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Want to know the secret to painting realistic chrome? Hint: It’s less about the metal and more about what’s reflected in it.
Below, Kathleen E. Dworak shares her expert insight and even shares a quick step-by-step demonstration so you can master how to paint lifelike chrome in watermedia, too. Enjoy!
Ticket to Ride
You never know where or when inspiration will strike. Case in point: I took a workshop at which I learned how to paint flowers and crystal. The instructor demonstrated how glass is transparent and allows light through, but crystal refracts the light as it passes through. Chrome, on the other hand, is opaque and completely reflects its environment.
When I got home, I told my husband what I’d learned, and he asked if I’d paint his beloved motorcycle. I took a lot of photos of the bike, painted it and entered the work into local art shows. The awards and positive feedback steered me in a new direction — and I was ready for the ride.
Above is my latest motorcycle painting. After seeing this lineup of bikes at a dealership, I immediately took some photos. I especially liked the reflections in the mirrors.
I used frisket on the white reflections and on the black artwork on the red tank. Although I rarely use frisket, in this case it was necessary to achieve the effects I wanted.
The watercolor painting, American Chrome, is based on a visit to a San Francisco Harley-Davidson dealership on a sunny day. This work received its name because of its red, white and blue color scheme. I created a really dark background to call more attention to the headlights.
Making Chrome Shine, Step-by-Step
Ready to take chrome for a spin in your own watercolor painting? Read on to learn how I created the chrome effects in Study in Chrome and Vermilion. Enjoy!
Step 1: Transferring the Image
I spent several weeks evaluating my photo reference and creating the motorcycle drawing. Because I was painting machinery, it was especially important that it be rendered accurately.
Once I was completely satisfied with the drawing, I transferred it onto a sheet of watercolor paper (1b). I paint exclusively on Winsor Newton 140-lb. cold-pressed paper, which provides a vivid white base, allowing reflections to stand out.
The reflections are actually the brightness of the unpainted sections of the paper. After I transferred the image, I then put down the lightest values.
Step 2: Color Me Fancy
With more color added, the painting slowly began to take shape. I added some darks, which helped to anchor the composition. This ensured that achieving the other values accurately would be much easier.
I liked the fancy wheel spokes, so I added in a few of those reflections. They were purely chrome; no other color was reflected in the metal. (Note: Any colors on the spokes are purely a reflection from the surrounding environment.)
Step 3: The Pop Off
I wanted a deep background to make the motorcycle “pop” off the paper. Once I painted the dark background behind it, I saw that all the time I’d spent getting the angles on the handlebars just right was worth the trouble. At this point, I could see the chrome emerge.
I glazed the grays, let them dry and then put down more layers until I had achieved the desired value.
Step 4: Fiery Details
I continued layering color and following my detailed drawing. The gold color is yellow ochre; vermilion was the perfect color for the flame.
The Final Painting
The metal in Study in Chrome and Vermilion looks three-dimensional as intended. And, the deep background helps the chrome — and the motorcycle — stand out.
How would you apply chrome to your next painting? Tell us in the comments!
And, be sure to subscribe to Watercolor Artist magazine for more watermedia instruction, tips and inspiration!