Translucence through Layering

posted in: Blog, Classes, Painting | 8

First, let’s not confuse transparency with translucence. A transparent layer is an invisible layer like a clean window pane. A translucent layer offers varying degrees of transparency from barely noticeable to an almost imperceptible thin tint of color. This tinted window can shift the perception of color like a pale pair of sunglasses to a semi-opaque curtain through which we see only a vague ghost lying beneath.

Let’s look a couple of examples of these two different phenomena and, how you can build up these two sensations of translucence. First, consider the thin gel overlay which behaves as though you aimed a subtly colored light onto the painting.  Compare the difference between the two leaves in the lower left corner in example 1 with those same leaves in Example 2. Next, scan the painting to find where golden and yellow glazes were added.  Their purpose was to unify the color of the painting, subdue some of the brighter notes, and give more depth to the water.

Last week I presented example 1 (“Surface Tension”) as my most recent version of the painting.  I planned to add more layers of translucent glaze effects. Example 2 represents that same painting after applying those additional glazes. These glazes were made from translucent colors (non-opaque). During the renaissance many of these colors were referred to “Lake Colors” as in Carmine Lake. We still recognize many translucent colors by the addition of the term “Lake”.

Example 1. “Surface Tension” oil on brushed silver Dibond, 24×36” before added glaze effects.

Example 2. “Surface Tension” after added translucent glazes,

In example 3 I apply overlapping translucent lake colors in the lower half of the painting. In the upper area I use more light opaque tints.  The opaque areas do not contribute here to the illusion of seeing through the watery plane. But, they do increase brightness and provide a stronger feeling of the reflection of the sky (example 3).

Example 3. “Shoreline Translucence” an oil on brushed silver Dibond, 24×36”,

The following examples 4 through 10 show the development a different quality of translucence in two different paintings. For a translucent mist effect the paint colors were greatly thinned using refined linseed oil (or, walnut or poppy seed oil) and a small amount of opaque titanium white.  Many artists like to use Zinc white here because of its natural translucence.

Before we get to the opaque translucent mist effects let’s follow the steps showing how each of these two paintings began.

At each of the preliminary stages the paintings offer differing qualities of translucence. In step one of “Blue River Reflections” (example 4) I blurred the substrate. The blurring creates its own sensation of translucence. In step two, (example 5) I created a more granular surface texture and fogged part of it with a semi-opaque lighter blue. In step 3 (example 6) I laid out a more articulated design. In step 4, (example 7) I overlaid the effects seen in example 6 with semi-opaque dustings of lighter colors. This generated an illusion of a surface atmosphere over the water’s reflections.

Example 4.  Step one of “Blue River Reflections”, an oil on white Dibond, 28×32”,

Example 5. Step 2 of “Blue River Reflections”, the granulated texture fogged in part with a lighter semi-opaque blue,

Example 6.  Step 3 of “Blue River Reflections”, the design is laid out in more specific form,

Example 7. Step 4 and current state of “Blue River Reflections” in which semi opaque tints are dusted over parts of the image.

Finally,   in examples 8 through 9 you see “Spring River Reflections” with its cloudy palette of light complementary opaque colors. The painting begins with an under-painting of a primary yellow acrylic ink.  This gets overlaid with a fog of light violet (example 8). The composition is fundamentally presented here. The light violet and light yellow create a soft glow through their contrasting color but, close value relationship.

In example 9 the colors are not altered but, the description of shapes is more developed.

Example 8, Step 1 of “Spring River Reflections”,

Example 9. Step 2,

I invite you to join me in a free webinar Zoom class on Wednesday morning at 10 AM… Visit for details and to sign up.

I also invite you to join me in my online studio Zoom classes held on Saturday mornings at 11AM. Here I not only offer talk/demonstration but individual painting critiques as well. Visit for details.


8 Responses

  1. Jan Dilenschneider

    Dear David: Thank you so much for keeping us going during this challenging period. This blog is EXACTLY what I needed. You are masterful at demonstrating and teaching us how to do the next technique. But this is what you are so good at!!!!! Can’t wait to go try this in the morning. Jan

  2. Pattie Haskell

    Dear David, I am so sorry that your class is sold out. I did not realize that I had to sign up ahead of time. My friend, Vicki Smith, encouraged me to watch and when I went on your web site last night, I saw that I was too late. I would so appreciate it if you would present this again. I would be very interested in attending your online classed as well, but would love a preview.

    disappointed in Naples!

  3. Elaine Finsilver

    Wonderful. Lesson on line
    Thanks Connie and David snd hi Rebecca

  4. Gail Ingis

    Thank you, David, you are an amazing talent and have a huge heart of generosity. As usual, I enjoy the visual and always feel inspired to be creative. I’m using the creativity right now writing two books, my memoirs and my brother’s, Jay Gerber.

    I hope you and your family are well and keeping safe. Gail I

  5. Sue

    Hi David

    I have just found your site. What a treasure. I have enjoyed every moment of it.

    Please could you tell me what type of paper? you use for your oils.

    Many thanks


  6. Mary Shenk

    I live on West Coast and didn’t get to Zoom until after start time ( it would be 7:00 am here).Is this
    class on Utube or available to watch today?

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