“Dab on a little Tarn-Off”

If you’re an Australian that lived through the neon 80’s you’ll remember this ad, “Just dab on a little Tarn-Off and you’ll clean years of tarnish off in just seconds!”

Is it just me, or is watching Rosemary Margan buffing off mucky neglect and bringing out the shine, strangely satisfying?

If you love to get things really shiny this blog post is for you!

I have been busy working on my latest artwork, a commissioned coloured pencil drawing of a bright, shiny truck. The owner of the truck takes great pride in its appearance, so it was very important I captured maximum shine. 

‘Dane’s truck’ - by Candace Slager’

Mr Slager observed my work in progress. With his judicious eyebrow peaked he asked, “How do you draw shiny on paper?!”  I jovially replied, “I use the ‘Shiny’ pencil!” “Ok then smarty-pants, what do you use if you want it really shiny?” Naturally I replied: “I use the ‘Really Shiny’ pencil!”

Banter aside, do I really use pencils called ‘Shiny’ and ‘Really Shiny’? 


Examples of the shine in this piece:

While it may appear very complex, it is fairly simple. It is just lots of little shapes. 

“I DON’T GET IT! I CAN’T SEE WHAT YOU MEAN!” I hear you scream.

Don’t worry, I understand. When I was first working on my drawing skills, other artist’s advice to me was, “Just draw what you see”. Not only did I take that as a nonchalantly superior tone, it felt like baloney, the most unhelpful and frustrating advice I had ever heard. 

But can I tell you, once you really SEE all the little shapes and colours, it can become the most profound advice a realism artist will ever receive. 


Look at something shiny you have lying around. It could be a piece of cutlery, a glass, a balding partner, or maybe a gold medal from your record-breaking 656th place in a walking race (to be clear, despite my abysmal placing, there were 2500 entrants so at least I wasn’t last!). 

What are you actually seeing? Look closely. You are seeing various reflections of light, forming abstract shapes. 

To help demonstrate, I have chosen my studio desk lamp which closely resembles the shape of a shiny bald head. 

STEP 1: Identify and draw all the shapes

Here I have outlined the “shapes” I am referring to. 

The shapes are various reflections of light and shadow. Whether you are drawing in colour or not, you must draw these shapes in order to create realistic shine. 

STEP 2: Smoothly shade the shapes with correct values

The reflections consist of different values - light, dark and mid tones. 

Shade each reflective shape according to its value. Basically, make the dark stuff dark and the light stuff light!

To enhance the shiny effect, lay down pigment as smoothly as possible. 

If you are not working with colour, it may be easier to convert your reference image to black and white to help you find accurate values. Ta-da!

Not all reflective shapes will have hard edges, so blend to diffuse edges where needed.

STEP 3: Use correct colours for the reflections

Can’t you just use “graphite”, “silver” or “gold” colour pencils to create shine? No. 

Here’s why. These pencils offer a metallic shift, but essentially the gold looks poopy brown and the silver looks the colour of a vacuum cleaner dust bunny. 

Shine is not one set colour. To achieve realistic shine, analyse the different colours within the reflections. Sometimes our eye can trick us. For example, in the image below, the reflections includes a purple hue which may not be easy to identify. 

To help identify colour variations, use an eye-dropper tool. By that I don’t mean apply glaucoma meds to your work with a pipette, I mean download a colour-selector type tool online.

Additional tips for working with colour:

- Leave the paper blank for the brightest part of the shine. 

- Add extra glow by applying bright colour to the very edge of the whitest highlights e.g. Prismacolor “Ginger” or “Sky blue”, Polychromos “Light Yellow” or “Cadmium Yellow Lemon”.


1. Identify and draw all the “shapes” that make up the reflections 

2. Smoothly shade the shapes with correct values

3. Use correct colours for the reflections

It takes some time to train your eye to see things as they really are, but once you do, you will see intricate detail in everything around you. You will see reflections as shapes, bald heads as reflective desk lamps, and you’ll likely notice all the things you’ve neglected to “Dab on a little Tarn-Off”!

If you’d like to see the shiny truck being drawn (complete with my newly acquired DJ-esk editing skills) check out my time-lapse video below!

x Candy

Copyright © All rights reserved. Privacy Policy
Using Format