Glazing is a technique where a transparent, usually darker, tone is washed over previously painted and dried passages. While primarily an acrylic technique, glazing can also be used in oils and watercolours. A glaze is applied with a brush, rag, spray or flood. When I come up to bat, it’s often a rag because on-the-spot judgment may suggest both wipe-on and wipe-off.
While dismissed by many painters as trifling with the main thrust of a work, glazing nevertheless increases the range and variety of creative expression. Further, because tones are later adjustable, glazing permits casual and energetic early passages.
Here are a few glazing keys:
The darker the tone you put the glaze on top of, the lesser the effect.
Conversely, the lighter the tone you put the glaze on top of, the greater the effect.
Glazing with opposites on the colour wheel creates sophisticated and engaging neutral tones.
Glazing with analogous colours (next to each other on the colour wheel) can enrich areas of your work.
Masking first and then glazing over high-key or bright areas can be used to create effects of light and shade.
Overall glazing can pull weak paintings together and give them a more unified feel and “mother colour.”
Thin glazes of black effectively tones down garishness and sets up for “colour surprise” and “coming to light.”
Experimenting with thin glazes of Phthalo blue shows the potential before branching out to other glazing pigments.
In acrylic work, glazes automatically add a small amount of medium, thus improving the long-term health of surfaces.
With progressive layers of glazing, you can creep up on and find the tone you want. For those who seek correct and realistic balance between tones, a series of thin glazes will often do the trick. Overly dark passages can be subjected to glazes as well. Glazing with a lighter tone, in other words, with the addition of a somewhat transparent white, Naples yellow, yellow ochre or other pigment, can be a bit of a sticky wicket. You need to think of glazing in a sporting manner — it’s just another pitch and while it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, it’s still Cricket.
Glazing isn’t everything, but it helps.
PS: “Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.” (Michelangelo)
Esoterica: I like to pre-mix a variety of glazes and keep them in squeeze bottles. These days, my thin glazes consist of about 5% pigment, 45% acrylic medium (gloss or matte) and fifty percent water. Glazing affects different surfaces in odd ways, especially where molding paste or impasto has been used. As usual, happenstance effects are gifts to be treasured.
This letter was originally published as “Glazing keys” on November 11, 2008.
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“My app is the same juicy paint used by Vincent Van Gogh; my screen is the woven canvas of Titian. Painting by hand, I’ve come to figure, is a certain kind of love.” (Robert Genn)
I grew up on a farm in Ohio, and that experience gave me a love of nature and the seasons and a deep belief in personal independence, as well as a love of experimentation. These have been the foundations of my work as a painter. I believe that learning in art or any subject is lifelong, and that the most important lessons we learn are through our personal interests and experimentation. After my husband’s death in 2018, I visited Israel the next year, and was inspired by the amazing landscape colors, and especially the old city of Jerusalem, with its crumbling walls, and its deep religious importance. I found my way out of grief by painting the Eight Gates of the old city.