Nancy’s Painting Blog

What’s a Glaze?

Even though I’ve written several articles on glazing I came to realize that “glazing” is often misunderstood and could use some defining. So, what is a glaze? The most common answer is that a glaze is transparent. Well, that may be true, but that is only one part of the answer. My definition of a glaze is a bit fuller: “a subtle transparent evenly applied layer of color”. Let’s look at why I define it this way.

The new modern pigment colors (ie Quinacridones, Phthalos, Dioxazine) are often called transparent, so can these be used as glazes? Not by themselves, and here is why. When they are applied thickly they are opaque. When they are applied thinly they are transparent but are so incredibly vibrant that they will overpower anything they overlay.

Let’s take a moment and ask why we care about glazes anyway. When would using a glaze be an appropriate technique? Let’s say you were painting a portrait commission in a realistic style, and after months of hard work the portrait was as perfect as you can get it. Continuing this imaginary scenario you then proudly show the portrait to your client who feels the skin tone is overall too yellow. So what do you do? Argue with the client? Not a good idea. Take the painting back to your studio, remix all the colors and repaint the entire face again? Also not a good idea. There is an easier solution. Applying a transparent layer of a purple color (purple is the opposite or complement of yellow on the color wheel) to neutralize the yellow coloring.

So now lets get back to our discussion of the modern colors. By wrongly assuming that any modern color is transparent and therefore by itself would make a good glaze, we could grab our tube of Dioxazine Purple and apply it thinly (so it’s transparent) over the entire portrait face. Now to our horror we see that this purple color, even though it is transparent is so intense it has turned the face to a vivid purple. We could try to convince our client that this modern style might be a better approach to their portrait, or we could take another look at my definition of a glaze again. Being transparent isn’t enough for a glaze to be of help in a situation like this. Remember the full definition of a glaze is “a subtle transparent evenly applied layer of color”. So still using the Dioxazine Purple we have the transparency, but how do we get the “subtle evenly applied” qualities?

Start a mixture on the palette using a clear polymer medium (if you are working with acrylic) and add a very small amount of the Dioxazine Purple (about 1 part paint to 10 parts medium), mix it really well with a knife so it’s all homogenized, making the color more subtle. To apply it evenly, however, we need to slow down the drying time. Adding up to 15% retarder to this mixture will slow down the drying. Another alternative is to use Acrylic Glazing Liquid (contains 15% retarder to 85% polymer medium gloss) for your medium. Now with a smooth flat brush, apply this mixture (1 part Dioxazine Purple to 10 parts slow drying medium) in a very thin application to obtain an evenly applied transparent layer of color. And voila (!) our overly yellow portrait is now neutralized to a more acceptable flesh tone. Use glazing for shifting colors as well as many other uses.

Even though my directions are for use with acrylic paints, the same applies with oil. Just substitute an oil medium instead of the acrylic mediums I mentioned.

5 thoughts on “What’s a Glaze?

  1. This post is extremely helpful, Nancy. I have been experimenting with glazes not just on portraits, but landscapes and skies, to a much deeper, richer effect. Thanks for explaining this.

  2. Great Post … it appears this was written about painting with Acrylics … but the same principle applies to other mediums as well. I've used the same technique with Oils, though instead of the polymer medium one would use oil, and there is no worry about it drying too quickly. Much of my work these days is with Coloured Pencils, and I use the same technique with the pencils. A very thinly applied layer of a colour over other colours can serve various purposes – to unify the entire colour scheme, to adjust existing tones which are not quite right, to neutralize passages which might be too strong colourwise, or to create a 'whole colour' by applying a glaze of the complement so the eye perceives it as 'complete'. It's really interesting how a single technique or approach can apply right across the board to whatever medium the artist happens to be using. 🙂

  3. I'm so happy to have read this article about glazing that I can't wait to try it! I have never used this technique and my question is: Once you have your glaze perfectly mixed, do you apply it JUST to the area in question, in this case the face, or do you apply the glaze over the entire painting for unity? I apologize if this question sounds foolish, but I honestly don't know proper application techniques. Thank you for taking my message.

  4. Hi Corrine,
    That is not a foolish question at all – it's a good one. A glaze can be used over an entire painting, or a selected area. Sometimes a glaze over a whole painting can help to integrate the colors more. If the entire painting has the overall too yellow problem I mentioned then the violet glaze will work over the whole thing. You can also glaze over an entire painting and then while still wet wipe it off in selected areas. Whatever works to help the painting.

  5. I have recently taken an interest in a more smooth quality to my acrylic paintings. Acrylic Glazing Liquid is is something I, too, am learning to incorporate into my art supply repertoire. Thank you for your definition and information.

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