Tuesday, 14 February 2012

How do I Paint Silver Objects without it Looking Like Lead?

A painting featuring silverware may lack the lustre of actual silver. Silver heirlooms look like costume jewellery; a silver shield resembles a plastic toy. How can the artist capture the true essence of silver in oil paint?

Mistakes in Painting Silver, Platinum and Aluminum Objects

How to Paint Silver Objects
Before making improvements to still life featuring silverware, practices at fault must be identified which also applies to painting other pale metals, such as aluminum or platinum:

  • Using a tube of premixed grey for all the silverware, such as Paynes Grey or Davy’s grey, resulting in a lead effect rather than the brilliance of silver.
  • Mixing black and white for the greys featured in the silver objects.
  • Darkening colours within the silverware with black.
  • Illustrating the silver objects as having flat areas without subtle tonal shifts.
  • Insensitivity to colour temperatures within neutrals, resulting in a painting that lacks depth.
  • Perceiving highlights in silverware as white shapes, resulting in the appearance of white bits of paper stuck on the objects.
  • Using silver metallic paint designed for gilding for the oil painting in the hope it will emulate the lustre of silver or a similar shiny metal.
The problem with the last point is that the silver metallic paint will appear a dull grey if the painting is positioned where no reflections occur.

Art Techniques for Painting Silver

Differentiating between silver and grey is a common pitfall when it comes to painting silver objects. Both silver and grey do indeed contain similar colours, as both contain greys and monotones. The difference lies in the colour mixes used for the neutrals and the tonal contrasts.

What Colour is Silver?

In order to capture silver effects in oil paint, the artist must look for other colours other than grey within. This means looking for colour temperatures in neutrals, as some will be warmer than others. This is why I never use just black and white or a pre-mixed grey pigment to express silver objects. In fact, silver can contain definite hues, including violets, crimsons and earth colours. As a guide, the following colour mixtures can be used to render silver objects in a still life. Listed from the largest by proportion first:
  • Warm highlights: white, a little burnt sienna and ultramarine.
  • Cool highlights: white and a little pthalo blue.
  • Warm neutrals: ultramarine, white and a little burnt sienna.
  • Cool neutrals: white, pthalo blue and a little burnt umber.
  • Warm darks: burnt sienna and ultramarine. Permanent rose can be introduced for depth.
  • Cool darks: pthalo blue and burnt umber.
Art Techniques to for Painting Silver Jewellery and Ornaments

To capture smooth metallic effects in silver objects such as tankards and dishes, apply the oil paint via a soft sable and brush out tonal and chromatic divisions. Glazing is a great technique for achieving a high finish. Apply the first layer of paint opaquely, aiming for reasonable accuracy in the silver object(s) depicted. Don’t worry if imperfections remain but smooth out brushmarks. Once this first layer of paint is dry, apply another layer of paint as a translucent layer with the aim of perfecting the first layer, smoothing out tonal gradations and adding depth to colours. If necessary, apply a third glaze once this second layer is dry.

Glazing is great for attaining sharply defined edges to reflections and highlights. But you can also use impasto effects on the highlights to add punch to the appearance of the silver object.

Painting Technique for Detail in Silver Jewellery

Intricate detail which is often apparent in silver artifacts such as jewellery or embossed surfaces can be emulated by applying a base colour beneath the detailed area. This base colour should be a ‘mean’ colour which might be a pale neutral or blue-grey. Once this area is dry, ‘illustrate’ the detail on top, beginning with the highlights to prevent colour contamination from a neighbouring dark colour. Work into the mid-tones with a progressively darker colour mix. Finish off with the dark areas. Use a fine sable throughout. Remember to keep looking for colour temperatures within neutrals, some of which might contain a little violet, others, blue. Reflections from neighbouring bright objects will provide focal points to compete with highlights.

How to Paint Silver Objects

Capturing the lustre of silver in oil paint means looking not only for bright highlights, but also subtle hues within neutrals, some of which will be warmer than others. This means putting away premixed grey tubes of paint and black. I used ultramarine, burnt sienna, burnt umber and pthalo blue, as well as white. Glazing is great for achieving a high finish for smooth metallic effects, although impasto techniques can be used for bright highlights and bright reflections.

Painting Techniques for Still Life Art

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How do I Make Gold Look like Gold with Oil Paint?

The artist trying to convey metallic effects with oil paint may be disappointed if brass ornaments or gold jewellery resembles dollops of mustard in the still life painting. How can the artist get gold effects in painting?

Problems with Painting Gold Jewellery

How to Paint Gold
A still life setting featuring gold objects such as jewellery may appear tarnished or plastic-like due to misconceptions about the colour gold, causing the artist to use a lot of yellow, orange or ochres. Such idealistic concepts about the colour gold may be indicative by the following notions and practices.
  • Having the subconscious idea that all gold is basically yellow, yellow-orange or ochre.
  • Reaching for any yellow pigment at hand for mixing gold colours.
  • Darkening yellow with black or dark brown to achieve dark tones in gold.
  • Mixing white with yellow to represent highlights in gold.
  • Giving sharp outlines to gold objects with the aim of making them stand out, resulting in a cutout appearance.
  • Using bright colours throughout the gold object such as yellows, oranges and ochres with the aim of conveying brilliance.
  • Going overboard with white highlights to imply sheen.
  • Applying gold metallic paint designed for gilt onto the gold objects in the still life.
Oil Painting Techniques for Gold

In order to make gold look authentic, the artist must forget about gold’s ‘local’ colour (yellow-brown), and instead think about how gold actually looks. A bright-coloured object does not necessary exclusively comprise bright colours. In fact, the secret to recreating the brilliance of gold lies in juxtaposing bright colours against sombre hues. Gold can contain such dour colours as dark green, dark grey or midnight blue.

Try not to get visually railroaded by bright colours, particularly yellow. Seek out neutrals and sombre colours within the gold objects. Highlights in gold seldom contain yellow, but cool pales such as powder-blue, eggshell or light grey. Only the smallest amounts of neat white (or yellow, if it can be perceived) are often needed to illustrate highlights in gold.

Look for opposing colours in the gold object; in the case of yellow or orange this will be any colour in the blue spectrum; violet, azure or indigo. Similarly, look for cool neutrals.

Look for unlikely colours in the gold object. I have often seen olive green, mauve and indigo in gold objects. Under certain lighting conditions, gold objects may exhibit no yellow, orange or ochre whatsoever. Believe what the eye sees as opposed to reaching for yellow, orange or ochre by automation.

Mixing Gold Colours in Oils

Prior to embarking upon a painting featuring bright objects such as gold, apply a neutral-coloured underglaze onto the art surface. Applying a bright or light colour straight onto a white art surface will make the colour appear darker than it actually is.

Before applying the bright colours or highlights, look for sombre colours in gold. This means neutrals, greys blue-greys and blue-greens. Similarly, look for cool colours within the highlights.

Look for definite hues in darks, such as blues and violets. Don’t darken the colour of gold by a mixture of yellow/orange and black, as this will result in dirty colours.

Don’t overdo it with bright colours, for yellows, oranges and ochres will often exhibit a modest ratio of the gold object. Even the smallest flecks of bright colours and highlights will provide great focal points for the gold object.

Apply the highlights and the brightest colours last. I will apply the paint thickly in these areas to make the highlights stand out from the art surface.

What Colour is Gold?

The following colour mixtures are ideal for capturing gold jewellery, ornaments or artifacts, although other colours can be seen. Remember to keep looking.
  • Warm highlights: white with a dab of burnt sienna. A smidgen of cadmium yellow can be added if a yellowish hue is apparent.
  • Cool highlights: white with a dab of ultramarine and burnt umber.
  • Warm mid-tones: burnt sienna, a little cadmium red and white.
  • Cool mid-tones: burnt umber, a little ultramarine and white.
  • Warm darks: burnt sienna and ultramarine. A little cadmium yellow can be added for an additional yellow cast.
  • Cool darks: Burnt umber and ultramarine. For extra depth, a little pthalo blue and permanent rose can be added.
Art Techniques for Painting Gold

Glazing is an ideal art technique for achieving smooth, metallic effects in oil paint. Glazing entails applying a thin, translucent layer of oil paint and working on top once the glaze is dry. Soft sable brushes and any oil medium, such as linseed oil or Liquin can be used to thin the paint into glazes. Once mixed into a translucent consistency, apply the paint for an effect like tinted glass.

Strategic use of impasto can also be used to make highlights stand out literally from the art surface. I do this by applying white neat from the tube.

Working dark to light will increase visual awareness of tones and bright colours found in gold. Sketch the composition via chalk onto a black art surface which has been overlaid with black acrylic paint (or a very dark colour). Apply the dark tones first off, working to the mid-tones, then to the light tones and finally the highlights.

How to Paint Gold Objects in Oils

Rendering gold objects convincingly entails discarding preconceived notions that gold contains lots of yellow and plenty of highlights. Using gold paint will only give a dirty yellow appearance if there are not reflections. Gold in fact can contain lots of sombre hues, even in highlights, which can be blues, greys, ochres and violets. Use bright colours sparingly and don’t overdo the highlights. Dong so will only make the gold object look more like costume jewellery. The secret is to pay extra notice to neutrals and sombre hues before the bright colours and highlights.

Tips on Oil Painting Techniques

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My silver objects look like lead
Why are my colour mixes dirty?
All about oil painting mediums
Glechniques in oils
Demonstration on painting toys