Where Do You Put the Sparkle?

Where Do You Put the Sparkle?

Today’s reader wants to know something very basic: Where do you put the sparkle accents in a colored pencil piece? Here’s her question.

How would one determine where to add a sparkle highlight with titanium white to something like a very shiny glass ornament? I have seen some artists literally do a tiny asterisk shaped white star mark on the brightest, shiniest areas…. like on a marble etc., and it looks amazing and makes the piece really pop!


Thank you for your question, Gail. I’ve seen those kinds of highlights, too, and you’re right. They can be stunning.

How to Decide Where to Put the Sparkle

How to Decide Where to Put the Sparkle

In general, the kind of bright white sparkles Gail is asking about appear where the light strikes the subject most directly. So the first thing to look for the light source. Any sparkly highlights will be on the part of the surface that faces the light source.

If the subject is curved or round like a marble or bowl, then the sparkle appears in a very small area—the part of the curved surface that catches the light most directly.

If the subject is flat like a window pane, there’s less chance of sparkles on it. However, if you position yourself at the right angle to the window pane, the entire window becomes a sparkle. If you’ve ever traveled through a large city with glass-walled buildings, you’ve no doubt experienced this affect. That flash of light that nearly blinds you. That’s one huge sparkle!

Water shows a lot of sparkles unless the surface is quiet. When the water is so still that it’s like a mirror, then it behaves like that pane of glass. No sparkles until you get at the right angle, then one magnificent blinding flash.

So look for the light source, then locate the part of your subject facing the light source or catching the light most directly. That’s where to put the sparkle.

Two Examples

Take a look at this photo. Good places to add sparkle are the places that show bright white highlights in the photo. The bright white highlights are the highlights that either look a bit fuzzy or look kind of like stars. I see four.

However, only two of them are direct reflections of the light source. The sparkle at the upper left corner and the sparkle on the upper curve of the headlight are from the sun.

The other two are reflections of the first two sparkles. They look just as bright, but they are just a little dimmer than the main sparkles. They’re also smaller.

Ideally, you’d choose one or two near the center of interest and emphasize those. I’d probably emphasize the highlight on the upper right of the light, and maybe, to a lesser degree, the one on the fender below the light.

Here’s the reference photo for a horse portrait I did a couple of years ago. I’ve marked two of the places I chose to add sparkles.

How to Decide Where to Put the Sparkle

This illustration shows a detail of that area, with the sparkles drawn. I added the white highlights first because they give me a clear idea of the light source. That makes it easier to place shadows and middle values, but you can also add the highlights later.

How to Decide Where to Put the Sparkle

I used pencils to draw these star shapes, but you can easily get the same result with Titanium White. The advantage of using Titanium White is that you can shade color over it if you don’t like the brightness. It’s more difficult to shade color over white colored pencil, especially if you burnished those highlights into place.

Artists in Other Mediums to Take a Look At

You can learn a lot about basic methods like adding bright white highlights by watching artists who work in other mediums. Let me suggest two.

Andrew Tischler is an oil painter in New Zealand and he paints the most fantastic landscapes. He does a lot of sparkles on water. Take a few minutes to look through his gallery and pay special attention to the landscapes with water. You’ll see lots of sparkling water.

He also has a YouTube channel with videos featuring many of those paintings. The video I recommend is How to paint ROCKS in OILS – Landscape Painting Detail Techniques! It includes water and will be a great help to anyone who wants to learn more about adding sparkle.

Another artist I recommend is Yushkevich Viktor Nikolaevich. He is a Russian landscape artist who works in acrylic to create stunning landscapes.

He uses “star-shaped” white or nearly white accents on water. The video titled Playing the Sun is the first one I watched and is a great example of his “sparkling water” technique, but you can see the same thing in any of the videos that feature moving water.

While you can’t do exactly the same thing with colored pencils that these artists do with wet mediums, Titanium White would be the perfect tool to use for sparkles

I Hope That Helps You Decide Where to Put the Sparkle

Seeing how other artists do it is great for getting started, but the best advice is to pay close attention to your reference photo, and to practice. The more you do things like this, the more natural it will become.

Thank you, Gail, for such a great question!

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