Painting a Reflective Surface (Sans a Nervous Breakdown)




Have you ever looked at a reflective surface or object you needed to paint and felt your brain cells do a panicked dance in your head? Or is that just me? Well for those of us who feel like throwing in the brush when it comes to reflective surfaces, Bryan Mark Taylor gives some excellent tips for tackling the iridescent impossible.


How you set up and light your objects is key.


Painting a reflective object is challenging to start with so don’t complicate it by lighting it in a complicated way. Choose direct, single-source lighting, such as a lightbox or a desk lamp. Look at the shapes made by the reflections and colors on your object and arrange them so they make an interesting composition. If your reference material isn’t interesting, chances are your painting won’t be.



Look for the contrast between warm and cool colors and push those differences.


This is painting concepts 101 but it is especially key to creating the illusion of a high gloss surface. Remember that if your lights are cool your shadows will be warm and vice versa. Pull out those cadmium oranges or cerulean blues and don’t be afraid to bump up the chroma. Now, you don’t necessarily want to just paint the entire piece with straight-out-of-the-tube color, but don’t be afraid to lay down some thick pieces of intense color, especially in areas where you are transitioning between light and dark colors.


Don’t be afraid to push the images in the reflections.


If you haven’t caught on yet, painting a reflective object is all about the drama. One of the ways you can push that drama is by looking for opportunities to sharpen and emphasize the reflection of another object on a surface. In this particular video, Bryan does this by creating a clearer reflection of the TWIX bag on the gray surface. The surface may not have been very reflective in the reference image, but by making that reflection stronger in the painting, Bryan aids the illusion of shiny surfaces.


Highlights should be chunky.


When it comes time to pop in the brightest of the bright highlights, load up your brush with paint and lay them down thick. Wishy-Washy highlights aren’t welcome at the reflective surface party. Only the paint that is absolutely unashamed to be what it is (that is, a glob of oil paint) meets that vibe check.


The moral of that story is this: pull out your favorite brushes, put on music that makes you sparkle, and go tackle that reflective surface because I promise, it’s not as scary as you think. You are more capable than you think.


Bryan Mark Taylor has won multiple awards in national and international shows including 2nd place in the 2018 ARC Salon. His work has been shown in museums across the world. He has been featured in Fine Art Connoisseur, Plein Air, Southwest Art, American Art Collector, Imagine FX, and American Artist Workshop magazines with regularity. Bryan has taught courses around the country, including the Academy of Art University, Pixar, and the Scottsdale Artists School and is the designer of the premier outdoor painting system STRADA Easel.


To learn more from Bryan Mark Taylor view his Sentient Still Life Courses, or sign up to join his Vision X 22 presentation.











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