Step-by-Step Demo: Painting Glazes with Acrylics

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Building Up Color by Painting Glazes

Painting glazes
Colors can be built up by glazing rather than physically mixing paint. Image: © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

Instead of mixing paint on a palette and then applying it to a canvas, you can also build up color by painting glazes. It is a painting technique that requires a bit of patience as each glaze or layer needs to be totally dry before the next is applied, though with acrylics, of course, you don't have to wait very long.

You also need enough knowledge of color mixing or color theory to be able to predict what color(s) you're going to get.

This glazing demo shows how color on a leaf was built up from an initial layer of blue, into a leaf that's red and purple. Let's get started...

If you want to know more about the principles of painting glazes, read this FAQ on Painting Glazes using acrylics or oils.

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The Initial Colors

Painting glazes
Painting with glazes requires some color mixing knowledge, so you can predict the results you're going to get from your glazes. Image: © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

The first step is to block in the colors of the basic shapes in your painting. The colors you use will be determined by the ultimate color you wish to create.

This painting (of which the photo shows only a detail) is of an abstracted strelitzia or bird of paradise flower and leaf. I wanted the background as a flat orange without anything else going on, so that was painted in as I intended it to be in the final painting. The part of the flower that was to be included would be a fairly realistic yellow-orange, so that was blocked in yellow with the intention of glazing over it to create form. The leaf I wanted to be an unrealistic red and purple rather than a natural green, so that was blocked in blue with the knowledge that I would then glaze over it with red.

As glazing is transparent, it's important to have your brush strokes going in the correct direction starting with this initial stage as they will show through every layer or glaze. With flowers, paint in the 'direction of growth'.

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Glazing Over with Red

Painting glazes
Work quickly if you're glazing with opaque colors rather than transparent. Image: © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

This photo shows the blue leaf glazed over with red. I was using cadmium red, which is an opaque red rather than a transparent red. By varying the thickness of the paint I was able to control how much blue showed through (from almost nothing to quite a lot) to create the various areas of shadow. This creates a feeling of form to what previously was just a flat area of blue.

You need to be careful (and work quickly) when glazing with an opaque color with acrylics. If it dries before you've got the result you want with that particular glaze, it'll obscure everything you've done underneath.

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Refining the Effect

Painting glazes
The result of a glaze depends on how thinly it's painted. Image: © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
At this stage, some red has been glazed onto the yellow parts of the flower, creating orange. The result varies from a pale to an intense orange, depending on how thinly the glaze was spread.
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Glazing Over with Blue Again

Painting glazes
Image: © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

At this stage, some blue has been glazed over the yellow parts of the flower, creating a greenish shadow to give it form. If you compare the painting at this stage to the initial stage, you'll see that what was an intense and dominant blue has been transformed by glazing.

Additionally, using the same blues and reds on the different parts of the painting created a harmonizing effect, tying the separate parts together.