Extreme Makeover 2 - The Color of Copper

Still Life with Copper Trinkets
by Vicente Collado Jr
Mon 12th December 2011

Painting metallic objects used to be one big mystery for me especially during my early years. Though pigments such as gold or silver existed in art stores, I realized soon enough they were not the magic ingredients for creating realistic images of golden goblets or silver vases.

A quick research made it clear that the tube colors available in the market were already sufficient to simulate the appearance of any metal with all its luster and shine.

It turned out, every type of metal corresponds to a fixed color recipe that is pretty much the same for everyone under any circumstances. In fact, a table matching metal surfaces with their own color mixtures had already been drawn up by earlier generations of artists and is readily accessible in the net.

Still Life with Copper Trinkets
Oil on Canvas
50cm x 60cm

Copper used to be an object of my curiosity if not obsession. Needless to say long experimentations trying to achieve the right mixture yielded frustrating results. It's really hard to identify its component colors just by looking at it.

But, life became more pleasant when I learned from art books that copper is basically a mixture of burnt sienna, cadmium red light and a little white. Of course, adjustments have to be made to produce the other tones. For the highlight, cadmium red light and cadmium orange is added into a big amount of white. The shadow is mixed from burnt sienna and thalo blue, or from alizarin crimson, burnt umber and burnt sienna. For reflected lights, the color of the reflected object is added to the shadow mixture. All these colors are included in any painting set sold at the stores. All one has to do is to mix them right.

This is the original I painted on January of 2004 in Wassenaar, The Netherlands.

The still life above was my first attempt to play around with copper, using as models several copper trinkets at home - an ashtray, a horse, a saxophone-shaped pencil sharpener, a vase and a small dish.

For the composition, I set the hard metals in a contrasting environment of soft fabrics. Since copper is actually dark orange, I used its complement, blue, for the background drapery and for a small portion of the foreground. To unify the copperware, I laid a dark orange rug underneath.

Way back then, I was quite satisfied with the result, if not with the overall concept. But, looking at it now, I think my initial assessment was a bit too positive. It is obvious I didn't get the copper mixture right; it certainly looks too artificial. Besides, much is to be desired in terms of composition: the draperies are chaotic, and the blue background and dark orange rug are too intense for their supportive roles.

That's why I thought a makeover was in order. What I wanted first in this remodelling was to coat the copper objects with the right copper finish and then to give the whole arrangement a more appropriate setting in order to achieve greater unity and harmony.

Stage 1

The first step of the project was to mix the copper color in my palette. After coming up with what I judged to be a more realistic mixture, I quickly applied it on the copper objects in the painting. I then tried to clear the surroundings of the metallic objects. The contrast between the blue background and the metals was too strong so I toned it down by replacing the blue with dark, dull green, the split-complementary of orange. For the intense orange rug, I opted for white, a more conservative color that, without being a distraction itself, could make copper stand out .

Stage 2

After the initial block-in, I finalized what objects should be included in the composition. The wine glass didn't seem to belong so I replaced it with a copper jug standing on a stack of books which also serves as a back rest for the ashtray. Instead of a rug, I chose a table and a white cloth as the under support for the whole arrangement. I added the purple grapes and books to provide a slight color contrast. Some of the books were painted muted-green to tie the middle ground with the background. I decided to make the flowers white, same as the table cloth. I reshaped the highlights in the copper objects and darkened their body shadows.

Stage 3

In this stage, I gave another coating to the background. I then refined the flowers and grapes. I started to add more details to the books like the bookmarker, making them look antiquated. To make the number of copper object odd instead of even, I painted the cover of the jug; in state of delicate equilibrium, the jug cover adds more tension and activity in the focal area.

Stage 4

With its frontal orientation, the ashtray occupies too much space and attracts too much attention. To minimize its impact, I covered large portions of it with small flowers, buds and threadlike stems. This also adds more softness that balances the prevailing overall hardness in the composition.

Final Stage

For the finishing strokes, I first darkened the shadow areas of the table cloth and defined its borders; I then worked on the highlights and shadows of the wooden table itself. Turning my attention to the books, afterwards, I scribbled their titles using those of my computer programming books - sort of marrying the past witht the present. I added a handle to the small copper dish on the right. Finally, I gave the metal objects a finishing glaze to make the copper color richer.

Form-wise and composition-wise, I am much happier with this fresher and cleaner refurbished version. There is greater harmony and unity in terms of colors and form-elements. There is more depth in the atmosphere. Above all, it feels like the copper trinkets are more credible as copper.


Still Life with Copper Trinkets
Mon 12th December 2011