Tips on Painting Highlights
By Sadie Valeri
Go Easy on Sharp Edges of Highlights
We often see the edge of a highlight as being sharp, and we paint a hard line around it. But this usually assumes too large a leap from the highlight to the next area of light. Only at the very end, in the final context of the entire finished painting, is it possible to judge how close the highlight is to the area around it.
Use Color Sparingly on Highlights
Often we see colors in the highlight, but any amount of color will lower the value, too. I’ve found that painting a small sliver of color in one corner or edge of the highlight works well. The sliver of color optically spreads and seems to stain the entire highlight with a slight hue without lowering the value of the highlight.
Be Still When Observing Highlights
Highlights are difficult to paint not only because they’re bright but also because they act like tiny mirrors and seem to sit on a different plane than the physical surface of the object. If you close each eye in turn or move your head, you’ll see the highlight move. Capture your highlights with your head very still and one eye closed to mark their shape and position; otherwise, you’re essentially seeing double, which is why it can feel frustrating to pin down the elusive highlight.
Wait to Add White to Highlights
Until the very end, I keep the edges of highlights soft and blended, and I keep the paint thin so the bright white surface of the untoned area of my painting surface shines through in the lightest areas. I add white paint to the highlights only near the end because white paints are thick and difficult to control and hard to keep clean.
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