How to Color Beautiful Metal Objects with Colored Pencils
Learn to color realistic, shining metal objects with the simplest tool: colored pencils!
By Thea Voutiritsas
Metals like silver, brass, and gold can add shine and visual interest to a coloring page. But coloring reflections and highlights can be a bit more complicated on these shiny surfaces. Using a metallic colored pencil or marker seems like an easy shortcut, but these tools often miss the mark when it comes to realism. With a little time and patience, you can create amazing metallic looks with a range of regular colored pencil hues. Here’s how:
Step 1: Use a reference photo.
Find a picture of the type of metal you’re trying to emulate. Take note of how the colors change between highlights and shadows. Where does the light come from? What objects are close enough to be reflected? Pay attention to how reflections are distorted around the curves of the metal object, and how their colors appear in the reflections.
Pay attention to the type of metal as well to help you choose the right colors. Gold items will be mostly yellow, with shades of brown or burnt ochre in the shadows and off-white or white in the highlights. Silver objects will be gray, with dark gray, navy, or black shadows and white highlights. Meanwhile, brass objects will be mostly a burnt ochre color, with darker browns in the shadows and oranges and yellows in the highlights. No matter the metal, it’s important to choose a broad range of colors to help create smooth transitions and capture details.
Step 2: Outline the highlights and shadows.
Lightly outline the areas on the metal object that are directly exposed to your light source. These areas will be white (or almost white) when you’re finished. Outline them to remind yourself to leave these spaces blank so the highlights can be as bright as possible. (Note: In the example above, we’ve used red to outline the highlights and green to outline the shadows for illustration purposes. You’ll want to use something much less obvious that will blend into the rest of your design seamlessly, like a light colored pencil.)
You can also outline the dark reflections and shadows to help you remember where to shade later. This will help you more accurately depict the sudden changes in color that usually happen on reflective surfaces.
Step 3: Establish the “black point” or darkest point of your design.
Simply put, the black point (or points) is the darkest shade or shadow in your design. Establishing the black points early on will help you better gauge how intense the other colors in your design will be. Decide what areas of your image are the darkest, and fill those in to help set the contrast. Knowing what the darkest points are for each object on the page will help you figure out how to fill in the rest of the object with color.
Step 4: Lay down the first few layers of color.
Once you have your black points established, it’s time to start adding more color to your page. Start by lightly shading in a base color, also known as an undertone. The color of this layer will depend on the color of your metal. For example, silver objects will have a gray base color, while gold items will have a yellow undertone, and brass objects will have a light brown or dark yellow undertone. In our example, we’re working with silver (see the grey undertone?) and a metallic red, which we used a combination of red, orange, and yellow pencils to color. As you fill in the undertone, remember to leave your highlight areas blank, or very slightly tinted with the lightest shade of the undertone you have. (In this example, we used a very pale yellow to shade the highlight area.)
Once you have a slight undertone across the page, slowly build up the pigment by lightly coloring over the same spots in several thin layers. Begin with the shadows. Use a heavier hand to fade the shadow colors into your black point, and then slowly fade it into the undertone area. Then, revisit your base color to help blend the shadows into the mid-tones. And finally, use your highlight colors to blend out the brightest points. For a seamless look, you can color in small, overlapping circles or you can use the direction of your pencil strokes to contour the objects in your design
Step 5: Draw in the reflections.
Drawing in reflections can get a bit complicated, as they can get warped or distorted based on the shape of the reflective object. It can help to imagine wrapping a grid around your object. For instance, with a sphere, the horizontal and vertical lines in the middle will be straight but the lines on either side of those will curve around the sphere. Notice how the squares in the grid look a bit more bloated in the middle and taper off towards the edges of the sphere? Reflections will be distorted in the same manner.
Make sure the reflections you draw don’t lose the undertone of the object. Let’s say, for example, a red object is casting a reflection on a gold sphere. The reflection will be red, but with a gold tint. You may want to lightly color over the reflections you’ve drawn if they lose some of their undertone colors. You can also sandwich the reflection shade between layers of the base color (for example, a layer of gold, then a layer of red, then another layer of gold).
Step 6: Refine the colors and details.
Now that most of your color is on the page, go back and add more layers of color for richer tones and more minute details. Double check that all shadows are consistent, and sharpen up the edges of any reflections. Take your time during this process and make sure your highlights are still bright and mostly free of color. Don't be afraid to leave abrupt color changes unblended! Blending too much will cause the object to glow rather than shine. It should look like the light is bouncing off of the object, not like the light is radiating from it.
Step 7: Blend the highlights.
Once you’ve added most or all of the color to your page, you can go over your highlights with a white pencil to make them even brighter. Use the white pencil to blend the edges of the highlights with the surrounding surface.
Feel free to go back and tweak your highlights, shadows, and mid-tones until you’re happy with the finished product. Coloring metal objects isn’t easy, and it will take some trial and error. But all of your hard work will pay off when you see a shiny sculpture or bright bulb slowly come to life. With some practice, your reflections will practically jump off the page!