Art is a form of communication, but sometimes, it’s difficult to “say” certain things in paint and on a sheet of paper. In this tutorial, I’ll show some cool tricks you can incorporate when you’re painting something shiny, whether it’s metal, water, or glass.

Metallic Sheen

While you could interpret this as using metallic paints to create that “shiny” effect, I’d rather show you how to create the illusion of a metallic shine instead, since not everyone has metallic paints (or like using them). 

You can take a more in-depth look at this previous blog post on painting metallic objects, but I’ll do a quick recap here!

The best reference you could use is, of course, any metallic object. I’ve decided to draw and paint this metallic watercolour palette, as it’s not in your typical silver colour. And as per usual, it’s always a good idea to study a new subject in pencil before jumping to paints!

After getting a general outline, it’s the shading that will bring out that “shiny” effect. You will notice that the shiniest areas will be the areas that reflect the most light, which often ends up being the edges facing your light source. For my metallic palette, this will be the edges that protrude, and that is facing the top left area.

Tip: If your light source is directly reflected in your metal object (almost like a mirror), you can also include this depending on the shape of your object. If it’s completely flat, then it will act as a mirror. If not, the white highlights should curve around the edges, and make them “pop” out of the page.

You can even outline the shape of the highlights, as this high contrast is what makes something appear shiny.

Once you’re comfortable with drawing and shading your object, you can try a painted version! The key here is to keep the “shiny” areas white (or as close to it as possible) and contrast them with the base colour of your object and its shadows.

Glassy Shine

Another quite shiny material is glass. I’ve also done a blog about this, which you can check out here!

Painting a glassy shine is similar to the one for metal, only that your highlights will be less obvious since glass is transparent and tends to take on the background colours more.

Again, it helps to draw and shade it in pencil first, and from a real object. While it’s a little trickier since you’ll have to draw everything behind the glass object as well (but slightly warped), the principle of leaving the edges facing your light source white remains the same.

As for how your highlights distort, keep an observant eye on your object, and the shapes formed in white.

Bonus tip: Polished, glossy, or varnished items will be similar to the glassy shine, but again, it won’t be as obvious, plus you need to have quite a bright light source if you want them to shine. For example, glazed ceramics and smooth plastic objects will also have a shine to them, but the shine may not be as obvious.

If the glass surface is flat, like a window, then you can do the cliché stripes of diagonal white lines (as long as the light on the side facing the viewer is brighter than the light on the other side of the glass).

Watery Wiggles

Watery surfaces are a bit more complex than glass- or metal-based objects since water isn’t solid. A layer of water can turn anything shiny, which is why a rainy day can look so shimmery, even if it’s overcast!

There’s also a previous blog about painting a watery reflection, so for this one, I want to focus more on a more general watery shimmer.

Again, the shiniest areas should be edges facing your light source. Water tends to not have any set shape, especially puddles, so just try to find a good reference or reference photo if you’re not sure where the highlights should go.

If you’re painting something like the ocean or a lake, waves will disrupt the shape of your highlights, which is why a lot of artists have irregular but generally horizontal shapes for the shiny parts. They will also be clustered more towards the horizon line, and in the area directly under the sun.

If the surface of the water is perfectly flat, then it will take on the same “shine” qualities as uneven glass, or even a mirror if it’s calm enough.

Bring on the Bling

As a general rule of thumb, a stronger light source equals a higher contrast shine. No light equals no shine, and a coloured light source equals a coloured shine. If you keep these tips in mind, you’ll be able to create a shiny effect anytime, anywhere – and all without metallic paints!

Last but not least, the best thing to do is practice. Practice drawing and painting around your highlights, or adding them back in with a white gel pen or gouache paint. Once you get the hang of it, it’s going to be a very useful technique to have under your belt! So keep at it – you’ll be a star at “shining” in no time.

Have you mastered the shine? What’s your favourite effect to draw or paint? Let us know in the comments below! Additionally, if you’re interested in getting more tips on the creative process, feel free to subscribe to our email newsletter. You’ll be kept up to date with our latest workshop releases!

Nicola Tsoi is a practising graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. During her downtime, she likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy. 


  • Janice Moss said:

    Thank you for sending this to me. I’m going to try my hand at painting shiny things this weekend!
    Etchr Studio replied:
    Awesome! We hope you enjoy trying this out, Janice. Have fun making more art!

    July 01, 2022

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