Scumbling is a painting technique where a broken, thin layer of colour is applied over another, letting patches of what’s underneath show through. The result is visually stimulating and textural, producing a sense of depth and interesting colour variations.
Scumbling can be done with any paint, using a dry brush (very little paint on a brush, not a soggy, well-loaded brush), or by dabbing at the surface with a rough sponge or crumpled cloth dipped in a little paint. Also with dry mediums such as pastel, lightly dragging a soft pastel (the softer the better) held on its side across the top to add a broken covering of a new colour.
It might help to think of the technique as tickling the surface, or using up the last little bits of paint in the brush, leaving behind fragments of colour. Or if you prefer to be vigorous, scrubbing at a painting with a not-quite-clean brush.
Work on the top surface of the painting, the top of texture ridges, the tops of the canvas fibres, not filling in ditches. And on dried paint, not wet, so the scumbled paint sits on top rather than mixing in. Rather go over an area again than start with too much paint.
Wipe a brush dry after rinsing, dip it into a bit of paint, then dab it on a cloth to remove most of the paint. It can feel wasteful, but practice teaches you to get less on a brush. Remember you can also dip your brush into this wiped-off paint rather than fresh paint on your palette.
It helps if the paint is stiff as it doesn’t spread as easily when you apply it.
Holding a cloth around the brush hairs at the ferrule end will help pull moisture out of the brush without removing the pigment.
Passing on the way from the hairdressers? (For those who haven’t encountered one, the diamond-shaped roadsign indicates a passing place on a single-track road. More modern versions are small white squares with the words “passing place”, which I find aren’t as easy to spot from a distance when driving. This photo was taken on the lower part of the Quiraing Road on the Staffin side.)
I’m an artist and want to start selling my work, but I am on a budget. I want to paint on stretched canvas, but the artist quality ones are too expensive. I was thinking of buying a high quality student canvas and priming it more so it could become an artist quality canvas. Will this make a difference? Is there a difference between student and artist quality canvas? — Ruth
As with paint, there is a difference between student and artist’s quality canvas, but there are good mid-price canvases to be found. When buying ready-made canvas consider:
— What is the weight of the canvas? Economy canvas may be a lighter weight (thickness)s, 7oz instead of 10 or 12oz. With larger paintings and ones with a lot of texture paste or collaged elements added, heavier canvas will be more resistant to tearing.
— How prominent is the weave? How thick or noticeable are the threads of the fabric? On smaller paintings, portraits, and detailed subjects you don’t want the grain to intrude, be one of the first things you notice when you look at a painting. It’s why portrait painters often use fine linen canvas which has a very tight weave. Primer will fill in the weave to some extent, especially if it’s several layers, as will thick paint.
— How well has it been primed? Look at the quality of primer/gesso, how many layers and how smooth it is. At it’s worst it’s thin and rough. With oil paint, primer is essential for longevity as it protects the fabric from the oils in oil paint. With acrylics, you can paint directly onto bare, unprimed canvas, though paint does soak in more as it’s an absorbent rather than sealed surface. On cheaper canvas Using acrylics to create a coloured ground rather than adding additional primer is also an option, even with oils (provided the acrylic isn’t too glossy). I’ve encountered instances of acrylic not sticking in places (and, yes, it was one primed for acrylics), with white specks appearing; adding some glazing medium to the paint solved the problem. Ultimately it’ll all be covered with paint and no-one but you will know; experimentation will teach you what kind of surface you like.
— Has the canvas been stretched straight, tightly, and evenly? Eyeball the fabric where it goes around the stretchers, to see if it’s been pulled skew or not. On small canvases it’s not really a problem if you’re going to hide it under thick paint, but on large it’s again a longevity issue as it adds extra strain to the fabric (and it may eventually rip). Is it pulled unevenly or sag at the corners?
— Where are the staples and has the fabric been folded neatly at the corners? Is it stapled at the back (where you don’t see them once the painting is hung) or the sides (which will show unless you frame the painting)?
— What wood has been used for the stretchers and how thick is it? Very lightweight and thin stretchers are liable to warp. Pine stretchers with knots may seep (though I’ve only seen this a few times). Are the stretchers flat or do they slope away from the edge so a brush doesn’t hit it as you paint? I’ve had problems with large (1x1m) budget canvases warping as the wood dried out in a hot summer, as well as with warping due to the canvas being stretch too tightly on a couple of mid-sized canvases that were supposedly artist’s quality.
— On large sizes: how many additional struts to help prevent warping?
Always look for discounts on offer if you buy in bulk (a boxful) rather than only one or two at a time.When comparing prices, factor in the cost of extra primer and the time it takes to apply; it may be false economy.
You can also save money by stretching your own canvas, particularly if you make the stretcher bars yourself. Get a length of 2×1″ from a DIY store (check it’s straight!), mitre cut lengths, use corrugated nails (inch-long zig-zag bits of metal, a bit like a crinkle-cut crisp) to join them,?sand down the inside edge of the stretcher (so your brush doesn’t bump up against it every time), then stretch canvas over it. A pair of canvas pliers and staple gun are definitely worthwhile investments, and it’s considerably easier if someone strong is helping you. Look for a roll of canvas at a fabric shop rather than art supplies, it can be cheaper.
What I Use: Ready-made canvas in a few different sizes, mostly wide-edge rather than standard. The brand depends on the best offer at the time.? I also sometimes buy stretcher bars to make up larger canvases, and at one stage did make my own from scratch, but applying several layers of primer is even less interesting than watching paint dry.
Two large paintings from my Edges series have sold in the past week.
Edge of the Cuillin is headed towards Oxford with a family who each had other paintings they liked too but all agreed on this one. I happened to be in Skyeworks when they came in (I do occasional days besides my regular Saturdays on the desk) and it was a joy showing them, and talking about, various paintings.
Edge of Skye, which is being bought through Skyeworks Gallery’s Piece by Piece scheme, will be heading not quite so far south in a few months. It’s being bought by someone who visits Skye regularly and always comes into the gallery for a look and a chat. I’m thrilled this is where this painting is going.
Don’t think that texture is something for large paintings only. This photo shows some tiny paintings on wood, about 5cm/2″, with texture paste and base-layer colours applied. They will ultimately become brooches or pendants, part of my Wearable Art series.
Every drawing should tell a story, the tale of the looking, the seeing, and the making. …the drawing is as much about the artist as it is about what is being drawn.”
Drawing Projects by Mick Maslen & Jack Southern, page 20
The “tale of the looking” are the lines/marks in a drawing that have led to the final drawing. The lines in the wrong places, the imperfections, the hesitations. Don’t erase to eliminate, but leave an echo which will add to the final drawing. Drawings that show how they were created, what the artist looked at and how they progressed, end up far more interesting than neat, clinical, faultless drawings. Drawings with individual personality rather than drawings with bland facelift perfection.
Drawing Tip: If you can’t help but desire that every wrong mark is eradicated, then work without an eraser. Start with light pencil marks and move slowly towards darker as you find the “right lines”. Try working with a hard pencil, such as a 2H, initially, then swapping to a 2B.
I spent yesterday sketching in the sunshine at various locations on the north of the Trotternish Peninsula. Starting at that favourite of spots, the slipway at Camus Mor, looking westwards, towards the rocky shore and cliffs:
Then north a bit, to a viewpoint looking towards the ruins of Duntulm Castle. When the tide is out, the distant part of the shore is flat slabs of rock rather than pebbles.
Then round to Staffin beach, sitting where I could see the river running into the sea:
Watched, as ever, by some munching sheep:
Then over the Quiraing to a viewpoint overlooking Uig/Idigrill, focusing on the sea and distant cliffs(but just look at all those variations of green!):
And for those interested, a photo of what I was using. My palette with Sennelier watercolours (which I love for the saturated colour but are honey-based and in the hot sunshine it’s crucial to keep the palette flat or the paint seeps out of their allocated slots making a sticky mess!), water container, pencil box with black pen, pencil, few watersoluble coloured pencils, and brushes that fit into it. Not shown: bottle with clean water for both me and rinsing my brushes. Also not shown: quite a few less satisfactory resolved sketches!
“Hi Marion, how do you put texture on your paintings? All my paintings look like an illustration, flat. I?m a graphic designer, so I want to learn how to paint with textures. Do you use gesso or paste?” — Giulianna C.
I use acrylic texture paste, most often applied it when I plan the initial composition but not always. My current favourite is Golden’s light modelling paste. I like it because it dries as an absorbent matte rather than gloss, so further layers of paint adhere well to it. Also, as the name implies, it doesn’t add much weight to the painting, which is important when it comes to hanging large canvases on a wall.
With this particular texture paste there’s not much shrinkage as it dries, which is important, otherwise you end up having to apply several layers. (I used to love Winsor & Newton’s matt gel, but had a couple of tubs of it that shrank to almost flat when dry, so have stopped using it). I use acrylic paint over it, but it’s suitable underneath oils too.
Sometimes I’ll mix in a colour before I apply it if it’s at the start of a painting, which does help you see where you’ve applied it! If it’s a later layer in a painting I always mix in colour as the paste dries white not clear.
I apply it either with a knife or cheap, rough-haired wide brush, spreading/brushing it around, tapping against the surface, scratching into it — anything goes really to create an effect. Don’t use a good brush as it’s hard on the bristles and tedious to wash out thoroughly.
Drying time depends on how thickly it’s used and how hot it is. In a breeze on a sunny day it dries in a coffee break. Midwinter, I leave it overnight. How do I tell if it’s dried yet? Nothing scientific, I poke at it.
?There are always new emotions in going back to something that I know very well. I suppose this is very odd, because most people have to find fresh things to paint.”
— Andrew Wyeth, quoted in The Helga Pictures, page 94
Being familiar with a subject isn’t the same as knowing everything about it. On the contrary, I think the more you paint it the more you discover. In landscape painting, weather, season and time of day all have an impact on what you’re looking at. Your own mood influences your perceptions on that day. It’s never identical.
A painting need not be one moment in time, but various moments, combining observations, experiences, and memories into one image.