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Watercolor Techniques Using Color & Light For Ultra-Dramatic Paintings

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Part Two, Step Five

Reflections, “Light Traps”, and “Halos”

The third and final principle for shade and shadows has to do with three small design elements which can add large effects when painting with light. The illustrations below variously employ all of these design elements.

  • Reflections:


  1. Reflections add to the painterly effect of color and light by energizing the play of highlighted color and the “sparkle” effects of the ambient lighting.
  2. Reflections may occur in illuminated surfaces, shades, and shadows, particularly those in strong illumination.
  3. Reflections are most easily seen on sunny days or in bright illumination; they are less prevalent in weaker lighting, and almost non-existent in atmospheric lighting conditions.
  4. General rules for reflection:
    – They are lighter in value in any shadow area in which they fall.
    – They are darker in value in any light area in which they fall.
  5. Application techniques: Reflections may be created in vertical and horizontal surfaces using wet-on-wet applications, or they may result from “lifting” a surface color.
  • “Light traps”: This is Virgil’s term for the intersections of vertical and horizontal shapes or surfaces where the light may be perceived to be “trapped” and bounces or reflects from one surface to the other. Application technique is similar to that of reflections, above. 


  • “Halo effects”: This is Virgil’s term for the edges of forms where light can reasonably be perceived to be passing or being reflected. It can also be called the “rim effect”. It is especially prevalent with back lighting, but reasonable in other directional lighting as well. Application involves use of softened or lost edges, combined with wet-on-wet or lifting a surface color to create the “halo”. Use this effect judiciously — a little goes a long way!