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Backgrounds!

May 28, 2013

Rose watercolor, 6x6 inches

Rose watercolor, 6×6 inches

One of the most persistent problems you hear beginners as well as more experienced painters complain about is ‘ backgrounds’.  In realistic painting, the subject is painted somewhere in the middle of the paper or canvas (since I’m talking about watercolors here I’ll talk about ‘ paper’), completed to satisfaction then oh, oh what to do with the  ‘background’.

It  is something like the dilemma of people cooking for vegetarians- they leave out the meat and all they have on the plate are the potatoes and beans!  You take away something and try to create a meal out of what’s left, instead of starting out with the idea of creating a vegetarian meal as a whole, using lots of different ingredients.

Are you still following me?

The way to solve the ‘background’  dilemma is not to try to figure out what to do with the background once you’ve completed the main subject but to treat the background as an essential ingredient, already integrated into the painting from the beginning.

Rose in process, working across the whole subject including background

Rose from above in process, working across the whole subject including background

It can help to decide on an overall color palette for the painting before you even pick up a brush. And look at the negative spaces, how the light falls, and try to shift how you see. Try to move away from perceiving just an object against a’  background’  to an intricate interplay of puzzle pieces- each equally important.

Anne's kitchen

Anne’s kitchen

Pears in sunlight 2

Pears in sunlight 2

These are basically travel sketches and I’ve been trying to keep my work really loose, so it only partly illustrates my point here.

This penny just recently dropped for me, so I’ve included some of my attempts in watercolor above. But it would be good to look at some classical oil paintings by Cezanne, for example, where the negative shapes are more clearly defined.

my trusty little traveling watercolor set

my trusty little traveling watercolor set

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