How to Mix a Copper Colored Paint in Oil or Acrylic

Create the Look of Shiny Copper Objects in Your Paintings

Cornelis Jacobsz Delff - Kitchen Still-Life
 Wikimedia Commons

The art of painting comes with challenges and recreating the color of metal objects like a copper tea kettle can be tricky. There is a way to mix a copper paint using some of the most common pigments in your paint box and it will work with either oil or acrylic paints.

It's a bit of a challenge, but with a little patience and attention to the finer details, you will be painting copper like a pro.

How to Mix a Copper Paint

Copper is a difficult color for painters because our paints are not metallic. You can get the look of copper into your paintings with the right mix and some carefully placed highlights and shadows. 

The important thing to remember about painting metal objects is that you want to create surfaces that appear reflective and shiny. Metal is never a flat-color and if you simply paint your copper object with an orange-brown paint, it will look like a boring orange-brown pot, not the stunning copper pot you were hoping for.

For a true copper color, you will need to create a variety of mixed paints. The base, shadows, and highlights each require a separate and special mix in order to create the dimension needed for a realistic copper.

When testing these copper paint mixes, practice on a scrap piece of canvas and make adjustments to suit your needs. Also, try painting a simple copper object so you can practice the shadow and highlight placement.

  • For the base copper color, mix burnt sienna and cadmium red light.
  • For a good highlight, mix cadmium red with either cadmium yellow or cadmium orange. Add a little white if needed. Many artists find that blending a straight white over this mixture adds a nice punch to the highlight.
  • For shadow areas, begin with burnt sienna and raw umber.
  • For the deepest shadow areas, mix burnt sienna with a little ultramarine blue, adding a touch of ivory black if needed. Remember that shadows on copper tend to go to have a blue-green tint, not a darker orange-brown.

Copper should be a very warm color and that is why so many browns, oranges, and reds are used when mixing it. You can accentuate the warmth of those colors by adding cool white highlights. The contrast makes the copper color warmer.

Don't Forget About Copper's Texture

Even the flattest pieces of copper have a certain texture to them and texture is what makes the best copper in paintings. A texture may convey the dimples of pounded copper or the smoothness of the shiniest copper.

Study other paintings that include copper and you will notice the most stunning examples include texture created by various degrees of highlights and shadows. Many also include carefully placed brushstrokes to play up the copper's shininess.

A quick image search for "copper still life paintings" online will reveal many examples of great copper pots, kettles, vases, and bowls. Use this to see the various approaches other artists have taken. After just a few minutes, you will be inspired to mix your own copper paint.