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Glazing & Wiping Techniques of Oil Painting

Updated April 17, 2017

The glazing technique of oil painting was a popular method employed by Flemish and Dutch painters beginning in the early 1400s. The style was developed by Jan van Eyck, one of the earliest masters of oil painting. Glazing was used by the old masters to achieve highly realistic luminous colours.

Underpainting

The glazing and wiping technique of oil painting is known as indirect or stage painting. It requires a number of steps starting with a preliminary underpainting known as the grisaille technique. A layer of light high-keyed colours is laid down in opaque paint following the drawing stage. The old masters typically used greyish or earth colours such as umbers, ochres and siennas. The monochrome grisaille underpainting established the tonal and value structure of the picture. Modernists sometimes use bright, highly saturated colours for the underpainting.

Glazing Technique

The glazing technique of oil painting involves painting thin layers of transparent or translucent colours over an opaque underpainting. Acrylic paint is thinned with water or thinning mediums for glazing. Turpentine and linseed oil were traditionally used to thin oil paints in preparation for glazing. After drying, layers of transparent colours are applied one atop another to take advantage of the reflective qualities of the underlying colours. The overall effect of the optically mixed hues is hard to get with other painting methods.

Glazing Effects

The glazing technique is well adapted for suggesting atmospheric perspective in landscape painting. The glazed paint seeps into the canvas weave's depressions, while a cloth is used to wipe off excess paint from the weave's high points. The method produces complex, realistic skin tones when used with a greenish underpainting. Layers of orange and yellow glazes imitate the luminous qualities of sunlight. The scumbling brush technique is a form of glazing that applies paint to the upraised canvas texture while letting some of the underpainted colours show though.

Glazing History

The glazing technique was favoured by oil-painting artists of the Renaissance to achieve a high level of realism and naturalistic colours in their pictures. Vermeer, Rembrandt, da Vinci and El Greco made extensive use of the technique. Glazing was widely used by European masters and academic painters up until the beginning of the Impressionist movement. An entire painting could be composed of glazed colours, or just small sections of the picture featured the technique for emphasis and visual interest.

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