What is Scumbling? Dry brush painting technique easily explained

The technique of scumbling is a painting process that involves applying paint with the brush over an existing layer to create a blurring effect that blends color, light and shade effects.

Scumbling is indeed a painting technique, scumbling consists of applying paint with the hand’s brush over an existing layer.

It is a bit like applying a layer of medium to the final coat of paint and then blending it in to soften the look of the paint later.

The softer look resembles some of Turner’s seascapes if you need a point of reference. Artists are always looking for ways to create unique effects in their work and scumbling might just be the thing you can use to pull off something that will look quite magnificent.

Scumbling techniques have been used by artists since at least the 15th century and scumbles were often applied as topcoats or final layers.

turner scumbling
Seascape c.1835-40 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05515 – Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

What is the Scumbling technique?

The scumbling technique is a really simple one that can be used to create mottled effects such as smearing or smudging.

What you need:

  • Paint (use the same brand as your other paints – can be acrylic, oil etc)
  • Paint medium, thinner or water
  • A clean dry brush.  A scumbling brush is perfect for scumbling since they have bristles that are longer and more flexible than a regular brush. If you don’t have a scumbling brush then use a soft synthetic or natural bristle brush instead.  You may also try using those new synthetic 2 inch ‘flat’ brushes from discount stores but they probably won’t give quite as nice an effect as these scumbling brushes. Natural hair brushes aren’t great with scumbling since they tend to have a scalloped edge which makes scumbling harder.
  • Canvas, paper or whatever surface you are going to scumble on
  • Canvas board or Masonite board is the best surface for scumbling because it absorbs paint well and doesn’t warp as easily as canvas. Acrylic gesso primer can also be used but it tends to be a little more porous than either of the professional surfaces mentioned above so bleeds through onto your other layers if you try scumbling over it. If unsure about whether your support will bleed then just practice scumbles over scrap pieces of paper. Canvases take scumbles better than paper surfaces.
  • Now apply a later of the medium over the paint surface and work the medium into the paint with your brush, working in the desired direction to give the paint a smudged effect. I have included a video below to see scumbling in action.
how to scumble video

How do you use a Scumbling technique?

After scumbling, apply more paint over the scumbled area and scumble again to give it a lighter tone (but not as light as scumbling with white). Now you can either leave this or use your blending brush to smooth the mixture out.

Scumbling is an old painting technique which involves applying paint with a brush over an existing layer. I like scumbling because rather than putting on layers of one color but instead scumbles blend colors together for amazing effects that look like lichen or rust. It’s super fun and easy to do!

What is Scumbling medium?

Scumble medium (I used Liquin Original by Winsor & Newton but I’ve heard that scumbling would also work with Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits). You can get these at most good art supply store or online.

liquin original

How do you make scumbling medium? The ingredients for scumbling medium are pretty basic: crafters oil and odorless mineral spirits.

You can mix them together at a 1:1 ratio. If you want to save money and cut back on chemicals, just use straight-up Crafter’s Oil. It’s much cheaper than scumbling medium and works the same!

Best scumbling tips?

Here are my scumbling tips based on personal experience rather than best practice.

  • Use a scumbling medium to thin your paint, not solvents or water. I’ve found that scumbling looks best when you load up on pigment and scumble over it with very little water added to the mix.
  • Let each layer dry thoroughly before adding another. It’s hard to scumble wet paint! But it is also hard to scumble dry paint, so look for a good middle ground.
  • Don’t scumble the paint too hard or too much or you will find that it may actually remove a top later of paint and ruin the look of your painting.
  • If you’re scumbling over a dark base color, use a light scumble color or white for even more dramatic effects. You can test out different colors by scumbling over black construction paper first.

What kind of brush is best for scumbling?

I prefer my larger synthetic filbert brushes and flat hog hair brushes for most scumbling jobs since they have nice flat sides which make them great at working into corners and crevices with minimal scumbling effects.

If scumbling a larger area, a scumble rag roller can be your best friend as it will quickly scumble over the whole surface in less than a minute but you will have little control over the final results which may require you to do some brush touch ups.

brushes for scumbling

What other brushes or tools can I use for scumbling?

A paper stump is often used as well for scumbling because not only does it help pick up paint from the palette, but as you scumble with it, it basically shapes itself around any shape without getting too much paint on areas you don’t want painted.

other brush types for scumbling

Palette knives or painting knives make great scumbling utensils and are useful for blending colors together really smooth if needed.

Benefits of scumbling – Why you should learn how to scumble 

Scumbling is a fast way to create texture and can be used for creating interest in an otherwise flat surface.

Scumbling is also great because you don’t need to spend time mixing paint colors together like it’s no one’s business, scumbles can use colors straight from the tube and still achieve good results.
With some scumbles looking really simple, this makes scumbles perfect for those who want to make paintings quickly without spending too much time on it.

You can also add drama to your painting with scumbling. I come back to Turner’s seascapes and look at the scumbling in these paintings and imagine if there was no scumbling applied to Turner’s paintings, would the end results be as dramatic?

Scumbling also lets you loosen up your painting and make it appear more organic and free rather than have a rigid and clearly defined shape, line, and color.

Examples of scumbling art

I have scumbled many of my paintings over the years ranging from scumbling ‘Alla Prima’ to scumbling across glazing.

The scumble I use most often is scumbling after having first put down a wash for the sky and then scumbling again after building up layers on top, this allows me to get nice subtle sky colors that don’t contrast too intensely with the colors underneath it.

Here are some examples of scumbling in art.

Scumbling example - https://www.adambeau.co.uk
https://www.instagram.com/p/B5n06SmnzcC/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link – https://www.adambeau.co.uk
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Mark Liam Smith’s channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6WMZecYvxzWKxNN47Caw4A


Christian Worthington

Sadie Valeri Atelier

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