Nancy’s Painting Blog

The Best Time to Use Glazes

A glaze can be considered a delicate layer of color. Delicate because it is so subtle and transparent. Therefore, a glaze is best used on top of a stronger base color. A common Old Master’s Technique used a grisaille, meaning grays, which is an underpainting composed of dark and light paint colors using combinations of grays or neutrals. This “gray” underpainting allows the artist to concentrate on patterns of dark and light and general composition concepts, without thinking of color just yet. When this grisaille, or first layer of paint is dry, the artist applies glazes of color over the grays, shifting the hue, and turning the gray painting into a colored painting containing a variety of values or tones. There are many ways to create underpaintings, and the use of grisaille tends to evoke an Old Master’s realism. As an abstract artist, I like to apply bright opaque areas of color as my underpainting and then use glazes over those to shift them in tone and hue. This contemporary use of glazing has many advantages, including creating the illusion of solid form from the previously flat underpainted color shapes. Here is my favorite example of when to use a glaze. Let’s say you were commissioned to paint a realistic portrait. After painting for quite awhile you finish the portrait in all its full gloried detail. It’s fabulous! However, the client upon seeing it feels the skin tone is a bit too yellow. To repaint the portrait would take a long time, and feel like a waste of time. Instead mix a glaze of violet (yellow’s opposite or complementary color) to tone it down. Apply a single even layer of this violet glaze over the entire portrait. If the glaze is too strong the skin tone in the portrait will turn violet. But if the transparency is correct, the yellow will get just enough violet on top to neutralize it towards a more acceptable skin tone. I like to mix a glaze and then test it on top of a small area first. I keep playing with it and testing it until it’s just right before applying it all over.

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