Painting reflective and transparent surfaces

Today, I will be digitally painting a still life, concentrating on composition, multiple light sources, reflective and transparent surfaces and light as its own character. I will be working in Corel Painter 18 with mainly acrylic brushes. As always, I invite you to join me and try something similar on your own time. You can apply the principles that i am about to show you to both manual and digital painting.

The final painting


Interesting still life subjects

The first and most important thing in still life painting is, of course, selecting interesting subjects to depict. But what makes subjects interesting? You may think that that you need fancy trinkets or exquisite bouquets of flowers to paint a beautiful still life, but you would be wrong. The only thing you need for a gorgeous composition is interesting lighting and a good vantage point.

In fact, simple, everyday objects, often make the best compositions because most viewers will be able to relate to these things. If you do your job right as an artist and depict an ordinary object in an extraordinary way, that magic that you envelop your subject in will remain with the viewer for many hours, days and years to come. The next time they see a broom or a set of keys, or ordinary drinking glasses they may just see them in the same magnificent light that you introduced in your depiction.

Searching for a better angle

For my ordinary subjects, I chose to work with these colorful glasses. There is nothing special about them. I have one of every color in my kitchen. I chose only the yellow and the orange, however, because the day is very warm and cheerful, and there is gorgeous golden sunlight coming in through all the windows. I place my two chosen glasses near some other interesting reflective surfaces and begin looking for a fun angle to view them from.

I took some photographs of my subjects from different angles solely to illustrate the process of seeking the perfect composition. I highly recommend that you do not draw form photography but rather from real life. Set up your subjects, set up a drawing or painting area nearby, and paint the three-dimensional objects that you actually see, not a photograph of these objects. Once you are comfortable painting from real life compositions as well as from memory and imagination, you may use photographs for reference, but the process then will be very different than just copying the photo. For now, let’s work with what we actually see.

After moving my subjects around a bit, and myself shifting around them, looming over them and kneeling to look up at them, I finally find an angle that is the most interesting to me. From this vantage point, down on one knee, the yellow glass becomes completely obstructed by the orange one giving it an extra burst of color. I really like this effect and will go with this composition. In a photography course that I am taking, I learned that most subjects become more interesting when photographed slightly from below. I will apply that principle here and situate myself slightly lower than my subject. Relocating the subject to your work station is of course also an option, especially if you have great natural lighting in your room or studio.

As always, we begin with a rough sketch. This is the composition that I finally decided to capture. Working in my digital painting program I create a square canvas and begin sketching the scene that I already cropped in my mind. I am only interested in the composition and the simple structure of the objects at this point.



When drawing geometrically accurate and symmetrical objects it is often tempting to use guides, rulers or a compass when working both digitally and analog. I strongly encourage you not to fall into that trap. We are not creating a blueprint. We are depicting what your eyes tell your brain to perceive. We do not see perfect lines. We see concepts. Here, from where I’m sitting, I see a glass that is slightly warped by perspective. I will sketch it exactly as I see it, and if it comes out a little bit crooked it will be received even better. There will be an element of imperfection, of cuteness to it.


Because I am working in a digital program I can apply geometry to my sketch AFTER it is done just for the sake of demonstration. Notice that while my glass appears to have realistic proportions, it is slightly inaccurate. The three virtual ovals are not exactly parallel to each other. Yet, they are not randomly placed either. From where I’m sitting the glass looks almost like it is slightly curved. I want to exaggerate it a bit to give it kind of a cute sense of grandeur.


For the sake of demonstration, I will apply a virtual grid so that you can see that the perspective lines I have created for my glass are not perfect, yet consistent. Had I applied the grid to begin with and used the circle tool to create perfect ovals, my glass would have looked too graphic and unnatural. I do not wish to create a graphic design. I wish to create a painting.


I remove the grid and continue with my free-hand sketch. It is important to keep your composition simple and readable. Mine consists of three main layers/subjects. The first and most important layer is, of course, the glass itself. It will receive the most attention to detail as I paint it.


The second most important layer in this composition is the lovely reflective metal and a little glass weight that I have laying around. They are there to demonstrate space and depth of field. They create the scene for our glass. They will receive a lot of attention, but they don’t need to be quite as polished in the final draft as the main character.


Finally, there is another object visible in the background. It is not very importanyt in terms of detail or even focus. It is pretty much a backdrop. It will receive the least amount of attention.

Now that I’ve established what I am depicting, I begin adding little structure lines to my most important subjects to begin building their shapes. At this point, I am also marking the lightest parts of my subjects, the brightest glow that appears on their surfaces.


Inspecting my still life I realize that light is as much a character in this scene as the objects that it illuminates. In fact, it is really the sunshine that I am painting with the help of these objects. I’ve marked the potentially lightest parts of painting as a demonstartion for you in this graphic.


Since light is now a character that we are depicting, I shift my attention to the beautiful orange and yellow glow that is cast through the glasses onto the shiny metal. The glass in combination with this delightful artifact now become my main subjects.


Now that I have the scene built, I prosede to apply rough brushstrokes to the parts of the objects that look the darkest to me.


This will take a while, especially if you are working with pencils. This light technique, however, is ideal for brush painting with acrylic or oil paint, or the digital equivalent of the two.


At this point, I realize that I actually prefer to be working on a tonted background. Thankfully, I an drawing digitally, so I can simply add a cream colored layer underneath. When working on actual paper, I recommend that you start with tanned paper, or prep your paper by paining it with a base layer of a ligt cream color. However, working on a pure white background is not a problem at all. Starting with a bit of a tone is just a way to speed things up a bit. If you have a way to add pure white as final details, try tinted paper.


Keep an eye on your light source. If it is artificial light, it will remain constant. However, working with natural light, you do need to get all the light information down on paper as quickly as possible, becasue eventually, the sun will rise or set and your light source with shift.


Becasue this image is all about light and color, I don’t spend much time on shading and building up details. I start introducing color right away. My glass is actually orange in color, so I introduce orange. The orange gets reflected in the tin behind it. Remember that yellow glass that is hidden behind the main object? I see that tone reflected in the tin as well. These are points of interest. They are the colors I will continue to build up.


A common beginner mistake is to focus too much on individual details and lose track of the bigger picture. Don’t worry about all the little light artifacts on the glass at this point (unless you are working with watercolor. That technique is completely different from what we are doing now) Instead, start giving your objects shape by building up shadows and adding more and more color where you actually see color. I like to use a softer digital brush to add faded soft grey shadows to my background layers.

Always look at your subject. Your eyes should be going up and down between the composition and the page all the time.


Continue buidling up shape and color by applying dabs of paint all around your composition. Do not fixate on one part yet. Pay a little bit more attention to the objects in the foreground, keep your brush strokes broader and messier on objects in the background, and build and build your composition up.


I like for my paintings to get gradually brighter and more sturated, rather than go staright into strong colors. Whether working manually or digitally, I create many layers of paint, each a little bit more saturated, each a little bit more defined.


I continue to add detail with each layer.


Adding darker brush strokes here and there helps define the shapes of the objects.


To make the dark parts appear even darker, I add more contrast with light yellow and near white highlights.


Now I have enough information to start adding the little artifacts of light that I see on the surface of the glass. Little dots and bads here and there that suggest glitter and glow.


These do not have to be exact. Nor do they have to be exactly where you see them in real life. When I zoom in a bit, you can see that my brush strokes are by no means flawless, and you have no way of knowing if every dab of white and yellow that I have depicted here really corresponds to what I see on the objects, but it feels realistic. It is believable. That’s the goal of this kind of painting, to convey a recognizable scene.


I always continue studying my subject as I paint it. The glass is thick and colorful and it’s easy to overlook that it is also transparent. Not very obviously trasparent, but some lines can be seen through it. I add the necessary transparency suggestions.


As I am nearing the completion of my painting, I check my light source. It is still coming from the same direction (from up and left). As this is morning light, I notice that the angle of the sun has changed a little bit as the day progressed, but not significantly enough to change what I see. I check my lightest spots and confirm that they are consistent with the current light source.


I check my main subject and its colorful shadow artifact. They are indeed the brightest and most interesting parts of this composition and appear to capture the natural light quite beautifully. If anything feels awkward or uneblievable at this point I tweak it without referencing the still life. Remember, this doesn’t have to be 100% true. We are more inetersted in the feel.


Now that we are nearly done, let’s revisit the shape of the glass. Remember those perspective lines I drew earlier? The vertical is a little bit curved and the parallel ovals are not exactly parallel. I chose to make this glass a little bit warped, and not 100% geometrically accurate. Looking at my painting now I am very pleased with the trick that this warp plays on the eye.


For the final touches, I use pure black to really bring out the darkest parts of the painting. I only use a few brush strokes, and only in the areas indicated here with green circles. This step is optional. I actually debated doing it for a few minutes. I like the soft, fuzzy look that I already achieved, but in the end, I chose to add just a touch of sharpness and higher contrast by introducing a few dabs of pure black.


I call that complete. I sign my work, and save my file.


I hope you enjoyed creating this digital painting with me. This tutorial was a result of several requests from my fans on Facebook. If you enjoyed this painting process and would like to see more, please don’t hesitate to propose new topics. Come join me on Facebook at my personal art group TALM – The Art of Lisa Mitrokhin, and tell me which art techniques interest you.

Shellshock – behind the scenes of chapter 2


The dog behind the character


Meet Foxtail. Foxtail is the first dog that I rescued off the streets of Santiago, a loyal and reliable friend, and a mentor to our heroine Shellshock. Before Shelby (or Shellshock as I call her) came into our lives Foxtail was the only dog of the household for a whole year. His life was chill, and maybe even a little bit boring. He didn’t mind though, because the life that he endured previously was anything but fun.

Santiago is a city populated with feral and homeless dogs, the way that most big cities are filled with pigeons. Here, generations of dogs breed and colonize city streets, alleys, and local dumps for generations on end. Many of these unfortunate creatures don’t know what it’s like to have a home. Foxtail was born and raised on the streets, but he had high hopes of one day being a house dog. That day came when he was less than a year old.

In Chapter 2 of Shellshock, Foxtail will tell his tale of how he came to be a house dog and what it was like living on the streets prior to that.

In the meantime, I will tell you a little bit about him and what an incredible job he has been doing in helping me raise Shellshock.

Foxtail teaching Shellshock how to drink from water dishes. Shellshock’s day 3 with us.

When Shellshock appeared under a tree in front of our house one day, she was badly hurt, starved, and had difficulty standing, breathing, drinking and even keeping her eyes open. She spent the following three days in a nearby clinic, in the hands of a very talented and devoted veterinarian. When she was finally released into our care, she required constant attention and assistance. She was still very weak and seemed to not know anything about being a dog. Foxtail, who is usually not very interested in socializing with other canines, took her under his wing immediately.

Foxtail sharing his favorite pillow with Shellshock.

He began sharing his most prized possessions with her, sharing his favorite pillows, and teaching her which areas of the yeard are used for which purposes.

Shellshock enjoying a dog house for the first time ever.

He even invited her to share his own summer dog house, and let her put her name on it. She didn’t know that such luxuries existed.

Before long, these two were inseparable, and as soon as Shellshock gained some strength and weight they were always playing, scheming and laughing together.

Foxtail and Shellshock laughing at a joke that only they could hear.

It soon became apparent that Foxtail’s new job was not just to teach this pup how to dog, but also to keep her out of trouble. Her energy turned out to be endless, and her mind never-resting. We also began finding her in high places all of a sudden. One day she would be hanging off a windowsill, one day she would be on top of a wall, or on a garden trellis. We began to suspect that this pup can hover.

Today, almost five years later, we live far away from Santiago, in the countryside. Foxtail and Shellshock have several acres of land to play on. They share an elevated dog den, equipped with two rooms and a terrace, and when it gets chilly outside they live and play in the house more than they do outdoors. The two are completely inseparable. Where one goes, the other immediately follows. They hunt together, play together, defend their home together, even take trips to the vet together when only one of them needs the attention.

Goofing off in the field.

Rolling around on their terrace.

Going to the vet together. Foxtail is not a fan, but Shellshock remembers that a vet makes everything better.

Sharing everything.

By turning these two amazing companions into graphic novel characters, I want to tell their story from multiple angles. The aim of “Shellshock” is not to burden the readers with the tragedic reality of street life, neglect or abuse. While these topics are addressed, I try to balance my novel with humor, delight, and beauty that these incredible creatures teach me every day. I don’t want to make my readers to cry and to harbor negative emotions towards the human race. “Shellshock” also demonstrates the generous and kind side of humanity, as well as the dangerous and reckless side of canine life. Life is complicated and messy, and so is the issue of homeless dogs. Mainly, I want my readers to see dogs the way that Shellshock and Foxtail are teaching me to see them and to enjoy their journey.

Working on the novel

On average, a single edition of a given graphic novel is 35 pages in length and takes between three months and a year for a team of four to ten people to create. Kat Dattilo and I are the only two people involved in the creation, editing, production, and publication of “Shellshock,” and we do it all in our spare time from our day jobs, paid artist contracts, commissions, a farm and a family to manage. In total “Shellshock” consists of 6 books, or chapters, each roughly 35 pages long. The entire story is already written, by me, and together we work on illustration and coloring one chapter at a time. Because we do not have the luxury of taking this project on full time, and because we each have to fill multiple production and post-production roles, it takes about five to six months of continuous work to produce one chapter that will take you guys less than half an hour to read, but days, months and years to enjoy the artwork. Finally, with all said and done, we get to keep $2.00 each from each book sale. Needless to say, we do not do this for the money.

Why do we do it?

We both feel that Shellshock’s story is one that needs to be told. Through her amazing character and a splash of fantasy, we can cover a wide range of dog and human issues that are very important to address. Issues like homeless dogs, where they come from, why they spread, why they may be dangerous as well as sad and helpless, why they need help, how they can be helped, how this situation can be prevented, how house dogs are treated, and finally, the climax of it all, the ethics of dog racing. At the same time, we want to entertain the readers and present dogs in such a human and relatable way, that people will want to spend more time with their dogs, and take that one extra step to house or help house a dog in need.

Separately from raising awareness about dogs and entertaining dog lovers, Kat and I plan to donate to actual dog rescue groups. Our promise to you, the supporters, is that with each new 100 sales made, we will donate 30% of our earnings from those 100 sales to a new dog rescue group. Announcements on these events will be made on Facebook in Shellshock’s personal page. Of course, 30% of what we make is not much, but it’s a start. Help us spread the word about Shellshock and we can start making a bigger difference for real dogs.

How we do it

In an earlier article, I took you through the step by step design, drawing, coloring, and formatting process that Kat and I follow when creating these books for you. If you haven’t yet read that one, I think you will find it very interesting and informative. It takes you on a journey from the very first sketch, through a sea of edits, all the way to the final brilliantly painted by Kat color version of a given panel. You can read about it here. This behind-the-scenes information also appears at the back of chapter 1 of “Shellshock.”

In this volume, we have a surprise for you. When Foxtail speaks and tells his tale, the drawing style switches to a new and different format. I think you guys will really like it. But, you must wait for the book to come to find out. The new chapter, and every new chapter from now on will also start with a few “previously on Shellshock” pages to get you guys caught up with the story in case you did not read the previous chapter, or in case you need a refresher even if you did.

A bit of a tease

Please enjoy the pictures. Visit Shelby’s personal page, check out Chapter 1 if you haven’t already, and do stay tuned for Chapter 2.

Thank you all for making this possible.

Previously on “Shellshock”


My line work in progress


Kat’s panel painting in progress


One of the pages inside Chapter 2


Thank you for reading.

You can purchase your own copies of Shellshock chapters here. They come in a printed and bound paperback format as well as e-books.

You can even read them for FREE with Kindle Unlimited.

Remember that 30% of every 100 sales will be donated to dog rescue groups, so every purchase makes a real-life difference.


Back to the basics

Regardless of how comfortable you get drawing complex objects and composition, it’s always important to practice and review the basics. Today I will be drawing three apples and I want to invite you to join me.

I am working in my digital program Corel Painter 18, using pencils and dry acrylic brushes. I am doing this digitally for two reasons. One, I am involved in a lot of digital painting projects at this time, and it’s the Corel brushes that I personally need to practice using. Two, I can take high-resolution screenshots. This way you see exactly what I see. Taking photographs of pencils drawings always introduces a level of distortion, depending on lighting and the angle at which the photo is taken. The principles that I am about to introduce apply to any style of drawing, however. You can achieve the same exact effects with pencils, pastels, chalks, watercolor, acrylic paint, oil paint, etc. I hope you join me on this little journey. So grab your paper and pencils and let’s begin.

Ideally, the best way to practice drawing is to draw from life. I set up my three apples on the table. Because I am taking you guys along, and because I want you to practice drawing the same exact subjects with a fixed light source, I took a photograph of my apples. Feel free to save it, print it, blow it up on your computer screen. However you choose to do it, you should always have your subject clearly displayed in front of you as you draw it.


A photograph that I took especially for this exercise

I will be drawing my apples in a realistic style with a touch of dry brush strokes. I want the final result to obviously look like a color drawing or a painting. I am not going for photorealism. Yet, I am aiming to have the apples look as much as the photograph in shape, color, and light as possible. I will not be adding elements of fantasy or caricature or any type of abstraction. I am going for mathematical and biological accuracy, depicted in a painterly style. You may choose a different drawing/painting style, ranging from simple sketchy illustration all the way to highly-polished photorealism.

My finished drawing

Now that you have your photo of the apples and a blank page to work on, where to begin? First, we must observe what we are about to draw. Don’t rush to start sketching. Look at what you are about draw and decide what exactly you are depicting and why. In this case, we have three apples. Why three? We want to practice drawing an apple, and having multiple apples in one scene allows us to practice color, shape, and position variation in a single composition. Having multiple apples will also allow us to practice a little bit of depth perception. Finally, three is a great number for this exercise because anything more than three would be either too busy, too boring to work with, or so large a number that the subject would no longer be a few apples, but a pile of apples. The pile would become a single object, and we approach drawing something like that differently. Finally, when depicting multiple objects, it’s always good practice to use an odd number rather than even. Our eye just responds to odd numbers more positively. Odd numbers suggest natural randomness, while even numbers suggest arranged symmetry.

Inspecting this photo, we clearly see three apples, with one obviously in the foreground. I mentally mark my apples in order from more to least important. The apple closest to us the most important one to me. It’s in focus and it displays the most interesting details, like the imperfections of the skin and the little extending stem. This is the most valuable subject here and I will spend the most time working on it. The second apple is the one on the left. It also shows some level of detail and a stem, but it is slightly out of focus and is less interesting. The third is barely a spherical shape in the background. Its job is just to help set the scene and suggest space and distance. I will spend the least amount of time on it.

Assigning value to your subjects

Now that we know what we are looking at, what it means to us, and what we want to show our audience, let’s begin.

For many, it’s good practice to begin with a light sketch. Using a pencil or a piece of chalk, mark out where your subjects will be. Make sure to keep your lines very light, and barely visible. You want to be able to either erase or cover them completely as you proceed. Some may feel comfortable making only mental sketches, as I often do. But, it’s ok to actually draw your lines. Just make sure to not draw thick and defined outlines. There are styles that call for nice clean contours, but that is not what we are practicing here.

The sketch lines should be quick, rough and barely visible


Depending on your tool, style of sketching, and hand stability, you may sketch cleaner, simpler lines. It’s all very personal.

For the ease of presentation, I made the sketch lines a bit thicker and bit darker than I would when drawing. Working digitally, of course, I have the luxury of erasing the outline layer with a click of a button. When working with real pencils, do take care to keep the lines very light.

Personally, on something like this I do not use sketch lines. I go straight into building shapes with larger brushes. Selecting a dry acrylic brush and a neutral greyish-purplish color, I begin to roughly shape my apples by marking the darkest parts of the fruit.

First brush strokes


Still working with very rough and very casual brush strokes, I add more color to begin building my spherical shapes

When drawing from life or photographs, many people make the mistake of fixating on the tiny detail, and that is how they lose track of the whole picture. Examine the photograph once more. Do you see all the tiny specs and marks on the skin of the apples? To copy them all exactly as they appear in life would be madness. It would take a really long time, and unless you are going for some kind of a photorealism record, it would be completely pointless. After all, the photo already captured all that detail. In art, we aim to convey the feeling of the object rather than its absolute accuracy. How do you see these apples? They are obviously round in shape, they are vivid in color, and they are somewhat glossy in texture. That’s what we aim to depict. At this point, we are focusing mainly on the shape through the basic use of color.

I keep adding color while referencing my photograph. I also take a moment to roughly place the shadows to begin the three-dimensional feel


Layer by layer, I add more color, still using very broad brushstrokes

While you are building your shapes, it is important to be aware of your light source. It’s a good idea to set up direct lighting to create a fixed artificial light source that will introduce sharp and dramatic shadows. In this case, I took the photograph in soft, natural sunlight, but you can still clearly tell that the light is coming from up and left. I, therefore, make sure to place the shadows cast by the apples to the bottom right of the canvas. I also make sure to keep the lighter parts of the apples on the left and the darker on the right.

Always keep your light source consistent

At this point, the composition and the light source are pretty well established and I can proceed to the fun part – the detail. Now, there isn’t that much detail in apple painting, but we can still have fun with color and texture.

I now use smaller brushes to clean up the edges and to introduce detail to the stems and the skins


I keep adding minor detail to my number 1 apple

At this point, you may have noticed that I am paying a lot more attention to my number 1 apple while leaving 2 and 3 more imperfect. Note that I did not give clean edges to my fruit. Apple 3 barely has an outline at all. This is softer on the eye and a lot closer to how we actually perceive objects in space.

Now onto the really fun part – a bit of artistic expression. I am happy with the level of detail on my apples and I want to make them stand out more, so I am adding a splash of blue to the background. Here I switched to watercolor effect. On paper, you can use real watercolor to achieve a similar result. I am a huge fan of mixing media.

I experiment with color in a different medium

Our eye tends to see shadows as slightly blue. You may notice a touch of a bluish hint in the photograph. This is why I chose blue for my background. Also, blue really makes those red apples pop. The contrast of blue and red todgether makes both colors appear brighter than they really are.

I keep working with my dry brush to smooth out the flat background

While working with my somewhat abstract background, I still follow the rules of light and shadow. I do not just blindly place blue watercolor splashes behind the apples. I make sure that the blue is darker where the shadows would be darker in real life. Finally, I smooth out my watercolor layer with more dry acryslic work to really bring the whole composition together. I am almost happy with how this looks.

Applying final touches

I switch back to the large brushes and go over the whole picture, adding a bit more color and contrast. I notice that while my light source is strong and consistent, the apples will look better with their stems casting shadows. Now in the photograph, we do not see clear shadows cast by the stems. That is because the light source was too soft. I made my light source a bit sharper in this composition and I want to enhance it even more. I add the shadows that I cannot see in real life but that I know will be there if the light source is inhanced. Now I’m happy.

It is important not to overwork your piece. I can keep painting this for many more hours, perfecting every little blemish on the fruit surface, and making the stems hyperrealistic, but that is not what I set out to do. When I look at this painting, I cearly see three very vibrant apples. I can imagine the sound that one of them might make when I bite into it, and the sound another might make if I drop it on the floor. These apples have clearly defined shapes. You can tell that they have some weight to them as they seem to be rolling off to different sides. They are a little bit reflective, therefore probably very smooth to the touch, and they are very bright, made even more so with the introduction of that beautiful blue. I call this a success and I will leave it at this.


Now it’s your turn. Grab some apples, or eggs, or rocks, and start drawing. I will be posting some photos to work from in my Facebook group, TALM. Please feel free to drop by, grab some photos, and post your work in progress as well. I hope to see you there.