A reverse glass painting is done in several short steps, just a little at a time. The paint that you put on the glass first needs time to dry before the next paint is applied to the glass (in order to keep the edges intact). Since the painting will be viewed from the side of the glass opposite of the side that you’re painting on, the very last thing that ‘happened’ in the picture, such as the light reflection in an eye, will be the first thing that goes into the painting. A shadow is another thing that would enter a ‘picture’ last. The shadow too, will go in the painting early. Unlike painting in oils or acrylics on canvas, the background of the picture will be the very last thing to paint.
In an effort to teach you how, I’ll use as an example, my 12-year-old grandson fishing from the shore of Lake Delta as a subject.
- Get a GOOD photo of this event happening. Get it enlarged to a size that will be good for the painting. For a finished painting, 16" x 20", I can see an 8" x 10" zoomed in, up close and personal photo of the boy holding the fishing pole being a good size. Now, while you are thinking about the background, slide that 8" x 10" under the 16' x 20" glass pane into the position where you want it. Hold it in place while you carefully turn the pane of glass over, with the photo held in place with one hand. Lay it down on the table, keeping the photo in place, in relation to the glass. Now tape it into place, onto the glass, all four sides, while looking at the backside of the photo. You may want to tape over the edges of the glass with masking tape so that your hands don’t get cut while handling the glass pane. When you turn the glass pane over again, your photograph should be right where you are going to need it!
- Last things first. In the photograph that I used, my grandson’s hands were hidden from me (because I took the picture from the back), so the first thing going in the painting, is going to be the fishing pole, complete with the fishing line. The very small flat brush will draw in the pole nicely, with a dark, dark color, maybe ivory black mixed with burnt umber. For the fishing line, which is only a thread of a string, I used a sharply pointed bar-b-q skewer, and thinned down the paint as much as possible to still retain the color. If too much paint gets on the glass, you can wrap a rag around the thumb of the hand you paint with, and wipe out the excess with a firm pressure along the line you want to create.
- Being right-handed, the next part of the painting that I will put in place is the left side of the person in the painting, paying attention to the shadows in the clothing, because they are going to want to be flexible, and trail back into the rest of the clothing. Most of these shadows will be triangular in shape, however, some of them may be elongated. I am using a little Payne's grey, mixed with the color of the clothing, to make the shadows. At the open side of the triangle, where the shadow gradually blends into the color of the clothing article, let it mix just a little. If the clothes are all in place, the painting needs to dry before you can put the boy in them.
- Working completely upside down to the painting, follow the outlines of the child on his other side, so that he will be complete. Work in the same manner except that now you will be using much more of the colors of his clothing than the shadow color. If his or her feet were in flip-flops, or sandals, they should be included with the clothing, and go in before the feet. Allow the paint to dry. For me, this is the hard part. I usually go to work on another painting that is in progress.
- Now it’s time to put my grandson into the clothing I have painted for him. I’m going to use some buff white, burnt sienna and just a touch of burnt umber for the coloring. Where the shadows are on his skin, I will need to mix in a tiny of the Payne's grey. Because my grandson is very blonde, I will use a light cadmium yellow, mixed with white for the hair. Again, I’m using the bar-b q skewer for the hair and the eyelashes. Since the hairs on his head need to dry before I can do more there, I’ll work on his legs and feet. Using my ever-faithful bar-b-q skewer, the sides and bottoms of the toenails should be drawn in with some of the burnt umber. The ends of the toenails are going to have some almost white edges drawn in. There may be a tiny shadow where the knuckles of the toes are. When the hairs are dry, back to the face. Finish up the hair that you didn’t do with a small (half-inch wide) fan brush. You’re going to need some Indian red mixed with the buff white. Put in the cheekbone, the nostrils (if they show), the line between the lips, etc. Look carefully to see where the shadows lie. Without dark, you cannot have light. Follow the same line of thought when you get back to the calves of the legs. Once again, allow the paint to dry.
- It’s time to start painting the surroundings, the objects in the foreground of the painting. Because these things are in the foreground (the area between the main subject and the bottom of the picture), the colors will be almost as dark or as bright as the colors that you used for the main subject. Just a side note here... Dark and bright are not contradictory, dark and light are. The background will be lighter and less bright than the foreground. Are there a few tide-worn rocks on the sandy shore? If there are reflections on the tops or on the sides of the early-morning sun, they may need to be painted in two steps. Paint the reflection (or highlight) first, and let it dry. Then, paint the rest of the stone. (I would do the reflections of all of the stones first in an effort to keep the painting moving.) Then, paint all of the rest of the stones. The painting will keep your interest better this way. There may be some driftwood on the shore, or some branches that fell from nearby trees. Now is the time to paint them in. After this part dries, paint the bunches of grass, and the sand that makes up the shore. This will give your little loved one in the painting something to stand on!
- Now, rather than wait for it to dry, you can turn the painting completely upside down so that you can begin putting the water in the lake. The edge of the lake I worked on had a little murky green that I mixed in with the deep blue of the more distant water. However, there was also some sand visible in the closest part. So give the water's edge just a hint of the blue with a very small round brush held as upright as possible to the glass. You can also put some white air bubbles and water splashes around the rocks. There were some small ripples in the water, so mix the white with the deep blue of the distant water to draw (with your small round brush) these horizontal ripples into the place where the lake is going to be.
Time to work on the further shore. As things grow distant, the vibrant colors grow much more subdued. Even though it is important to use some of the same colors as in the fore ground, you’re going to use more of the white mixed with just a little of the blue to soften the color. You can use a fan brush to just paint in the indications of those pine trees on the other side of the lake. While the greens of the pines are still wet, you may want to draw in the tree trunks with that small round brush (probably going to use some dark grey with brown for that little job). This will also be a good time to paint in some fluffy but very thin (paint-wise) clouds. The reason that you are going to keep them thin is because some of the blue sky will want to peek through later!
- When everything is dry, you can turn the painting right-side up again. Paint in the rest of the shoreline with the dominant, sandy color of the beach. You could use a 2" or 3" brush (that might be the brush you did the trim on the walls with) as long as you don’t smear onto the surface of the lake. Of course, you can use a smaller brush if it’s handier, but the point is that you only need to trust yourself enough to cover what you have already painted!
- You are going to paint in the lake in the same manner, except that you need to be careful to use only horizontal brush strokes for this. The waters must be kept level! The further side of the lake should be edged a little with just a hint of a shoreline. You will never see the details that far away with the naked eye, so don’t try to put them in the painting. It won't look right! Now think about it....What was behind the pine trees? It was just more trees, so you can paint the darker background trees almost in a wide, horizontal line behind your already-dry trees. The rest of the blue sky will need to go in, too. Don’t mix the blues too much. The sky needs to be lighter in some areas. Your painting is so very close to being done! Let it dry! Be patient!
- Now that the painting is dry, hold it upright with the left hand, if you are right-handed. Check to see where the paint may be thin, or there may even be gaps where there is no paint. You can use a 2" or 3" flat brush with colors close to, but not exactly the same, as the colors you have in the painting. It’s best to do this with a light behind the painting, so that you can see where you need more paint.
- Last, but not least, the time has come to put the sheet of glass back in the frame. If there are little metal tabs that held it in place, make sure that the glass will just drop into place. This is not the time to break it! Please take my word on that one. I’ve done it too many times! Replace the original cardboard if you still have it. If you don’t, you’ll have to cut one. The back of the painting needs to be covered or the paint will scratch off very easily. Push the metal tabs into place. If some fall out or get lost, glazer points work well, too.
O. K......time to turn it around, and unveil the masterpiece!