Adding a Warm Glow

by | Aug 22, 2011 | Blog | 8 comments

A painter emailed me about his recent acrylic landscape. He said it looked realistic but did not have the uplifting feeling that says “buy me”. He wrote, “I then applied a mat glaze of yellow to warm it up, but it looked like a boring painting with a yellow mat glaze. I then gave it a yellow gloss glaze hoping for a beautiful day, the sun’s out feeling, but it looked like a dull painting with two glazes! Please help!”

First I would like to suggest to add more faith in your process, reducing the amount of energy that goes into frustration when the painting doesn’t look INCREDIBLE every time you do one layer, one brush stroke, one thing. Doubting, frustration and critical judging at each step is usually a waste of time and energy. It also puts you in a place of indecision.

So that said, now a few tips on glazing techniques.

(A glaze is a transparent mixture made with about 50-70% medium and the remaining amount with paint color. For more information on this please see the several previous blog entries I’ve made on this site on glazing).

With acrylic I noticed that it takes 3 or 4 layers of a glaze to equal the refraction that oil offers in 1 layer. So when you decide to add a yellow glaze over your painting to warm it up, first apply one layer of a glaze made with a warm yellow like Cadmium Medium or Hansa Yellow Medium. Then when that dries, apply another layer of a cool yellow glaze like Green Gold or Hansa Yellow Light. When that dries add yet another layer of a high powered modern color glaze like Nickel Azo Gold.

As you apply each layer try to apply it unevenly, so that you have more of the color on one side or one area then the other. (I like to accomplish this not by using more quantity of glaze – I like THIN glazes – but by applying pure medium in some areas first, then when the glaze goes over that area it becomes more transparent.) Then when you apply the next layer change the way this next color is applied (more color – less transparent on a different side or area than the last layer). This way you are adding a yellow tone to the painting, but you are also creating a richer quality by using multiple layers. And working with it unevenly adds to the illusion of depth much more than when you apply equal layers that change the whole surface of the painting the same.

Another tip: To get an antique effect, or add a warm feeling to a painting (especially great with landscapes or portraits) I like to use a glaze of Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold. These paint colors are incredibly rich, so use extremely small amounts of the color in larger quantities of medium. Test a glaze prior to use for strength of color before applying it directly to your painting by applying it over an unused surface or piece of paper, then blow dry it for fast results.

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  1. Paige Wheeler

    Thank you so much. This is just what I have been looking for.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Paige,

      Thanks for your comment! Glad you liked the post.


  2. CaroleWayne King

    About adding that warm glow: I'm a beginner in acrylics, but in oils a thin glaze of cad red light usually does the trick! However, I love Nancy's recommendations about glazing with the different yellows – I'm going to try that with underpaintings!

  3. Kerry Kugelman

    Good tips all around. I sometimes use very thin glazes made with water, paint, and just a little bit of medium (Golden GAC 100 or 500, or Novacolor mediums) to bind it all together. Going over a gloss medium surface will require some light sanding of the surface first to add some 'tooth' for the glaze to adhere to. What I like about these very thin, watery glazes is that they dry almost brushstroke-free. I will then lightly wet-sand some areas back before adding the next glaze layer. It's time-consuming but does yield very nuanced color effects.

  4. Mary Manning

    Nancy, You have just helped me out of another bind, and I see that by layering glazes, it is helping to give depth to the paintings. Also, using freezer paper to wrap glossy acrylic paintings really helps! Thank You.

  5. Nancy Reyner

    When I referred to using mediums to make a glaze, I did not specify whether it should be gloss or matte. You can make a glaze using either medium. I prefer using gloss mediums to make my glazes, and then when the painting is all finished I can use a matte product to change the sheen. The reason I choose gloss over matte is that the gloss has nothing added to the medium, it is pure polymer binder, which is naturally glossy. To make a medium matte, a matting agent is added to the polymer binder that looks like a fine white powder. If I use the matte medium to make my glazes the mixture is a bit heavier in feel (with the added powder) and the colors are a bit subdued or veiled (since the powder is white). The gloss mediums create glazes that glide smoother for me, and enhance the color instead of veiling it. But that doesn't mean you still can't get some interesting glazes using the matte medium, I just prefer the gloss. So yes, you are correct, that gloss mediums will create an "oil-like" quality, and the matte mediums will create an "encaustic" or waxy appearance. With only one layer or coating of either product there won't be much difference. These effects are created using several coats one built up on the other. You are also correct that anything glossy will get a bit sticky and soften in warm temperatures, even after fully cured. I always place either HDPE plastic or freezer paper over the top surfaces of my paintings when I am handling, storing or shipping. The only way to minimize or eliminate that issue is to use a satin or matte varnish as your final finish coat. If you like gloss (which I often do) then you need to protect the surfaces. Once a painting of mine was shipped by a shipping company that placed glasein paper on top. The paper stuck to the surface, but was easily washed off using a soft rag after wetting the stuck paper parts with a water sprayer or sponge.
    Hope this helps!

  6. Donna Guy

    Nancy, can I assume your technique refers to gloss medium as an oil look is mentioned? I find that glossy mediums can be sticky and soft in warm temperatures. Have you found a way to minimize or eliminate that issue? Do you ship your work differently in the summer?

    And thank you for taking the time to write your blog. It's always enjoyable and informative.

  7. Laurie Finkelstein

    Perfect advice, perfectly explained! I work in acrylics and very often you cannot tell that they are not oils because I have a minimum of 4 layers of glazes and often as many as 10 plus! Not only can glazes warm or cool a painting, but they can give depth and richness to your colors.


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Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner’s blog about art, painting and creativity. Her career spans over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe in the US. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

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