Do you now scumble, or have you ever scumbled in the past? Ever even heard of scumbling? If you’re a beginning artist, the word may be new to you. I think it’s a funny-sounding word and probably not one you use in everyday conversation except possibly with other artists. Today’s Image is a sample of a pastel drawing with a forest green scumbled with bright yellow.
Scumble was new to me a couple of years ago. I ran across the term in my readings and research on pastels, which was my interest at the time. After I started The OrbisPlanis Art Blog, it was the term ‘scumble’ that gave me the idea for the Vocabulary for Artists section in the right-hand column. It was the first entry, and if you scroll down, you’ll see it’s still there.
As a painter I thought that if the term wasn't clear to me, then there were probably others out there who were wondering, too.
First I looked in an online dictionary (dictionary.com) and found this on scumble:
-verb, -bled, -bling, -noun Painting.
–verb (used with object) 1. to soften (the color or tone of a painted area) by overlaying parts with opaque or semiopaque color applied thinly and lightly with an almost dry brush.
–noun 2. the act or technique of scumbling.
3. the effect produced by this technique.
Origin: 1790–1800; perhaps equivalent to scum (v.)
(Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009.)
I also wanted to re-visit the term by looking in some of the books in my Art Library. I was able to confirm what I thought it meant with a little more information. I also discovered that scumbling is not just for pastels but is also used in acrylic and oil painting.
Basically, it’s just layering one color over another lightly in such a way that the underlayer is still visible through the top layer. Since pastels are a dry medium, it means dragging the top layer very lightly over the dry, bottom layer.
With acrylics and oils, it’s generally the same technique, although it works best when the underlayer of acrylic or oil is dry or almost dry. That’s because in scumbling, you do not actually mix the colors themselves; that is, you do not physically mix them together. That would result in a third color or a lighter or darker hue depending on the colors, which is not scumbling.
In scumbling the two unmixed colors are, however, optically mixed on your retina so that you perceive the resulting mixture. This technique allows for a wide variety of effects depending on how the colors are laid down, for example, dark color over light or vice versa. The tools you use can also change how the scumbled colors look. Scumbling with a paint brush gives a different effect than scumbling with a sponge or your fingertips. I also read where scumbling works better on rough textures since the top layer sits on ridges of the surface and does not mix with the underlayer at all.
So, I encourage you to try scumbling as a pastel or painting exercise by itself on various kinds of paper or other support with different color combinations using pastels, acrylics, and oils (separately, of course). It can open up new possibilities for your artwork.