Christmas Baubles, W&N Artisan water-mixable oil on board, 8x8in. (20x20cm)

Learn how to paint shiny baubles, looking at light, shadows, reflections and highlights, in water-mixable oils with Valérie Pirlot.

It’s always fun to find painting subjects that not only bring lovely memories and emotions, but also hold a certain painterly appeal. If like me you love painting light and reflections, then you’ll enjoy subjects like Christmas trees with fairy lights, Easter eggs wrappings, marbles, festive glasses with champagne, birthday cakes with candles, fancy china teacups, and last but not least, shiny Christmas baubles. These are great to practise seeing things in an abstract way, focusing on colours and tones and depicting lovely and juicy reflections.

The set up

Your reference material for this demonstration: shiny Christmas tree baubles

For the demonstration below, I set up a few Christmas baubles on a table with a direct light placed very close to the subject, in order to achieve great shadows and highlights. This demo was painted in one session, all prima, by looking directly at the subject.

I always encourage people to try to paint from life if they can, because of the richness of the colours and the excitement the experience can bring. This often leads to fresher results than painting from photographs.

I hope some of you will have a try with your own baubles at home. All you need is a table and a strong light source. I suggest cropping some parts of the baubles in your composition so you don’t end up with too much empty space around the objects.

Of course, you can paint from my photograph, see above, instead, and I’ve supplied the reference in a wider angle than in my demo painting, in case you want to crop your own painting in a different way.

Paint what you see

The biggest tip I can give for this demo is to avoid any preconceptions about what baubles should look like and what colours you think they are. When it comes to colour mixing and creating the right tones, the best tool you have are your eyes, not your brain. Just look at sections of the subjects, ask yourself ‘what tone and colour do I see?’ then match that colour in your painting.

There is no such thing as a red or gold bauble. Each object is made of a multitude of colours and tones so use your eyes to find them.

Keep comparing

Every element in a painting is connected to its surroundings. When it comes to tone and colour, it is all relative and needs to be taken in context. Something might look light, because it is placed next to dark, and a colour might read as ‘gold’, because its shadow is in the right colour. Don’t work on isolated parts of the painting, keep seeing the whole picture and keep comparing everything all the time.

Painting method

  • Paint dark to light, thin to thick.
  • Work across the whole painting, one colour at a time.
  • See things in an abstract way.
  • Divide the subject into several shapes, each one affected by light in a different way.

Demonstration: Christmas Baubles

For this demonstration Valérie uses Winsor & Newton Artisan water-mixable oils