What Is Scumbling?

There are many techniques that artists will employ when painting to create different effects. If you are painting a scene with nature, water, or different types of lighting, then a technique called scumbling could be the best to use to make your painting lifelike.


Scumbling is a painting or coloring technique where light, opaque colors are placed in thin layers over darker colors to create a softening effect.


Scumbling is a painting technique that has been in existence at least since the 1600’s, since the time of the Old Masters. The famous Dutch painter Rembrandt was known to employ this technique, and it can be seen in his works including “Self Portrait” and “Artist Contemplating the Bust of Homer.” French painters such as David Jacques-Louis were also fond of scumbling, using it for portraits such as his painting “Madame Charles-Louis Trudaine.”


Scumbling tends to create a glazed or opaque effect. It also builds depth to a picture as it adds layers and textures.


Scumbling can be used for several different purposes. It is most often used to soften dark colors by using an opaque or semi-opaque color rubbed over the top of them. It can also be used to blur the lines of a darker picture by brushing a lighter color over them. In some cases it can be utilized by bringing a dense or opaque color across another, darker color, to create texture to a painting. Painters who are creating scenes with sunlight, moonlight, or different types of weather might employ scumbling to create the effects they are looking for. They may also use it when wanting to add a glow to skin tones or different aspects of a room scene.


In Scumbling, a thin layer of opaque color is added to the whole or part of the surface of a brightly colored painting. This then softens the richer colors and gives them a less clarified look. Because the layer of opaque color is so thin or because sometimes a transparent medium is added to it, the opaque color actually becomes semi-opaque.


Scumbling is not the same as glazing. In fact it is more the opposite of glazing. Glazing is when a layer of paint is thinned out by a solvent or lighter pigment color so as to make the whole thing almost transparent and give a texture or gloss to the surface.

About the Author

Melissa Voelker has been a professional writer since 2002. She works full time at a TV station in the commercial traffic department and also writes for Paperbackreader.com and Pinkraygun.com. Her articles have appeared in "Listen," "The Spokesman Review" and "Freepress Houston."