What do you see when you look at this picture?
In point of fact, it is part of a 17th century still life by the Dutch painter, Willem Kalf, on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. I spent some time there during my recent July vacation, and learned more about the 'how' of painting that I have ever gotten out of an art museum before.
I can only assume that what I am about to describe is obvious to anybody who
has ever studied art, either professionally or casually, but I was a Computer
Science major in college, and never had any training in the fine arts to
speak of. Learning painting techniques, like NMM and object-source lighting
has changed the way I look at pictures.
As an example, this is Willem Van Aelst's "Still Life with Fish, Bread and Nautilus Cup", painted in 1678.
Kalf's "Still Life with Armor" is just as instructive. The sword hilt pictured above is a part of that painting. Kalf's placement of flat browns, yellows and other colors produces a very convincing metallic effect on the blade. The technique he used is much the same as a miniature painter's non-metallic metal technique. Here's another sample from the same painting:
The armor looks highly polished and reflective, in spite of being done entirely with oil on canvas. As has I have mentioned in the past, a lot of that effect comes from the extreme contrast between dark and light on the metal surface, and the sharp, bright highlight shining towards the viewer. I wish my technique was one tenth so good.
By studying how the masters applied such techniques, I very much hope to improve my own. It certainly can't hurt!