Painting reflected light on flower petals

Light that you see shining on an object is of two types, direct and indirect. The direct light is usually the lightest area of an object. The indirect light—which I’ll refer to as reflected light—is that which bounces off other objects in the same area.

Look at the photograph of a sphere in sunlight (above). The highlight area directly in the path of the sunlight is the lightest because it’s in the direct light. On the left and lower areas of the sphere you see light of a darker value that’s reflected from the sphere’s surroundings. Direct light is always lighter in value than reflected light, so the value of reflected light should not compete in any way with the highlights or lights. On the other hand, reflected light is always lighter than the shadow areas.

When you see a shadow, look right next to it for reflected light. Sometimes it’s as apparent as it is on the sphere, while other times the reflected light isn’t so obvious. My painting La Luna (at top) has many areas of reflected light—some readily apparent and some subtle. The main light source is to the upper left of the setup.

Always look near the shadow area of an object for the reflected light. The right side of petal A reflects the light from the petal next to it (B). In turn, petal B is reflecting light from the petal next to it.

The upper outside part of petal C is reflecting the shine from the leaf behind it (not yet painted). The light is white because the shine is so bright. The lower outside of petal D is reflecting the light from the petal below (C).

You might expect the inside cup of the flower to be darker than it appears in this painting. That would be the case if the flower itself were a darker color—like red. But the light inside the magnolia reflects all over and illuminates most of the petals. You can see this reflected light clearly near the tip of petal E.

Jane Jones, the author of Classic Still Life Painting (Watson-Guptill, 2004), is a popular workshop teacher and contributor to The Artist’s Magazine. To see her work, go to This article is an excerpt from her Brushing Up column “Subtleties of Light”  in the September 2008 issue of  The Artist’s Magazine, available at


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