you apply glazes?
It’s rare that an artist will apply a layer of glaze to the entirety of a painting.
Glazes are usually applied in small localised areas, where the artist wants to correct a colour, or produce a specific detail that would be difficult to achieve with a direct method of painting. Glazes can be applied to features in the painting, for example to make a skin tone appear warmer, or to deepen shadows.
You can focus on making small adjustments to one area, do this by localising glaze to just one section of the painting. A layer of glaze will make fine details in layers below appear blurry. For this reason, apply details after the glaze layers, or glaze in very small sections, either enhancing or avoiding details with your colour selection.
What supplies do you need to create a glaze?
To create a glaze, you will need to choose a pigment that is transparent. Take ultramarine blue for example.
The tube paint will need to be mixed with a medium to increase the transparency and reduce viscosity.
Mediums to use with the glazing technique
Chelsea Classical Studio’s premixed Fat Medium is perfect for creating glazes with. Made with linseed oil and damar resin, it makes paint runny, glossier and more transparent. The damar resin will add strength and gloss to the paint film. It is a high quality fine art medium. Just add a drop or two to your paint mix and thinly spread across the area you want to glaze.
Always apply layers with regards to the fat over lean rule. You can use turpentine or oil of spike lavender in your mix to thin the paint and make it runnier, but only if the previous layers of paint contain more solvent. It’s fine too to use oil as your glazing medium without using any solvent.
Another thing to note is that oil of spike lavender has a slightly glossier finish when compared to turps. It’s a medium I much prefer using.
Check the pigments are transparent before deciding whether they are suitable to glaze with. Remember, you want to create a transparent layer with the former layers of the painting shining through.
Pigments to use with the glazing technique
There are many more pigments that work brilliantly as glazes—just look for transparent and semi transparent colours. The information will be on the oil tube.
There are many different ways of making glazes, the only rules are that it should be fluid and transparent and pigment should only be added in very small amounts. Also that you should follow the fat over lean rule. For example, in glaze recipes that have solvent in the mix, you should not layer this over paint layers that have a higher oil content.
You can add more pigment if you want the colour to be more intense, or reduce the pigment for subtle colours. Here are a few mixes you can try…
2 parts cold-pressed refined linseed oil
2 parts stand oil
1 part cold-pressed refined linseed oil
1 part damar resin
2 parts cold-pressed refined linseed oil
Using resin prevents oil from beading on the surface and creates better adhesion.
Buy this glazing medium premixed with oil of spike lavender by Chelsea Classical Studios here. I can not recommend this medium enough (I use it in every painting)!
How to create the layers of glaze
Think of how you will layer the oil glazes
Apply the layer of glaze to the dried underpainting with a soft brush. The glaze should be spread thinly across the surface so that it seems barely there. If you feel like you’ve added too much to your piece, you can dab some of the paint away with a cloth. This will leave a light coloured stain behind. You may find that you add tens of layers on top of one another, or just a few.
Bear in mind that the colours of the painting will be visible beneath the layer of glaze. Glazing works alongside the previous layers, rather than covers them up.
Remember to adhere to the fat over lean rule when glazing. For each layer of glaze you apply, the layer beneath should be dry to the touch. This way you create completely separate layers of colour.
You can be reductive in your application too, to areas of glazes you’ve added, simply wipe sections away when the paint is still wet to reveal the layers below.
Building layers of glaze takes foreplanning—the final chromatic effect of all the layers of glaze working together is hard to anticipate.
Change colour profiles with the glazing technique
If you have already established your values in an underpainting, it’s just a case of adding colour.
Depending on the pigment you choose, you can enhance warmer tones, cooler tones and create overall colour shifts to the whole painting, or localised areas. Each layer modifies the next, so choose a pigment that you think will harmonise with the colours already in your painting to achieve the intended effect.
When altering colour profiles, aim for subtle changes with each layer. You can create warm or cool overlays, create smoother gradients or create contrast. Add colour to areas that are completely desaturated and pay attention to the colours in the lighter areas. Pure white is hardly ever used in painting, change the light areas with very thin layers of glaze.
Once you have adjusted the light areas, focus on deepening the shadows. To create very dark colours, lay a complementary pigment over the top of the previous colour, this should create something close to black.
For a more in depth look at glazing, I recommend this book by Arleta Pech. She gives five demonstrations which show the complexities of glazing.
The feature image of this guide is my own oil painting ‘Into the Blue’—I used layers of glaze in the final stages to increase the saturation of the water. If you’re interested in seeing some of my original paintings, go to my shop where I sell them directly.
Glazing technique in oil painting: Pin it!
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