“He who would search for pearls must dive below.” ~ John Dryden
Painting pearls is simple as long as you understand the nature of pearls. Pearls are usually white or cream colored. It is the highly reflective nature of the pearl’s surface called nacre that fascinates people. When wearing pearls, colors from clothing and skin are reflected off the pearls producing that glow. If a woman wears pearls in a sitting for a portrait, you can bet she wants those pearls painted well.
Start with the basics. Pearls are usually spheres worn singly or on a strand, so you will want to do an underpainting. Paint them in using a blend of Pthalo green and titanium white. Don’t fall into the trap of using gray and white or burnt sienna and white. Remember, pearls are all about the lustre. Once you have a 3 dimensional rendering of the pearls’ shapes, then glazing the relections from the wearer’s skin, garments and surroundings should give you the effect you want.
If you can’t borrow real pearls to study for your painting, then try using eggs from the refrigerator. They’re white and spherical and pick up all surrounding coloring. Women who wear pearls generally know a lot about their pearls and a simple statement from you (“How lovely.”) will usually evoke a response such as, “Oh, they’re South Sea pearls.” or, “They were my mother’s.” This will give you good insight as to their importance to the subject of the portrait.