Painting Vermeer’s Pitcher

How to paint a golden detail with gouache

I told you a while ago how I am in love with Vermeer’s work. So, here is another project related to the great Dutch master today, with a new detail: the pitcher from Young Woman with a Water Pitcher.

Johannes Vermeer, Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, ca 1662, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York, Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1889.

The colours and light of this masterpiece are stunning: many rays of light, various colours – all the yellows, reds and blues! I could look at it for hours. Because I love this palette, I chose to paint only the blues and yellows and to single out one detail: the pitcher.

This is the detail I chose to work on.




For today’s project, I used:

  • black and white pencils

  • gouache

  • grey paper.

I would usually use a graphite pencil, but I noticed that graphite pencil on coloured paper was not easy to shoot with the camera above me, because it is too reflective. I decided to use a black coloured pencil so that you can see it better.

When I paint with gouache, I almost always use the same brushes. I have lots of other brushes, but I always come back to these two or three:

  • My go-to brush is a soft round brush (size 18 in France).

  • Sometimes I add one or two flat bristle brushes.


Step 1 – Sketching Vermeer’s detail with white pencil

First, I used a black pencil to sketch the entire scene. If you are not familiar with my drawing technique, it is basically a three-step trial and error process:

  1. I look intently at a small part of the reference photo, as if it were some abstract shape.

  2. I try to reproduce it on paper, looking back and forth a lot between the photo and the drawing. Do the shapes look the same? Yes: keep it. No: erase and repeat.

  3. Then I look at my drawing again, not as geometrical shapes but as what it is supposed to be. Does it look like this painting? Yes: keep it. No: erase and repeat.

Then (at 01:11 on the short video above), I added white highlights with white pencil.

In the short video above, this runs from 00:00 to 01:39. It actually took me 15 minutes.


Step 2 – Painting Vermeer’s pitcher with gouache

Then I went on to paint large areas with gouache.

Gouache is a very interesting medium, whose visual qualities change when it dries. The colours change a little, and the paint goes from shiny to entirely matt (which I love, but that is not the point here). Gouache is also a medium where you can play with layering and transparency to change the overall effect. I find that these qualities of gouache are magnified when painting on dark paper. The effects of the layers are even more dramatic, and changes in the colours can sometimes be surprising.

So I added layer upon layer to achieve the exact effects I wanted. As in the painting of the Woman with Balance, I also took the liberty of not painting everything. I wanted to leave areas of grey paper as they were, and not paint everything. I focused on an even more limited range of colours here than in the details from Woman with a Balance: blue for large areas and golden hues for details and the pitcher itself.

In the short video above, this runs from 01:39 to 02:52. It actually took me 30 minutes.


Step 3 – Adding details and defining the pitcher with gouache

I told you before that my go-to brush is a soft round brush (size 18 in France). I love using it as much for painting big areas as for creating tiny little details, when I use just the fine tip of the brush.

To paint the details and reflection on the pitcher, I used the same technique of adding layers of paint to achieve the right effect and the right reflections. It took quite a while (45 minutes). I also noticed that I had to work with greens and blues to create the metallic effect. Who would have guessed that was the way to achieve this effect!

In the short video above, this runs from 02:52 to 04:06. It actually took me 45 minutes.


And voilà!

And voilà! It took me 1½ hours to paint a beautiful pitcher after Vermeer. You too can have a great addition to your sketchbook or to your home.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. As always, I do not pretend to be a teacher, a seasoned artist or an expert in anything. I am just a very motivated learner who finds a deep joy in regular art practice.

The finished drawing is ready to frame or gift | Painting Vermeer’s Pitcher, by The Daily Atelier


If you liked this post, you will almost certainly like some of these other projects about Vermeer. Enjoy!