Transparency and Opacity

Just to prepare you for your final project, you may want to get started setting up and playing with Adobe Portfolio (if you have access).

Even if you don’t plan on being an artist as a profession, most professions look for some kind of evidence that you know how to create and display artifacts of some kind on the web in the form of a portfolio. This particular portfolio should reveal how much you’ve learned this semester and I should be able to see how you’ve tried putting each topic to work in your own art.  

Go to,  log in and start playing around. You’ll get further directions in the next module, but I wanted to give you an opportunity to start thinking about how you might show me what you’ve learned this semester. If you don’t plan on using Adobe portfolio, consider using what you did for your midterm.  

For those of you who haven’t been in Slack very much (or at all) you can still pass the course if your writing is such that I fully understand what you know about each topic. Your writing should be reflective of how your own art has been impacted by each of the topics we’ve covered.  

Learning Objectives

  1. Familiarize yourself with the concepts of transparency and opacity in art and to what ends artists use it.  
  2. Show that you can  identify works with transparency as a predominant theme or technique in the work.
  3. Create your own work that demonstrates  use of a transparency some way.

Introduction to  Transparency (and Opacity)

It is generally admitted that the most beautiful qualities of a color are in its transparent state, applied over a white ground with the light shining through the color.

–Maxfield Parrish

Transparency  in 2D design is simply the quality of being able to see through (or partially see through) one or more layers in an artwork. Like texture, transparency can be real or it can be implied or suggested. Opacity is a similar term but refers to the  inability to see through a layer. A window with the curtains drawn is opaque whereas a window with the curtains open is less opaque (completely transparent). I’m going to start you all off this week discussing these concepts first just to see what thoughts about the matter you can develop on your own. I’ll post content below the discussion this week once I see one or two comments.

 Transparency and Opacity

“I don’t believe in selling art by transparencies. Art is a firsthand experience.” -Arne Glimcher

We can think about the property of transparency (or its opposite descriptor, opacity) in numerous ways. Digitally, using layers to build up a work and changing the opacity and blending mode of each layer leads to a nearly infinite number of possibilities. In the plastic arts, painters have been using the technique of glazing to build works up over time, often to create a sense of depth and luminosity to skin. With the introduction of acrylics, we’ve seen the advent of building layers with things embedded in the layers. In drawing (and painting for that matter), the depiction of transparency is a tremendous skill.

As a theme, transparency can be used to change the mood of an image, to suggest mystery, to open an image to imaginary worlds, and a host of other manipulations. The image on the right is a portrait I did of my sister. I used a semi transparent image of my own artwork over a traced drawing of her.  

How to Draw Smoke

Depicting smoke (a transparent thing) is an important skill for illustrators and artitst. “Burning” is a powerful suggestive symbol. This is a good timelapse video showing how, although this example uses a traditional pencil instead of a digital paintbrush.

Rendering Transparency in Clothing

This is a very quick example of an artist adding a transparent blouse to a drawing of a woman.

Janie Gildow’s Instructions

If you use colored pencils at all, this is a fantastic video on how to render transparency and she digs into color issues as well as a really handy technique for getting your lines right.

More on Color and Transparency

Really depicting authentic transparency means really understanding how colors change depending on material.

Technical Know How

You’ll need to watch the following videos to understand how to use Photoshop to complete your assignments this week. I’ve started a few YouTube playlists where you can find these videos and more.

Adding Glass to a Scene

This is a pretty simple tutorial. Good practice for beginners.

Text Transparency

This designer has used the concepts of both transparency and opacity for an interesting graphic design poster.

Painting Transparent Objects

Mute this one since it’s just an electronica soundtrack. This isn’t the best tutorial, but there is a lot to be learned just from watching it. Creating transparent objects means working in layers and it’s instructive watching this artist build up those layers.

Put someone Underwater

What it says on the box.



This week, find images that exemplify the concept of “transparency”.  You must link to the original source (as original as you can find) for each pin and you should provide context and an explanation of why you think each image is illustrative of this  week’s concept. Put this explanation in the notes field of each pin. 1-2 sentences will suffice. The original artist must be identified.

Choose images that reveal  the use of transparency  as a primary and crucial part of the work.

⊕ For this week, create a Pinterest  Board called “Transparency” and add 20 images to that board using the guidelines above. Submit your link in the form below.

Share and Discuss

Scroll down for this week’s discussion. Make SURE you’ve logged in before you comment.

Emulate and Create


Emulate  one of the exercises in the Technical Know How section above.


Choose one of the following:

1.  Using plastic media of some sort (paint, pencil, pastels, watercolor, etc) to create a work that depicts transparency in the form of things like glass, clothing, water, imaginary combinations of items, or even translucent paper. Upload the file as a .jpg as usual.

2.Using Photoshop, create a layered work where one thing is transparent to another. Take your inspiration from the glass bottle exercise above if you’re having trouble with this one.  *Upload a .psd document with all of your layers intact. Don’t flatten your image. Let me know if you have trouble.