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Dry-Brushing, Scumbling, Scrubbing – Blending Acrylic Paint

June 6, 2010

Although smooth blending can be done in acrylics, it takes a lot of time and patience. And if you screw it up, you pretty much have to re-paint the entire area. I find it much easier to blend acrylics using a dry-brush technique, which works better with the acrylic paint’s quick drying time.

Scumbling is blending two colours together when one colour is already dry. It’s also called dry-brushing because the paint brush is loaded with very little paint.

To achieve this affect, you basically drag your brush across the painting surface without pressing too hard. For this to work, you need to have a textured surface: canvas works perfectly. The paint from your brush gets left behind on the surface of the tooth of the canvas, letting the other colours show through beneath. If you want it darker, you press harder.

See below for a very quick video tutorial on how to dry-brush!

dry brushing acrylics

This picture shows how you can create a gradation with the scumbling technique. I started out pressing hard, then dragged the brush away in short strokes, using less and less pressure.

blending acrylics with scumbling

This picture shows how scumbling can be used to blend colours. Here I have dry brushed red over yellow. By controlling the pressure of my brush, I can create a smooth gradation between the two colours. Because of the same illusion used in dot painting, the colours blend visually and we see orange.

The great thing about scumbling is that if you mess up, all you need to do is scumble the other colour back on top to even it out. It’s not as finicky as smooth blending.


scrubbing acrylic paints

I’m sure sure this is a technical term, but it’s the word I use to describe a slightly different technique. Instead of using steady brush strokes to scumble, this involves scrubbing your brush into your canvas. This can be hard on your brushes, so I like to use one that’s already a bit fuzzy. It also works better with a brush that has shorter, stiff bristles. Personally, I like scrubbing more than controlled dry-brushing because it’s more spontaneous and intuitive.

Video Tutorial

Disclaimer: I feel like I need to admit that this video isn’t  of the best quality… I obviously need to learn how to work my camera better, because it goes in and out of focus. I wasn’t going to include it at all, but I decided to for two reasons: one, I did all the work already, and two, it does clarify how exactly to use your brush to apply paint in a scumbling or scrubbing technique.

Hope it helps!


From → Painting

  1. Great blog on painting with acylics–this is the only way that works for me. Thanks.

    • Me too, Byrne. I don’t have the finesse or patience for smooth blending. I also like the texture that results from scumbling.

  2. edward church permalink

    it does for me some easy steps to create color and texture

  3. Malissa Amolsch permalink

    Really nice, thanks. I am trying to learn different techniques for cool background effects. This helps a lot, I particularly liked the jagged edge thing with the gaussian blur.

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