What Painters Rarely Do

The Lantern Bearers by Maxfield Parrish, 1908, oil on canvas board, 40 x 32.
The Lantern Bearers by Maxfield Parrish,
1908, oil on canvas board, 40 x 32.

Glazing Techniques for that Old Masters Glow

I have a confession to make: I’ve never glazed an oil painting. Glazing techniques intimidate me a bit — creating luminosity and an inner glow on canvas is no easy feat — and I often lose steam after about the second layer.

It takes so much time, but the payoff! Oh, the payoff! To capture that glow so that every color on my canvas looks like stained glass, infused with light?! Irresistible…

I love the slick, glossy surface that such artists as Tintoretto and Titian are known for. And when I’ve worked with glazes, there is something almost meditative about going over and over the surface with a brush, smoothing out every stroke so that it gleams.

Then, of course, there are the colors. Maxfield Parrish is one of my favorite artists, mostly because his colors are so vibrant. He was an expert at glazing techniques and produced surfaces that had the appearance of stained glass. Tube colors with intense chroma still can’t compare to the built-up jewel tones that come through when glazing.

The Presentation of the Virgin by Tintoretto, oil on canvas, 1553-56.
The Presentation of the Virgin by Tintoretto, oil on canvas, 1553-56.

I think it’s the waiting that stymies me the most. Waiting until each previous layer is absolutely dry means I’m painting less. This can be really frustrating when all I want to do is paint. But, whether it’s easy or not, the effects of glazing are breathtaking.

I love the tinted glow it enables painters to achieve. Sometimes my time or inclination doesn’t allow for it, but there is something exciting about immersing myself in a technique just to see how it works and see what I can learn from the process.

If you are in the same boat, Glazing by Michael Wilcox is the only resource for us to consider. Notably the best guidebook around when it comes to getting that Old Masters glow, Glazing makes this sumptuous process come alive while staying accessible — because I’m still learning the ropes!

But all the materials and methods are covered so that if your creativity is being sparked in this direction, you’ve got the resource to make it happen! Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

13 thoughts on “What Painters Rarely Do

  1. I had the same problems with oils. Also oils require considerable knowledge of chemistry since certain colors cannot combined or touch each other on the canvas. They will deteriorate and chip off after a few years. Maxfield Parrish was a very accomplished technician and his work is coming apart.

    I decided a number of years ago to switch to acrylics. I can obtain the same jewel like colors and contrast with opaque areas. The drying time is very very short. Acrylics can be finished in oil glazing, if desired, and or touched up with oil color you may feel not available with acrylic.
    Most people cannot tell the difference from oil when acrylics are used in this manner.

    I am not trying to convert anyone to acrylics. This is just a good alternative for some people.

  2. Nice examples. I have found a modern alternative to reduce waiting time. I glaze or paint indirectly with acrylics. Interactive Acrylics to be specific. They stay open as long as I need them to as I rework the current layer. Once I am satisfied with that, I commit the layer to posterity by sealing it with a (non interactive) medium. I used a matte medium to keep the tooth viable for the next layer.

    Some of my paintings have 30 or more “layers” to them. I can accomplish a decent underpainting all the way to a completed work in a fraction of the time. I used to wait days and weeks for oil layers to dry. Using a hair dryer I can have the painting cured in under 3 minutes and ready for the next layer.

    I often finish off in oils…. more often, I finish in Alkyds. (I switch to oils mostly to color correct any shifting or to smooth out a gradation in a sky perhaps) Alkyds will dry from 4 hours to over night. Then I can glaze more if I like. (but only in oil based paints… no going back to acrylics at this point in the painting)

    When teaching a workshop in my technique I find the hardest hurdle to overcome for most painters is using thinner layers of paint.

    1. I’ve painted in oils most of my professional life with a bit of acrylics now and then thrown in. I’ve seen alkyds here and there and even have a few mediums with alkyds on the label. I don’t really get the diff between oils and allies, or the rules of working with each. I thought they might be similar to water based oils, which I have 6 tubes of and find to be rather dead, and thought perhaps the water based might be related to the alkies. Can you please help me separate the rumor from the reality, the good and the bad? Can I mix oils and alkyds together on the palette and easel? Thanks for straightening me out!

      1. Hi Jane! I reached out to Michael Skalka, part of the conservation group with the National Gallery in Washington DC, and got some info on alkyds for you:

        Oil paints use a natural drying oil as a medium that is usually linseed oil. In some lighter colors, safflower oil is used to avoid yellowing the appearance of the colorant. Alkyds are made from a synthetic resin that is modified with natural drying oils to create a material that is compatible with oil paint. Alkyds for the basis for most any paints in the commercial world that are labeled as oil based. The medium is robust and employed in many applications were good durability and weather resistance is important. The same basic alkyd binder is used to make artist oil paints. Most have both a solvent and driers to keep them consistent with their counterparts in the oil paint paint world. Since both are oil based, they can be intermixed. However, many favor using alkyds at an underpainting layer since they dry fast and are fairly lean. Many artists use a combination of alkyds and oils to take advantage of certain colors or mixing strategies that they have developed. Alkyds come with a host of unpigmnent media that are marketed. Several are popular as glazing mediums, especially since they dry quickly.

  3. I used to paint mainly in acrylic and relied heavily on glazing as part of my technique. I now paint in oil primarily and glazing is still a large part of my process, and it is much slower. Some painters like to use alkyd mediums to speed up the drying time. Not only can the medium be added to the paint under layers and be dry over night, but it can also be used for glazing, as there are several types and consistencies of medium available. I don’t care as much for the alkyd mediums as I think it imparts a more “plastic” appearance to the paint layer. So, I try to be patient to get the effects I desire. Sometimes, there is just no other way to do it.

  4. Yikes–right now I’m just happy to be able to oil paint in any manner that ends up in a fairly decent result. I’m using water soluble oils, so there are only two water soluble oil painting mediums that I know of, and I’m not sure how to manipulate them to do ‘glazing’ as described above. I guess I’ll have to go to a museum and hunt down a few paintings that appear to be done by glazing and look more closely at them. I have to confess, however, that I prefer a surface with visible brushmarks.

  5. There are many ways to use glazing. I’ ve always used glazing in my painting. Glazing is actually what makes oil painting superior to acrylics. Even if you first paint with acrylics and then finish with oils it will never compare to using only oils. Furthermore you don’t just glaze once, you glaze many times with a different purpose. For example if you wish to make green (always make your own green !) one way is to first paint blue, wait for it to dry, then glaze with raw sienna (or another yellowish color)and work the glaze by using yellow Naples to bring out the light and ultramarine mixed with burnt umber for the dark parts, once this is dry you glaze the whole painting to create atmosphere and incorporate your green into the rest of the picture. Glazing is the best way to paint light. It’s true, glazing makes the process of painting difficult and requires patience, I only recommend it for serious professional artists.

  6. Hi Courtney! Love your blog. This article particularly caught my interest, but I am unable to read it because the “Tintoretto” painting is obscuring view of a whole paragraph of text. I have closed, reopened, and tried to “move” the painting box but am unable to do. Is there somewhere I can read you text without the paintings, so that I can read the obscured paragraph (it comes AFTER “come through with glazing.”)

    Thanks for your assistance, and thank you for putting great thought, photos, and research into your blogs. I also enjoy your readers comments.

  7. Courtney, Your blogs make my day! As a sometime watercolorist, I used ultramarine as a background for the madonna. One of my fellow artists (a group of ca. 20 seniors) suggested I use glazing to tone down the electricity of the ultramarine. I scrubbed some of the ultramarine from the top of the background to create a murky sky which when I glazed with cerulean blue became a perfect predawn twilight. The lower portion with untouched ultramarine was glazed with quinacridone gold! which gave a dark background with a goldish glow. Very cool. Just like you.

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