Tips for Rendering Metals in Paint

The Three Metals (oil, 40x40) by Ora Sorensen

The Three Metals (oil, 40×40) by Ora Sorensen



Shimmering metallic surfaces always add a wow factor to paintings. Walking through an art museum or gallery, we pay special attention to works depicting a flash of gold, silver or other metals. Careful inspection, however, shows that their reflective gleam results from a simple juxtaposition of colors, shadows and highlights.

Of course, metals have different degrees of shininess, and the duller metallic surfaces must be painted differently from those with a high shine.

Low-luster metals
Matte or low-luster metallic objects, such as those depicted in The Three Metals (at top), have these characteristics:

  • blended shadows and highlights
  • a full range of values, determined by the light source
  • diffused or obscured reflections
  • colors determined by the type of the metal being depicted

High-shine metals

A high-shine metallic object, such as the silver cup depicted in the painting above, has these characteristics:

  • hard-edged reflective shapes within the shape of the object
  • a full range of values, determined by the reflected objects
  • reflections tinted by the color of the metal

This article is an excerpt from an article about depicting metallic surfaces that appeared in the December 2009 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.



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