Friday, February 10, 2012

Watercolor still life demonstration: "Shiny Little Creamer"

We just finished our second class in my course Still Life with a Difference.  Last time we painted a glass object (see posting Jan 27, 2012), and this time we painted a shiny silver object.  We are studying the surface characteristics of objects, i.e. what makes them look the way they do and how can we convey that in paint? 

For a transparent object like glass, which is usually also shiny:
  • Glass will pick up highlights and dark shapes from around the room, which will be reflected off the shiny surface.
  • Clean glass is very transparent and will show the colors behind it at almost the same value as they actually are
  • Thick glass will distort shapes as it acts like a lens; it is hard to understand where all the little shapes you see are coming from, but they add to the impression of thick glass.
  • Observe and draw the shapes you see in the glass and paint them accurately
For a shiny silver or gold object:
  • The object does have a certain base color, such as silver or gold, but otherwise acts like a mirror and reflects the colors and shapes around it
  • What makes something look shiny is that the value contrasts on it are much greater.  The highlights are pure white and some dark reflections may be pure black.  Paint a full range of value contrasts in a shiny object and you will get the illusion of shininess!
Here is a photo of the shiny silver object I painted as a demonstration.  It is a small cream pitcher with a small teaspoon.  The pitcher is on top of a piece of glass, which is on top of a gray mat board, with a coral-colored mat board propped up behind it.  The assignment is to paint a picture of a shiny silver object, either using your own photo, doing it from life, or using this photo that I provided.

Step 1:  The image was transferred onto a quarter sheet of stretched Arches 140 lb cold-pressed paper, using a piece of Saral graphite transfer paper.  The image area is about 9x10".

Step 2:  The pitcher and spoon were coated with Daler-Rowney masking fluid so that a smooth background could be painted behind them.

Step 3:  The entire sheet was wet with water, then a wash consisting of permanent rose mixed with Hansa yellow was applied starting from the top and allowed to gradate down the page forming a smooth background.  The sheet was thoroughly dried.

Step 4:  The sheet was gently wet again using a Robert Simmons Skyflow brush, then a mixture of cobalt blue medium and brown madder was applied as a smooth wash going in the opposite direction.  The board was tilted back and forth to even out the wash.  This is tricky and I did it twice to get it intense enough.  The paint was dried thoroughly.
Step 5:   The masking fluid was taken off, and then small spots were re-applied only on the highlights.

Step 6:  Using mostly the same colors, I began to paint in the medium-value areas.  I used bright Winsor red for some of the bright reflections.  Also I used a stencil brush to lift out some softer highlights, especially on the inside of the pitcher.

Step 7:  I put in some darker reflections using a little ultramarine blue to get dark enough.  I painted the shadows with a dark mixture of cobalt blue and brown madder.  I painted the pitcher's reflection with mostly cobalt blue.

Step 8: The painting is almost done.  I took off the masking fluid from the highlights, and as usual found that it left a too-hard edge.  So I softened those edges with a tiny stencil brush.  I also created a narrow brighter rim around the spout by carefully lifting with that tiny stencil brush and sometimes using a little drafting tape for form a narrow line.  I painted more dark reflections in the pitcher and the spoon, including a tiny reflection of the spoon itself in the pitcher.  I lifted up some highlights in the pitcher's reflection using a stencil brush and sometimes an "eraser shield" to get a harder edge.
 "Shiny Little Creamer"   image 9x9"    Susan Avis Murphy, AWS

Colors I used in this painting:  Winsor & Newton permanent rose, cobalt blue medium, ultramarine blue, Winsor red, neutral tint, and Da Vinci hansa yellow.

Self-critique:  I am fairly happy with this effort, but wish I had made the background colors a little more vivid.  I intend to add a hint of orange in the pitcher's reflections in the glass on the left side.  I will tweak the edges to make sure they are all pleasing.  What do you think?  Any suggestions for improvements or ways to do this differently?  How are you doing with your own painting?  Any questions?  Please share your comments on the blog!

The next posting will show some student results from last week's assignment.  We have some great results to share with you!!


  1. Hi Susan! Love your videos... any chance you could do this one as a demo and post on u-tube??? Would be a great lesson with Christmas coming!
    Thank you!

  2. Hi Kim-- Thanks for asking! It's an interesting idea for maybe sometime in the future, but I am inundated with work right now! --Sue