Oil painting techniques: learn how to “scumble” like a pro

Snowy Dawn oil painting by Francisco Silva
“Snowy Dawn” oil painting by Francisco Silva

Scumbling is an oil painting technique used by many painter’s throughout history. To achieve this technique, you apply a thin or transparent layer of paint over a dried layer of paint resulting in a visual, color combination of both layers.

Why you should use this technique

As artists, we’re always running into roadblocks during the painting process. Scumbling can be used as a potential solution during these times. You can use it to add depth by adding contrasting color layers if your painting is too monotone. Conversely, you can reduce contrast in an area with this technique.

How to start scumbling using oil paint

  • Begin with a dried base layer of paint.
  • You can use either a transparent color (like Perylene Red, Viridian Green, etc.) or “thin” out a paint color with a medium.
  • Apply the transparent color. I control the transparency by adding medium to achieve a thinner layer of oil paint.
  • You can apply more layers to deepen the color or add more layers of different colors. Pleas note that the more layers you add, the less the initial layer will be noticeable.

Scumbling examples

Detail of Turner’s painting “Sun Setting Over a Lake”. Click on the image to see the entire painting

Throughout the history of art, many painters have used this technique. In the detail above, I show how J.M.W. Turner used this technique. You can see the layers of different colors which add texture and depth to the painting. Additionally, the darker areas of this detail are achieved with scumbling. This is a common technique used by Turner.

Detail of “Snowy Dawn” by Francisco Silva

One of the challenges with this painting was to represent “snow” without using one flat “white” layer of paint. I achieved this by beginning with a light blue-green base layer. To this layer, I added a light blue layer that was lighter than the previous layer. In the third layer, I added a white (toned-down with gray) layer leaving me the option of using pure white very sparingly.

Summary

  1. Scumbling can be used as a solution to visually problematic areas in your painting.
  2. Use scumbling to add color depth.
  3. Use this technique to highlight an area or reduce a high-contrast area.
  4. Scumbling is a classic technique used by many painters of the past (J.M.W. Turner, Claude Monet).
  5. Scumbling adds an additional technique to your painting arsenal.

Do you scumble? How have you used it in the past? Please leave examples in the comments.

My painting is on view at the Studio Montclair Art Gallery

The Lack of Privilege, an oil painting by Francisco Silva
“The Lack of Privilege”, an oil painting by Francisco Silva

One of my paintings is currently on view at the Studio Montclair art gallery. Additionally, an online exhibit compliments the physical show. This group show titled “Privilege, Power and Everyday Life” showcases 32 artists and their interpretation of the theme. Click here for a detailed view of my painting. Click here to view the entire exhibit.

The concept

Titled “The Lack of Privilege”, my new oil painting deals with an unexpected consequence of the pandemic: I depict a food line in Queens in a latino neighborhood. COVID-19 has been devastating to poor communities specifically black and brown neighborhoods. In the painting, I show figures standing in the cold, not interacting, and waiting for their turn. The faces are unclear, smudged or, in some cases, hidden in shadows. Some figures are hidden behind others or visually blend into each other. I painted them this way to emphasize that their identities are forgotten or overlooked. Although this is a tough time for everyone, some people are deprived of essentials such as food.

My painting process

In this painting I began experimenting in several ways. I normally take snapshots and use them as reference. In this case, I’ve searched online for videos taken by news outlets, I then took screenshots of the video and have used that as a foundation for this painting. I wanted to begin with a realistic, almost clinical view of the subject.

With regards to painting process, I outlined the figures in heavy black lines. The people in the food line are painted in mostly cool grays which visually separates the blue-gray sidewalk and the orange/terra cotta buildings serving to balance the composition. The brushstrokes are loose and expressionistic adding to the mood of the artwork.

The show is currently on view through February. Click here to register for a Zoom curatorial talk on January 21 at 7pm.

What do you think about the exhibition? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

6 ways artists can take advantage of online opportunities during COVID

Artist studio with brushes
Photo by Dan Cook on Unsplash

The spread of COVID-19 has forced the art market to increase their presence on the virtual space. The art world now relies on their online galleries to showcase artist’s work. For the artist, this means that in-person shows have halted but virtual opportunities have been created.

Why is this important?

The world’s behavior has changed during the pandemic. Zoom meetings, art openings, and artist’s talks have become commonplace. By actively engaging in these events you can reap short-term benefits and create a foundation for future opportunities. Additionally, I believe that these virtual events will continue to exist in the post-pandemic art market.

How you can take advantage of online opportunities?

  1. Seek out online exhibitions – You’re no longer limited by geography since you don’t need to deliver artwork to a physical location. This gives you the chance to enter exhibitions anywhere.
  2. Participate during online openings – You must be present to support your art show. The gallery/arts organization hosting this event will be aware of your presence or absence. Additionally, if anyone is interested in your work, you’ll be available for questions.
  3. Actively participate as a spectator in Artist Talks – This is a good way to support your fellow artists. Be an active participant by asking questions.
  4. Be a presenter at an Artist Talk – If given the chance, take the opportunity to talk about your work. This is the single best way to let people know about you, your art, and your artistic process. This also gives a potential collector the opportunity to learn about your work.
  5. Be active on Social Media – There’s no need to overdo it. Just choose either Instagram or Facebook and post regularly.
  6. Update your website – Ultimately, you want to drive people to your website to see your body of work and to learn more about you as an artist. Update your website so it contains current work and doesn’t look dated. Remember, that your website is a representation of you in the virtual world.

How this strategy helps your art career

  • It keeps you visible to galleries and other artists during this time when interacting physically isn’t an option
  • Virtual participation allows you to network with other artists, curators and collectors
  • When the pandemic is finally over, you can leverage the connections you’ve made for potential exhibitions
  • Actively participating in Artist Talks gives you credibility by making others aware of your art knowledge. This can lead to organizations seeking you out for your art knowledge.

Have you done any of the above? How much have you participated in virtual events? Please let me know in the comments.

Should I enter juried art exhibitions?

Me with my painting "Ending Summer" at the "Exhale" juried show hosted by Art House Productions in Jersey City, NJ
Me with my painting “Ending Summer” at the “Exhale” juried show hosted by Art House Productions in Jersey City, NJ

Juried shows are a source of frustration among artists. You enter a competition only to be rejected without ever knowing the reason why you weren’t accepted. The worst part is you’re out the non-refundable entry fee. The first juried art show I entered was held at a well-funded organization with a very nice exhibition space. It cost me $45 to join the organization and another $40 to enter the show. This seemed like a high price but I figured it would be worth it to see my paintings in that gallery space. My work was NOT accepted and I was out a total of $85. I quickly realized that this approach was financially prohibitive.

Based on this experience, I changed my strategy and began entering only juried shows that are FREE. I’m willing to make an exception and pay a membership fee to join an arts organization that offers benefits aside from the juried show. For example, I joined an arts group that has painting and social events where I can network with other artists. The juried show is an additional benefit.

Why should I enter a juried show

A juried show can have many benefits (see “How entering juried shows helps your art career” below) but the main reason to enter is the opportunity to exhibit your work.

How do I find juried shows to enter

You can try these two websites. They both list national exhibitions but can be filtered to include territories that are near you.

https://artshow.com/juriedshows/

https://www.entrythingy.com/forartists_calls

These websites are helpful but I’ve rarely found free juried shows that were appropriate to my work. I’ve had more success by researching local art groups that host juried shows.

When you find an exhibition that works for you be aware that there’s usually a theme and the hosting organization requires submitting the following:

  1. Jpgs of your artwork
  2. An artist bio
  3. An artist statement that explains how your work fits the theme of the show
  4. Occasionally, some will ask for a CV or artist resume

The above is important and time-consuming. Your images should have a professional look and follow the file naming conventions stated in the exhibition prospectus. Your bio should be well thought out and follow the industry standard. Additionally, your artist statement should be well-written and concise. If your CV looks anemic, I suggest skipping that exhibit until you gain more exhibition experience.

Do your research! Look online for previous years juried shows. Evaluate the artwork that was accepted. Does your work fit in with the others that were accepted? If you’re an abstract painter and previously accepted works were all photorealistic, this may not be the venue for you. But if it’s free, take a chance!

How entering juried shows helps your art career

  • It gives you the opportunity to exhibit your work
  • You gain exposure for you and your work
  • You can add the exhibition to your artist’s resume
  • It giives you the opportunity to compare your work to other artists’ work
  • A collector may buy your art
  • It’s an opportunity to network with artists, curators and collectors

Summary

  1. Only enter juried shows that are FREE
  2. Juried shows give you the opportunity to exhibit your work
  3. You will need good pictures of your work, an artist bio and statement and possibly an CV/artist’s resume to enter
  4. These exhibitions have additional benefits that can help your art career.
  5. Finally, learn to take rejection because it will happen

What are your experiences with juried shows? Please share them in the comments.