Gleam, Sheen and Sparkle
by Jane Jones
In the November 2009 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, Jane Jones illustrates how shiny objects attract our attention in life and in art. Shiny cars, lips, eyes, glass and fabrics—they’re all intriguing to look at and paint. The trick to painting reflective objects is to set up the highlights against the darks. The more contrast there is between the two, the more reflection and shine you’ll achieve in your oil painting.
To demonstrate, I composed the painting Love Affair (above) with objects that have different shiny looks: a glass heart, foil-wrapped chocolate kisses and polished granite. My medium is oil, but the basic principles of value contrast apply to any medium.
1. Composition Setup
I turned the heart upside down so that its shape echoed that of the kisses. I liked that the heart had a solid bright color and was very smooth, while the kisses had a crinkled texture and their color was completely dependent upon their surroundings. Both surfaces were hard and reflective, which created harmony between them. I set them on dark, polished granite because that surface created such beautiful reflections.
2. Toning Layer
I always begin an oil painting with a toning layer of paint mixed with Winsor & Newton Liquin (alkyd medium), which does three things:
- It eliminates the imposing white of the painting surface, making value and color choices for my first paint layer easier.
- It allows me to achieve different effects with the background color: When the toning color is allowed to show through a contrasting background color, the play between the two colors adds interest. When the toning and background colors are similar, the toning layer helps the background color cover the area.
- The Liquin causes subsequent layers of oil paint to dry more quickly.
For this oil painting I used viridian as my toning color because I wanted some green to show through my background, giving a subtle contrast and boosting the complementary red of the heart.
3. Background and Granite
I painted the background and granite colors with mixtures of ivory black, viridian and titanium white. I waited to paint the reflections until I knew what colors I’d use for the heart and kisses.
4. Underpainting and Early Layers
Painting the first layer of the heart: Because the background behind the glass affected the color of the glass, I underpainted the heart with the same colors I’d used in the background. This ensured that the finished heart would look as if it belonged in the composition.
Note that I omitted any highlights at this point. I used titanium white to paint the brightest areas of the heart and then added white to the lightest background color to create a transition to the heart’s darker grays. I made a point of painting the glass much lighter than it would be when finished.
Tip: Even though contrast is important when painting shiny objects, you probably won’t be able to get the lighest lights and darkest darks in the first layer of paint. Those values will need a bit of push and pop in a later layer.
Roughing in the kisses: Any shiny surface reflects the colors around it, and surfaces such as aluminum foil and silver, which don’t have an inherent color, act like mirrors. The foil on the kisses, though, is wrinkled, so the colors are fractured. The contrast between the lights and darks and the hard edges between them make the kisses look shiny.
The colors I used were mainly mixtures of viridian, alizarin crimson and white. With those three colors, I could make a gray-violet or various intensities of dulled viridian, which is a blue-green. I mixed a blue-gray with Payne’s gray and white. Another mixture I used was viridian and ivory black to create another gray-blue-green, much like the background and granite.
Tip: Each kiss is made up of lots of little shapes in various colors and values, and the patterns are quite random—almost like a little abstract painting. Thinking of them that way makes the painting process easier.
Adding cast reflections: At this point I painted the reflections mostly with my mixtures of viridian, ivory black and white because they were the same colors as those used in the granite. Usually I would put a glaze of the tabletop color over the cast reflections to really set those reflections into the table’s surface, but since the table and reflection colors I was using were the same, I didn’t need to do that. I didn’t add color to the heart’s reflection because I hadn’t yet colored the heart.
Tip: Cast reflections should be painted with the same colors and layered similarly as the objects throwing the reflections.
Attending to edge qualities of the kisses: I put in the larger light-, dark- and middle-value areas of the kisses first, paying close attention to the quality of the edges between each value area. Some edges were softly blended; some were made very hard, and others were painted with transitions somewhere between.
Tip: Usually high-value shines have very hard edges.
5. Refinement of Kisses and Early Reds
Refining the kisses: While the rough-in of the kisses was still wet and workable, I refined the texture by adding more lights and a few darks, softening some of the edges so that each foil-wrapped kiss read as a whole object rather than a collection of shapes.
Glazing the heart: When the opaque underpainting of the heart and its reflection was completely dry, I glazed the first layer of transparent color with perylene red mixed with Liquin. I wanted the warmth of this marvelous transparent red over the entire heart and reflection as it was the right color for the lightest areas and would add fire under the cooler reds that would come later in the darker areas.
6. Kiss Highlights, Red Glazes and Plumes
Highlighting the kisses: When the kisses were dry, I painted the lightest highlights using white as well as white mixed with some of my lightest-color mixtures. One of my favorite areas is the left side of the far right kiss—the light reflected from the kiss next to it shines beautifully. I left some edges hard, while others I softened a bit. I’d already painted most of the darkest darks, so I added only a few more.
Building the red glazes: On the heart and its reflection I glazed another layer of red, but this time I applied the perylene red on the edges only—the warmest part of the heart. For the interior, which is quite dark, I mixed alizarin crimson into the perylene red.
Painting the plumes: For the paper plumes (yes, I actually called the Hershey Company and found out that’s what those paper flags on the kisses are called), I used the same mixtures of viridian, alizarin crimson and white as I had used on the kisses.
Tip: Using mixtures of the same colors throughout your painting creates chromatic and compositional unity.
7. Lettering, Enriched Reds and Darkened Granite
Lettering the plumes: After carefully drawing in the letters on the plumes, I filled them in, using a No. 10/0 round brush (Loew Cornell) and paint that was thin enough to flow off the brush—but that wasn’t too watery.
For the light blue color I mixed turquoise blue, ultramarine blue and white. The middle values were mixtures of the two blues—the lighter midvalue with less ultramarine blue and the darker with more. The darkest blue was a mixture of the two blues and Payne’s gray.
Tip: The key to painting letters is starting with a good drawing. Also, press lightly on the brush; added pressure makes the line of paint wider.
Enriching the reds: On the heart I glazed an alizarin crimson layer using more paint and less Liquin in the center to make it darker. Over that I glazed a layer that was alizarin crimson at the edges and a mixture of alizarin crimson and viridian in the center. The next glaze was alizarin crimson around the edges and alizarin crimson and viridian in the center and other darker areas. Those darks were absolutely necessary to make the highlights shine.
I added reflections from the red glass heart onto two of the kisses. The color repetition created unity and interest.
Darkening the granite: With a glaze of ivory black and viridian, I darkened the front edge of the granite where it drops down. This contrast contributes to the brightness of the heart’s reflections.
8. Final Glazes, Reflection and Highlights
Finalizing the heart glazes: I glazed perylene red over the light, bright parts of the heart, and then I used a mixture of alizarin crimson and viridian to really darken the center of the heart, blending the light and dark areas for a smooth transition.
Adding the reflective area: For the reflection at the top of the heart, I applied one of the background mixtures very thinly so that it was a bit transparent, allowing the red to show through. I used a darker value of the background color for the reflection on the right side of the heart. Again, this was very thinly applied but without any Liquin.
Tip: Transparent glazes allow surface reflections to be a part of an object, not just stuck on them.
Highlighting the heart: I applied titanium white highlights without any medium so they’d be opaque and bright. Notice how they add life, sparkle and the illusion of glass.
Tip: To keep the highlights from looking like pasted-on spots, tickle their edges with a small brush so they blend into the highlighted object.
Shiny surfaces can seem intimidating, but if you construct them slowly, making sure the darks are in place and are applied darkly enough, then the illusion comes to life when you put on the highlights and reflections.
Jane Jones, the author of Classic Still Life Painting (Watson-Guptill), is a popular workshop teacher. Information about her workshops and DVDs can be found at www.janejonesartist.com.
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