Things You Can Learn from Painting Metal


oil on canvas, painted alla prima directly from life, 16x20 in.

Painting metal is a great practice exercise for:

  • Learning to see values – the complex reflections are only believable if you have a full range of values, try and get at least 4 if not more value changes in the underpainting. A successful underpainting is key to any painting, but particularly when depicting complex surfaces such as this.
  • Accuracy in form and proportion – try to get your drawing correct in the under painting. Don’t move on to color until you are happy with proportion, shape and relationships of one object to another.
  • Learning to see shapes – forget you are drawing/painting metal, look for the shapes and map them in using the correct values, the form and reflections will come together to make the metal look like metal.
  • Learning to see color – what color is metal? there is no single answer to that question, the color of metal is dependent on: the type of metal and its local color, the color of the objects surrounding it that are reflected in its surface, and the temperature of the lighting that creates highlights. Really study the surface and look for a variety of warm and cool colors in the shadows, midtones and highlights.

This is a great practice exercise, set up a few cans, pots and pans or other reflective objects. Using the medium of your choice, create a study focusing on the above concepts. Studies such as this go a long way when you are working on a more formal type of painting, regardless of the subjects you typically paint, this type of practice will help you to better see form, value and color.


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