What Painters Rarely Do

1 Dec 2013

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.
I have a confession to make: I've never glazed an oil painting. The process intimidates 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, and having to be so conscious of getting the layers thin sometimes trips me up. However, I've asked around and done some research in painting blogs on this oil painting technique and I've discovered that I'm not alone in my experience. Many painters don't glaze properly or consistently, and some use it just as a way to mask drawing mistakes.

Don't get me wrong; 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 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. I'm open to it, and I think that's enough for now.

If you are interested in the many different painting materials and techniques out there, and want to explore them for the sake of moving forward in your art, The Artist's Handbook is definitely the place to start. From watercolor painting techniques to exploring oils and pastels, to the techniques that make them all come alive, The Artist's Handbook is an in-depth resource of both practical and artistic approaches to the materials and methods that spark our creativity. Enjoy!

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Margo5 wrote
on 3 Oct 2010 10:52 PM

Courtney, thank you for sharing your insights on this topic.

speters wrote
on 4 Oct 2010 4:54 AM

The frustration with waiting for the painting to dry is eased by having three or four canvases going at once.

Nice piece.

Stan Sisson wrote
on 4 Oct 2010 9:06 AM

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.

MikelW wrote
on 4 Oct 2010 9:09 AM

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.

on 4 Oct 2010 1:00 PM

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.

Kisu wrote
on 6 Oct 2010 8:32 AM

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.

Paul Armesto wrote
on 2 Dec 2013 5:16 PM

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.

Clemmie wrote
on 7 Dec 2013 12:14 PM

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.