from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • transitive verb To soften the colors or outlines of (a painting or drawing) by covering with a film of opaque or semiopaque color or by rubbing.
  • transitive verb To blur the outlines of.
  • noun The effect produced by or as if by scumbling.
  • noun Material used for scumbling.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • In oil-painting, to blend the tints or soften the effect of, by lightly passing a brush charged with a small quantity of an opaque or semiopaque coloring over the surface; in chalk - or pencil-drawing, to rub lightly the blunt point of the chalk over the surface of, or to spread and soften the harder lines of with the stump: as, to scumble a painting or a drawing.
  • noun A softened effect produced by scumbling. See scumbling.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • transitive verb (Fine Arts) To cover lighty, as a painting, or a drawing, with a thin wash of opaque color, or with color-crayon dust rubbed on with the stump, or to make any similar additions to the work, so as to produce a softened effect.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun An opaque kind of glaze (layer of paint).
  • verb to apply an opaque glaze to an area of a painting to make it softer or duller

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun the application of very thin coat of color over the surface of a picture


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Possibly from scum.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Uncertain origin, perhaps from scum.


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  • Where conditions were right (neither too much nor too little sun, for instance up near the house itself) a scumble of colors occurred in Spring, attracting swarms of bees and butterflies — among these: Silver-spotted Skippers (Epargyreus clarus clarus) and American Coppers (Lycaena phlaes americana) — in abundance.

    The light that draws the flower James Greer 2011

  • From 18 inches away the scumble looks so painterly as to feel too sloppy... from 10 feet away, the effect is astonishingly lifelike, present.

    Scumbling James Gurney 2009

  • When I did comics I was always fighting the detail issue; when to scumble in a background, when to draw it out in detail, and when to just leave it out entirely...

    Theory of Sacrifices James Gurney 2009

  • Could one use the wax as a glaze then scumble oil paint over it?

    Dead Tech: Waxers James Gurney 2009

  • If it's a transparentized scumble or glaze layer, it sure has lost a lot of opacity.

    Daybreak Blues James Gurney 2009

  • Where the form turns more to the light in the brightly illuminated halftones, you can scumble a light tone overall, saving your strongest touches of pure white for the highlights and accents.

    Archive 2008-10-01 James Gurney 2008

  • She chose “The Last Lunar Baedekar” by Mina Loy, to scumble and work over to create her own startling and original poems.

    Archive 2007-09-01 2007

  • Merriam-Webster defines “scumble” as partly “to make as color or a painting less brilliant by covering with a thin coat of opaque or semiopaque color.”

    Archive 2007-05-01 2007

  • I should advise you to let it dry, and then scumble a middle tone right over the whole thing, as you did at first, which will show the old work through, and you can then correct your drawing and proceed to paint the lights and shadows as before.

    The Practice and Science of Drawing Harold Speed

  • Now scumble this with a big brush equally over the whole canvas (or whatever you are making your study on).

    The Practice and Science of Drawing Harold Speed


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  • Great word. From American Heritage: To soften the colors or outlines of a painting or drawing by covering with a film of opaque or semi-opaque color or by rubbing. In more general terms, to blur the outlines of, as a writer who scumbles the line between history and fiction.

    August 1, 2007

  • lovely! such a scribbly, mumbly jumble of a word...

    August 1, 2007

  • It is, isn't it? I picked up this word from the title of a book I read long ago: Scumbler by William Wharton. I don't remember many details from the novel, but I do remember this word. :-)

    August 1, 2007

  • Come to think of it, most -umble words are fun to say. I smell a list.

    August 1, 2007

  • 1798 Trans. Soc. Arts XVI. 280 The artist then painted the lights with pure white..where the light was brightest..; and, where the demi-tints were afterwards to be, scumbling it thinner by degrees.

    July 13, 2008

  • My forehead, with its three horizontal wrinkles that had not really overasserted themselves in the last three decades, remained round, ample and smooth, waiting for the summer tan that would scumble, I knew, the liver spots on my temples.

    --Vladimir Nabokov, 1974, Look at the Harlequins! p. 227

    June 13, 2009