Monday, November 14, 2011

Glazing for Mood

Evening landscape by George Innes, 1890, produced by glazing.
In his biography of his father, American landscape painter George Inness, Jr., recounts the following anecdote concerning a demo his father performed for a student who'd come to call:

He squeezed a lot of raw umber on his palette, picked up the largest brush he could find, and with the aid of a medium that looked like Spaulding's glue he went at the canvas as though he were scrubbing the floor, smearing it over, sky and all, with a thin coat of brown. The young man looked aghast, and when Pop was through, he said:

"But, Mr. Inness, do you mean to tell me you resort to such methods as glazing to paint your pictures?"

Father rushed up to the young man, and, glowering at him over his glasses, as he held the big brush just under his visitor's nose, exclaimed:

"Young man, have you come here from the Art Students League to tell me how to paint? Then go back there and tell them that I'd paint with mud if it would give the effect I wanted."


Glazing - the technique of applying thin, translucent washes of oil color in layers - became a common technique for oil painters shortly after the Northern European artists of the 1400s re-introduced oil painting into general artistic practice.

Tonal painting by George Inness

Inness used it habitually, casting about his studio for a likely victim, selecting a finished painting, a hillside in morning light, perhaps, and proceeding to set the sun on it, "painting, glazing, and scumbling, scratching, and scrubbing" right over the already dry paint, until he was satisfied and the morning had turned to dusk. 

I'd had this overly cool-toned marsh in my studio for too long, so I decided to try the Inness-esque glazing technique as I'd watched Dennis Sheehan perform it in a workshop last week. 

Cloudswept Marsh (before)

Going at it with Winsor-Newton Drying Linseed Oil (Sheehan uses Grumbacher's pale drying oil, btw) I combined a transparent or semi-transparent yellow mixed with a little red (in my case Cadmium Yellow and Alizarin Crimson) for overall warmth, and then painted more darks into the wet layer of tinted oil (I used M. Graham's transparent Olive Green) - "painting into the soup," as Inness called it. Personally I like it a lot better now.

Late Evening Marsh (after)


  1. Great story about Inness and the examples are beautiful.

  2. Wonderful example of what a glaze can do! It's one of my favorite techniques and especially suitable for work in acrylic, which is my preferred medium. I've read many books about Inness, he was quite a character! His paintings set a standard for landscape painting for many years in the later 19th century. Truly a master.

  3. You're right, Jan. I suspect he may one day be thought of as "the father of Tonalism" among other things. He's my idol.

  4. I was so happy to finally meet you in person in Hampton Falls at the marsh with Todd. Your work is so beautiful. It slows the heart slow down and allows one to inhale a good clean breath! Pat Nickerson

  5. A very luminous and intriguing landscape. The sky is beautiful and graceful. Beautiful artwork.

  6. There are certainly a lot more details to take into consideration, but thanks for sharing this post.

  7. Great post.
    I have been studying Inness myself lately:
    Cheers - John

  8. Thank you for this post. It really illustrates how the emotional content of a painting can be changed with insight from the inner eye and an inspired brush.

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