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How to Paint a Sphere in Acrylics Using Scumbling to Blend – Tutorial

August 11, 2011

Tutorial on How to Paint a Sphere with AcrylicsBefore attempting this tutorial, I would suggest you read both How to Shade Your Drawings and Blending Acrylic Paints. The first article will teach you what you need to know about the different values (areas of light and dark) on a sphere, and the second describes in more detail the scumbling technique.

So, it occurred to me that while I have done a lot of drawing tutorials, I haven’t done a huge amount of basic painting tutorials. This is back to the basic painting for those of you just starting out. This kind of exercise is good practice for painting any kind of three dimensional object with a rounded surface.

In this tutorial we will cover how to create depth through the use of shadows, mid tones and highlights, as well as how to blend the three basic values together. I am using the scumbling technique here because I think it’s probably the most basic and common technique used by people learning how to paint with acrylics. The technique lends itself well to the quick drying time of acrylics.

One disclaimer: This is not the only, the right, or even the best way to paint a sphere or anything else. This is one method using one technique, simplified for the sake of the tutorial. Once you gain some experience, you should experiment to find your preferred way to paint.

Okay.. let’s go!

For this tutorial, I will be using just two paints: raw umber and white. This way we can use value to create form without being distracted by colour. I like to use a raw or burnt umber to create shadows instead of black. I find that it gives shadows more depth, while black is very flat.

Before we actually start painting, let’s do a quick exercise to get some practice mixing different values. Paint a value scale that has pure raw umber on the left and pure white on the right. Try to create a scale that shows an even and gradual transition from one value to the next.

painting value scale

Start with a simple line drawing that shows the shape of your sphere as well as the values within it.

Tutorial on How to Paint a Sphere with Acrylics

Starting with a value in the middle of your scale (3), fill in the mid-tones, or everything that isn’t a shadow or a highlight.

Tutorial on How to Paint a Sphere with Acrylics

Next, fill in the shadow area with raw umber, leaving a slight buffer between it and the mid-tones.

Tutorial on How to Paint a Sphere with Acrylics

Now it’s time for our scumbling. Mix a colour close to 2 on your value scale. dry brush this on the edge of the shadow area. Slowly add more white to your paint, bringing the value to a 3 as you work away from the shadow and blend into the mid-tone.

Tutorial on How to Paint a Sphere with Acrylics

Let’s do the same with the highlight. Remember, that only the very, very centre of the highlight will actually be pure white. Fill this in, leaving a large buffer. You will need more room to get a gradual gradation here.  Now we can very slowly add the umber to our paint, working our way backwards on the value scale. Scumble this in with a dry brush until you get to the mid-tones. Don’t be afraid to blend over top of the mid-tones to get a smooth gradation.

Tutorial on How to Paint a Sphere with Acrylics

Tips to Remember

  • Paint on canvas or a textured paper, you will need the tooth to be able to scumble effectively. Don’t use smooth paper (like I did, oops!).
  • Make sure your brush is nice and dry for the scumbling; no water! Keep a paper towel handy.
  • If you’re having trouble mixing the subtle values (as in, you add a tiny bit of umber to your white and already it’s too dark), try mixing your mid-tone value first, then add that a little at a time to your white to darken it.
  • Don’t forget that acrylics dry slightly darker.
  • Remember, this is not an exact science! It will take time and practice. If you find your shadow growing to take over the whole mid-tone area, mix up more of that middle value and scumble back on top. There will be a bit of back-and-forth. This is normal!

There you have it, a three-dimensional sphere done in acrylics with a scumbling technique. Once you’re comfortable with this, try your hand at some apples or oranges. Have fun practicing!


From → Painting, Tutorials

  1. Mashi permalink

    I just want to let you know that your Art blog is so helpful and inspiring! You teach us so many things that I didn’t know about… Keep it up! I love to visit this site.

  2. Shanti permalink

    Thanks! This is very helpful. Even though I have been doing art since I was about three I always did as it more of a hobby and never really learned the techniques. Now that I am trying to get better at art to describe my science fiction, especially in the cover art, I really want to work on my skills. Reading this site so far has made an amazing amount of difference.

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