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Fantasy Art Tutorials in the FARP Section


Metal & Reflective Objects

By :-) Keith Trimm

   The key to painting metal, glass, or any reflective surface is understanding how light reflects off the surface. This may seem painfully obvious but let me assure you most artist do not pay attention to this and are disappointed when their work doesn't  look like they expected. If  you only get one thing from this article I hope you will remember that observation and study are the two most important parts of correctly rendering your piece.

   If you take  a chrome bumper into a red room it will reflect the red walls of the room. If there is a chair in the room it will reflect the chair also. The chair and the walls will follow the contours of the bumper and will abstract, stretching and squeezing like in a carnival house of mirrors. It is these objects bending and twisting along the contours of the reflecting object that creates the illusion of a surface in the chrome. Some artists seem to think that metal only reflects blue and gray, but most of these objects are only reflecting the sky and clouds around them. If you are in a cave or painting a some polished armor at night The reflections will be whatever color is around.

   Water is another surface which can send some artists to the nut house. The dynamics of light refection of a drip of water on a counter top can be very hard to comprehend but can be overcome with some study. Just look at a beer advertisement where water is dripping off the bottle and look at how the light reflects and refracts. In a drip you usually have 4 elements to work with. 1st water will darken the area it covers. 2nd it will lighten some of the surface it covers from refraction. 3rd  it will cast a shadow and 4th it will cast a bright highlight off the curved edge closest to the light source. I can only say it helps to drip some water on something and study it or photograph it then try to render it. It also help to see how other artists have done it and try to copy their style.

   Glass is very similar to water. It bends the light passing through it and reflects highlights bouncing off of it. It is very hard to tell someone with words how to paint reflective surfaces so I will give this one piece of advice which will improve your work tremendously. Spend as much time studying your object as you spend rendering it and your results will be much better. This goes for body study, landscapes or anything your are working with…use reference, photographs, models or life drawings.

   If you know someone with a motorbike with a lot of chrome, go outside and study it. If your drinking from a glass study it. If you see a painting of a glass vase study how that artist did it. I do all of these things and it has helped me greatly. You can't be a lazy artist and expect to be great.


FARP Article Guestbook

8 Aug 2002:-) K. Sliverbane Michael
"You can't be a lazy artist and expect to be great!"

THANK YOU! I've been having an conflict with a fellow artist friend of mine. She and I have two different ways of approaching our talents. I learned early on to observe the world around me, get as many references and examples as I can to master various techniques and effects. She has a habit of just doing with out knowing why and how and sometimes it leaves her work lacking. I ask her 'Tell me why does that cloth folds that way' - 'or have you even thought about how the human skeletons range of motion' Anyhow - what I'm getting at is. It's a comfort to know I'm not the only one who feels that a lazy artist - is a incomplete artist.
10 Jan 2004:-) Kristen Unger
Dude, you are the best! I was hoping for someone to right this so i could come across it. I will really help me! THX!
24 Jan 200545 Anonymous
I thought that this was very helpful it is hard to explain this but you are right simply go through it head on with diligence and pressing forth.
3 Jul 200545 Anon (Not to be confused with some of the others
I agree with the article. Also, might I add, that less reflective (IE dull, matt metal)reflests less depth of colour in the reflections. It will tend to be less detailed and more of a middle colour. Whereas shiny chrome will reflect almost exaxtly and with great clarity the colours around it. It's hard to describe, though.
1 Oct 200645 Anonymous
good. no, AWESOME! you just taught me how to draw the metal dragon im working on.
18 Oct 200645 Ilena G.
This is a nice concise summary, it helped me a great deal in bringing together all the ideas I had in my head. I might just add that different metals and materials reflect different ranges of colour. For instance gold does not reflect purple in the highlights. It's very useful to observe and remember these in order to paint different metals convincingly.
9 Nov 200745 Babay Care
Um the article made alot of sense um im not much a painter but your article is alot of help to a person like me... anyone actually.
8 Dec 200745 Anonymous
Hey There...was going along just fine with my floral with glass vase still life, when I realized I didn't know how to do glass. Came to your site and found this. Thanks, it has really helped. Study, study, study.
6 Sep 200945 Bry
Hey, I’m about to start my final year of GCSE art, I’ve chosen to study the media of reflective surfaces. I was having a bit of trouble with finding some artists who specialized in this kind of subject. (Other than MC Escher, i was looking for someone a bit different). If anyone could help me out a little bit I’d be very grateful!
27 Jan 201345 Anon.
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