How to paint glass & reflections with acrylics Part 3 of 3

by Will Kemp

in acrylic painting


In Part 1 we looked at how to master the basic features of your digital camera, so you can emulate how your eyes see things in nature to give you fantastic reference photographs for your still life painting.

In Part 2 we saw how small incremental changes in your composition and lighting can instantly create a more dramatic and pleasing image for a painting.

So for Part 3, we’re on to the painting…

A step-by-step acrylic painting of a glass of water

The image below is going to be my reference photo to work from for this tutorial. It can be ‘right clicked’ and ‘Save image as’, so you can use it as a guide.


Here’s my pencil drawing you can also work from:


Materials you will need for this tutorial:

  • 30 cm x 30 cm pre-primed white canvas.
  • Size 6 Black Hog Oil brush from Jackson Arts – filbert
  • Size 5 Kolinsky sable from Rosemary & co – round – (any small round will be fine)


  • Artist quality Titanium white  – Invest in this white even if you use student quality paint for the rest of the colours.
  • Burnt umber
  • Mars black or Ivory black
  • Yellow ochre
  • 3B pencil
  • Kitchen roll
  • Cranked handle palette knife
  • Jam jar for cleaning brush.
  • Small dipper for diluting paint

1. Draw out the image


Using a 3B clutch pencil, I draw out the main shapes and lines paying special attention to the shape of the ellipses in the water, make sure the edges of the ellipses have a slight curve to them.

Spend some time checking the shapes before you begin the painting. Because it is quite a monochrome study, we’re going to be relying on the drawing to help us create the illusion of realism.

Also notice for this particular painting, I haven’t used a coloured ground, I’m just painting straight onto the white canvas.


There are some odd occasions when if the subject matter you want to paint is very light in tone, you can use the white of your canvas to your advantage. Having the brilliant white underneath adds an underlying glow to the piece and a luminosity to the water.

2. Establish the warm undertones


Just using Burnt umber, I wash in any areas in the picture where I can see a slight warm glow. There isn’t very much in this particular painting but it just helps to add a slight glow for when we add in the darker tones in the next stage. I’m using a round synthetic brush, dipped in water so it is quite a watery wash.

3. Establish the darkest darks


I now put out some Mars Black and using the hog filbert, start blocking in the darker tones to the painting. Using thicker paint than the previous application because I know I really want these areas to be dark and don’t want any of the white of the canvas shining through.

4. Mix a colour string with your palette knife


I now mix a colour string using Titanium white and the Mars black. I’m looking for small incremental jumps in tone, that aren’t too big but can still enable me to see a slight difference on the canvas. If you’re just starting painting, working with a stay-wet palette can help to keep the colour strings wet when you first mix them making your painting quicker after you’ve made the initial mixes. You can read more about colour strings here.


The colour string continues right down to nearly white. I don’t go to completely white, but am aiming for the lightest tone to match the brightest areas in the photograph, which in this case is the area in the middle of the glass and on the surrounding tabletop.

5. Painting the mid-tones


Now with the whole string of colours ready, you can paint quite quickly working between the tones and scrubbing in the greys. I’m keeping the paint at a reasonable thickness to cover over the white and to give me enough paint so I can mix it with the other tones whilst they’re still wet.

paintingdetailswithacrylics I then swap to the smaller round brush painting in any of the grey tones in the detail at the bottom of the glass. Notice how there are still elements of the warmth from the Burnt umber showing through.

6. Introducing Yellow ochre


Using a mix of Yellow ochre and a touch of Titanium white, I scrub in some of this yellow tone into the background. I’m not going to paint the green as bright as in the photograph, as for this study I want to keep it quite tonal and monochrome.

7. A more muted mix


I make a more muted mix using the Yellow ochre, Titanium white and a touch of the black.

This very muted dull green will balance with the painting, yet give a bit of background colour to isolate the clear glass from the background.

Then I can start to use the smaller round brush to paint the spaces either side of the fine rim of the glass. This way by painting up to the rim it’s easier to create a smooth, clean ellipse shape. This superfine line will help to add refinement to the painting, even though a lot of the earlier painting is quite gestural.

Having this mix between fine lines and painterly brush marks really makes this style of painting work.

If we were to paint just using fine lines, you can run the risk that your paintings become too graphic and have an unnatural crispness to their finish.

8. Finishing touches


I now add some final white highlights just using Titanium white, also adding small subtle hints of the green/grey tone onto the very bottom of the glass.

This helps to subtly bring the background tones together with the rest of the piece.


This painting is quite straightforward and simple, but painted this way really gives you an effective painting of glass and water.

The results are realistic, without getting too hung up on the details within the piece, I really hope you’ve enjoyed the series tackling a perceived tricky subject of reflections and water.

Coming soon…


 Detail taken from Reflection, Oranges – Still life Masterclass, Will Kemp, Acrylic on board

If you want to take your still life paintings further and learn how to paint more complex reflective surfaces (and discover how simple they can be) I will be releasing my new Still life Masterclass Course later this week, look out for the Introductory 50% offer for Art School readers.


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