Painting realism with watercolour can be tricky because realism is so precise, and watercolour is free-flowing and often imprecise. On top of that, painting glass in any medium is difficult because of its transparency, the way it reflects light, picks up colours from surrounding objects, and usually has some curvature.

For today’s project, we will conquer the art of painting glass in watercolour with the incredible painter Sau Sau in her FREE Live Demo. She illustrates realistic food with a delightfully soft realism, and here she taught us how to paint a delicious glass of iced dalgona coffee. Let us begin!

Step 1: The Sketch

Sau Sau’s first tip for realism is to make sure the shape of the sketch is correct. You could be the best in the world at rendering, but if your sketch isn’t accurately proportioned, the realism is still compromised.

To focus your time on painting, Sau Sau provides line art to trace and recommends the Etchr Mirror for convenient and accurate tracing.

Step 2: The Milk

This iced coffee drink appears to have more milk in it than coffee! To paint milk with just a bit of coffee and chocolate in it, thin some yellow ochre to create a soft and creamy colour.

Spread this over the middle of the glass, leaving a light area where the main reflection on the glass is. Remember, with transparent paint like watercolour, we preserve parts of the page to keep them white rather than adding the white later like we would with acrylics.

Don’t make the line on the edge of the highlight too hard. Don’t blur it too much either because you won’t have much dimension if the transition is too gradual. We also have a great article on how to paint glass if you want a more in depth tutorial. 

Step 3: The Chocolate

There is some chocolate syrup at the bottom of the glass. While the milk layer is still wet, take a cool, dark brown and let the bottom of the glass be very dark. The contrast will help the painting pop.

Don’t be shy. If the transition looks a little rough, you can sweep a clean and dry brush along the “seam” between the two colours to smooth out that blend while the colours are still wet.

Step 4: The Whipped Coffee

The drink has a lot of whipped coffee on top. It’s a lovely rich brown colour, which you get by mixing yellow ochre with the reddest brown in your palette. As you paint the top part of the glass, leave out the highlights that you sketched in earlier, and use the values in the milk as guidelines for what the values here should be.

If the values are consistent across the painting, the glass will look cylindrical!

Step 5: The Whipped Coffee Swirl

The top of the whipped coffee, where it forms a little swirly peak, is where you’re going to want to really take your time to do it right. There’s a lot of edge control involved to pull this off.

Start with a light layer of the cream colour, so light that you might as well go over the highlights of the section you just did to let some of the colour show through the transparent glass.

Then, take the precise tip of your brush and use whatever wet-on-wet or dry brush technique suits you the best to give some form to the cream on the top. The reflected light and the gently defined edges are what will describe the cream swirl.

If you make a mistake, pick it up with a paper towel before it dries. Don’t rush this step. Your patience will be rewarded! If the paint has already dried, you can try using one of these lifting techniques

Step 6: The Cast Shadow

Mix some ultramarine into the brown you used for the chocolate, and carefully define both the base of the glass and the cast shadow beneath it with a light touch.

To smooth out the cast shadow, glide a clean brush over the edge. You’ll find that once you complete this step, your painting pops from the page much more than it did before!

Step 7: Ice Cubes

This step could be a bit intimidating because you have to rewet an area you have already painted. As long as the surface is already 100% dry and you don’t add too much water, there will be no unwanted cauliflower effects.

Don’t be afraid! Use the mixture from the cast shadow to very lightly and gently paint the edges of the ice cubes, then blend those with the water you laid down first.

If it looks too dark, lift the pigment with a paper towel to align with the reference. The highlighted area on the left should be lighter to match the rest of the picture.

Now, all there is to do is step back and admire your work! If I had sketched more lightly, my painting would look more authentic. Because you likely won’t be photographing that stage of your painting, you can draw faintly and still know where your lines are!

Sau Sau did an excellent job breaking down the process of this complex subject and making it easy. I recommend learning more from her in her Mini Workshop. To keep up with our incredible instructors, sign up for the Etchr email newsletter! Happy painting! 

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator and graphic novelist based in Minnesota. She specializes in all things cozy and calm, but adds humor where she can. When she isn’t drawing, she enjoys playing musical instruments, but you’re more likely to see her staring at some silly tree or something. 

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