3 Tips for Drawing Reflective Objects

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive concerns drawing reflective objects. Water. Glass, Chrome. Metal. Eyes. So today, I want to share three tips to help you draw reflections of all kinds.

3 Tips for Drawing Reflective Objects

No matter what you draw, if you want to create an accurate likeness, you MUST be able to accurately see the object and re-create what you see. Shape, mass, value, and color are all important aspects of this process.

But you also need to be aware of the object’s surface texture. You don’t draw a long-haired cat the same way you draw a stone or water or metal. The surface texture always affects the way light appears on your subject. It should also affect the way you draw each type of surface.

One of the more difficult surfaces to get right is a reflective surface.

3 Tips for Drawing Reflective Objects

No matter what type of reflective object you want to draw, it’s important to remember three basic principles.

  1. Reflective objects reveal what is around them
  2. Edges between colors and values are usually crisp
  3. Draw the colors that appear in the object, not necessarily the color of the object itself.

Let’s take a closer look as each of these.

Reflective objects reveal what is around them.

No matter what medium you use, whenever you draw a reflective surface, it’s important to remember that you’re also drawing whatever happens to be around the reflective object.

Take a look at this headlamp. It’s pretty evenly divided into two sections. The lower half is dark, the upper half is bright.

Drawing Reflective Objects Classic Headlamp

The lower surface of the headlamp reflects the fender beneath it. The fender is dark, so the reflection on the headlamp is also dark. It also shows the same color.

The upper portion of the headlamp also reflects its environment. But instead of reflecting one thing, it shows many. The sky and clouds. A building or two. A narrow sliver of street.

Look at the narrow end of the lamp and the chrome trim around the front of the car. The lamp reflects the chrome trim and what appears in it. The chrome trim reflects the lamp and its reflections.

If you had a large enough image, you could see reflections of reflections of reflections ad infinitum. That’s one of the things that makes drawing or painting reflections so difficult!

The more complex the subject, the more complex the reflections. So pay close attention to the colors, values, and shapes in your object.

Automotive Chrome

Edges are usually crisp

Another thing to keep in mind when drawing reflective objects is that the edges of the highlights are usually sharp and well-defined.

In the illustration above, the direct highlights are small points of light. They’re actually reflections of the sun. The cleaner and smoother the reflective surface, the sharper the edges on the highlights.

Shadows may also have sharp edges, especially if they’re also part reflection.

The smoother the reflective surface, the sharper those edges appear. Even the edges between middle values and dark values are crisp and clean.

Don’t draw the color of the reflective surface; draw the colors around it.

Finally, remember that the best way to draw silver is by drawing the colors that appear in it. In both of the previous illustrations in this article, the automotive chrome is silver—your eye and your mind tell you the chrome is silver—but if you really look at them, you’ll see they’re actually blue, white, and whatever other colors appear in the environment around them.

The same is true if you’re drawing a red, shiny ball or water. Your drawing looks best when you pay attention to the colors that appear in or on the object. The water in this image looks like water even though most of it is various browns and yellows.

It’s even possible to draw a scene without actually drawing the scene. How? By drawing it as it appears in reflections!

The Key to Drawing Reflective Surfaces

The key to accurately drawing reflective surfaces is treating them more like abstract images.

Let the shapes of light, reflection, and color do the work and you’ll have a much more realistic drawing than if you try to draw what you think the object should look like.

Further Reading

For other factors to consider, read  4 Rules to Drawing Reflective Objects on EmptyEasel here.

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