A Step-by-Step Video Tutorial
Morning class! This week we’re going to learn how to capture the brilliant qualities of reflections in copper, using acrylic paint.
I absolutely love how vibrant this copper pan is surrounded by the dark range. Notice how, even though the background is a dark subject, there is still a lighter tone on either side of the pan to bring it forward.
Copper makes a great subject, allowing us to work with a complementary colour palette of orange and inky blue, deep blacks and vibrant colour glazes.
So let’s get started…
Downloading the reference photograph
There’s a downloadable reference image and drawing guide that you can work along from at home.
The photo below can be ‘right clicked’ and ‘Save image as’, so you can print it out and use it as a reference image alongside the video.
You can also download a High Resolution 20 x 25cm Reference Image here (opens in new tab)
Downloading the Drawing Guidelines Reference
You can also download a High-Resolution Guideline for Printing here (opens in new tab)
Materials you will need:
- 1.5-inch Purdy decorators brush – XL Monarch Elite
- Filbert – Isabey Isacryl Acrylic Brush, Filbert shape, Size 6 – Series 6572
- Round – Rosemary & Co – Small Round Golden Synthetic Brush , Size 4 – Series 344
- Long Flat – Rosemary & Co – Evergreen Long Flat, Size 4
- RGM Classic Line, Medium size 45, Diamond-shaped, cranked (angled) handle. I use an RGM 45 for mixing the paint.
- I demonstrate on a 10 oz cotton duck canvas, 19mm Profile, 20 x 25 cm (about 8 x 10 inch) that’s had 2 coats of white acrylic gesso applied by the manufacturer.
- Kitchen roll/paper towel
- Clean water
- Tear-off palette or stay-wet palette (In this tutorial I demonstrate on an A3 size white tear-off palette)
Paints – The Colour Palette
- Pale Umber (Winsor & Newton – Galeria)
- Titanium White (Golden)
- Carbon Black (Golden)
- Burnt Umber (Golden)
- Cadmium Yellow Light (Golden)
- Cadmium Orange (Golden)
- Burnt Sienna (Winsor & Newton)
- Phthalo Blue (Red Shade)
- Permanent Alizarin Crimson (Winsor & Newton)
Acrylic Glazing Liquid (Gloss) Golden Paints. This will extend the working time of the paint and enable thin applications of the paint with smooth smokey blending. What I like about Glazing Liquid Gloss as a medium, is you can use it in any ratio with your paint and it still brushes well and remains a nice paint film integrity.
Step 1. – Choosing a Coloured Ground
Using a warm neutral ground colour gives a good base for the oranges of the copper pan and also acts as a highlight colour for the reflected light on the front of the range.
I’m using a pre-mixed student grade acrylic from Winsor & Newton Galeria range, called Pale Umber.
It doesn’t need much water to dilute it as the paint comes in a softer body straight from the tube.
If you haven’t got a Pale Umber, you can mix a similar colour using the same pigments found in the Galeria pre-mixed tube:
- Titanium White – PW6
- Yellow Iron Oxide – PY42
- Red Iron Oxide – PR101
- Mars Black – PBk11
Decanting the Galeria paint due to the paint having a softer, more liquid consistency than the heavy body.
I then transfer the paint to the canvas using a size 45 angled palette knife from RGM. Using a palette knife can be a good way to initially move the paint around the canvas before swapping to a brush for smoothing out.
Pro tip: I would usually paint coloured grounds on a flat table surface, but to illustrate the technique during the tutorial, I demonstrate working on a vertical.
Step 2. Painting the Coloured Ground
Smoothing out the paint texture using a 1.5 inch Purdy Monarch XL Elite brush.
I’ve dipped the brush into a touch of water and work over the canvas in both directions. I take off most of the paint using the edge of the palette knife so it only just covers the surface. I’m taking care not to build up this layer too thickly as I want the next layer to ‘grab on’.
Step 3. Drawing out Guidelines
Having a guide for your drawings can really help to create space around the main subject and keep your composition in check.
One of the most common mistakes when drawing out a still life subject is to make the main subject too big. The guidelines give you an outside edge to work to. (See: Are You Making Any of These 7 Compositional Mistakes with Your Still life Paintings?)
Measuring the ratios around the metal pan gives us breathing room for the object to sit into.
Step 4. Drawing Freehand
When you’re drawing out the copper pan it will feel small – too small, even when you’ve measured it out from the guidelines, but stick with it. Once the pan has got colour and form everything will feel in scale.
When you’ve got the guidelines down, you can finish the rest of the drawing freehand. I’m using a 3B Mars Lumograph pencil and sketching in the shadow shapes, indicating the slight curve at the edge of the pan.
Step 5. Painting the Negative
I start the painting using Carbon Black heavy body paint, diluted with water. Ivory Black or Mars Black would also work fine. I use the paint straight from the tube in the very darkest areas of the painting and then lift the pressure off the brush and dilute with water to give a charcoal-like-grey for the mid-tones.
I’m thinking in black and white at this stage, looking for the shape of the pan to appear by painting the negative space around it. You can see a similar drawing technique used in this urban sketch tutorial of a bike, where the background goes in first to establish the drawing position of the main object.
Scrubbing in the tones in the background, thinking how the tones would work in a charcoal drawing first.
Step 6. Adding Dark Accents
I then swap to a small round brush to paint in a fine line at the base of the pan and refine the corners.
Tonal block-in of the background using Carbon Black on a Pale Umber ground
Step 7. Blocking in the Copper Pan
I want to establish the contrast between the warm colours in the pan and the cool colours in the background so I swap to a Burnt Umber and block-in a thin layer to give a warm base for the subsequent layers.
Step 8. Adding Blue
I now introduce a Phthalo Blue (Red Shade) and mix a little with the Carbon Black to create a blue-black. By mixing in Titanium White I create a 4 step tonal colour string to use in the blue areas of the background.
I work down the colour string, going progressively lighter towards the base of the copper pan.
Step 9. Introducing an Orange Glaze
Using a glazing medium allows you to work longer with the paints in thinner layers, especially when working upright at the easel. I’m using Acrylic Glazing Liquid (Gloss) from Golden paints.
I add a flat orange glaze using a Burnt Sienna from Winsor & Newton, this has a lovely vibrant undertone to build a warm base for the copper pan. I’m now using a synthetic long flat brush, a Size 4 Evergreen from Rosemary & Co.
The first glaze is thin and even, using Acrylic Glazing Liquid
Step 10. Adding our Lightest Light
Adding white to the Burnt Sienna pigment mix gives us a more opaque application of colour.
I can then paint some pure Titanium White at the top of the reflection to push the tonal range in the painting and give us the brightest tones to judge our next mixes against.
Step 11. Looking for a Dark Pattern
I mix a muted brown using the Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna to paint in the darker shapes of the reflective surface. Emphasising the dark lines within the reflection makes the lighter areas appear to shine brighter.
Step 12. Introducing Brighter Pigments
For the final stages, I really want to push the chroma (saturation) of the colours, so lay out Cadmium Yellow Light and Cadmium Orange onto the palette.
A touch of Cadmium Orange to bring a vibrancy to the reflections
Step 13. A Warming Glaze
Working with some Permanent Alizarin Crimson I can reinforce the warm red colours on the shadow side of the copper pan
Step 14. Final Blue Glaze
To finish the background I add a thin blue glaze to bring up the intensity of the colour next to the copper.
The finished painting.
I really hope you enjoy the tutorial and have a look at some previous student success stories with this lesson.