Gaga on Reflections

by Kathleen Huebener in Painting Tips

Capturing reflections on one’s artwork has always fascinated me. Whether the reflections are on a pond, on a river, or even in a puddle, the truth is water reflections inadvertently draw viewers to one’s artwork. Angles and lengths of reflections are trouble spots for some artists. Because the laws of physics govern reflections, one just needs to learn and to paint by these laws, or rules, and the reflections will be perfect.


Where do you find these rules? You will get a good “reflection” foundation in an art book Zoltan Szabo’s 70 Favorite Watercolor Techniques. Zoltan Szabo created a whole chapter on “Rules of Reflection.” Before you panic, there are only 10 rules of reflection.
I will only include a few of the rules in this article.


First, reflecting surfaces may be broken down into two categories: perfect (example: mirrors) and imperfect (those which have a local color of their own, example: lakes). Only examples of imperfect reflections will be shown here.


Rule 1: Any given point on an object must reflect directly below itself.
If the object leans to the right, its reflection will also tilt to the right.
If an object stands upright its reflection will continue straight down,
as demonstrated by the dock posts in the river.

Rule 3: When an object tilts away from you,
its reflection becomes shorter than the object itself.
Note the men in the vessel are leaning away from the viewer.
Also, see the reflection of the motor, which is extending straight down.
Isn’t that white reflection of the vessel interesting! It pulls the eye right to it.

Rule 5: The tonal value of a reflection is controlled
by the deepest value of the water’s local color.
Here, the elk’s dark legs reflect lighter than their own value.
It is reflecting exactly the same value as the deepest value
of the water’s local color, which has a mid-tone value.

Rule 8: Reflections are not in the water but on its surface.
See how the reflection follows the ripples on the river.
The ripples’ near sides reflect the plants, but their far sides reflect only the sky.
Reflections are a WOW factor in any painting or photo, if done right.
To learn more about the rules of reflection, go check out Zoltan Szabo’s book.
As it is written,
“In all labor there is profit.” Proverbs 14: 23.
This means if you take the time to learn about reflections,
your paintings will reflect it. Sorry, I just had to say that.

Even reflections in puddles are incredible. In closing,

 the award-winning photo of a reflection of a tree in a puddle,

taken by my husband and photographer William Huebener.

Enjoy reflections.