• Kevin Roeckl

Triumph TR3 portrait in progress 2

I sent this “in progress” pic to Joe, and he asked, “Well what a great start. I was wondering what magic you had in your box of pencils to make the chrome shine.”

Read on to find out how I do it...

Colored pencil portrait of a Triumph TR3 in progress

My previous car portrait client asked something similar. He wondered if I had a shiny silver pencil to make the shiny chrome. No I don’t. I am using the same Prismacolor pencils that I use to do a dog portrait. Or a cat, or a human. Here are the swatches that show the colors I’m using for this car portrait. A lot of different greys and some blues, plus a few golds and olive green.

Prismacolor pencils and swatches on grey paper

On the left is the reference photo of the car. On the right is my artwork. I just copy the shapes and colors I see in the photo. Chrome is not made shiny by using a shiny pencil. It is made to look shiny because there is bright white and pale blue next to dark blue and black. Those are colors just like any other colors. What makes the headlight housing look shiny are those shapes and colors…the reflections of what is around the car, in the curve of the chrome or the black car body.


Those reflections are just made up of shapes and colors on a flat piece of artwork. Black shapes, sky-blue shapes, dashes or dots of white and yellow. That’s all it is. There’s nothing magic about making chrome look shiny.

Comparison of reference photo and colored pencil portrait of a Triumph TR3 in progress

After starting with the left headlight, I want to do the hood next. But there are complex reflections of overhead branches all across the hood. So first I needed to “outline” the areas that the hood colors will butt up against. “Cordoning off the hood” I guess you could say. As I put in the many complex shapes and colors on the hood, I need to know the light and dark edges it will be meeting up against. So I’ve outlined the chrome hood emblem, the chrome letters “TRIUMPH”, the headlight housing, and the edge of the right front fender and mirror. The hood shapes and colors will be surrounded by those elements. Or, to be more precise, the shapes and colors of the intricate reflections…on the hood.

Details of colored pencil portrait of a Triumph TR3 in progress

In reality, when you look at a shiny car, you don’t see the car. You see the reflections in it’s shiny paint and chrome. Take a look at the right headlight (our right, the car’s left) in this pic, to see what I mean. You don’t see a black headlight housing and a chrome ring (what color is “chrome”, anyway?)… You see the reflections of the sky, Joe’s house, and the trees behind where Joe was standing when he took the photo. When I paint a car, I am mostly painting reflections.

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