Monday, 22 February 2010

What do I do About Backgrounds in My Paintings?

The background to a painting is often a forgotten element when a composition is set up. An empty and featureless area could be a problem unforeseen until the completion of the painting. This could ruin the artwork, regardless of how well the objects have been painted. How does the beginner overcome the problem of empty backgrounds in a painting?

How a Background can Ruin a Painting

The following practices are often the causes of unsatisfactory backgrounds in painting.

  • Giving sole consideration to the objects within a composition, without thinking about the background shapes, for exmple when composing a still life setting.
  • Viewing non-solid objects, such as clouds, reflections and shadows as incidental
  • Using a neutral or pale colour for backgrounds. Similarly using one colour to represent a background within a painting, such as green for landscapes or blue for the sky
  • Having too much going on in the background, causing loss of focal points within a painting
  • Painting the background from memory, resulting in an idealised background which will fail to convince.
Background Colours to Painting

A good composition in painting can be achieved if the background is given equal importance as the foreground. These two elements to a composition are known as “negative” and “positive” shapes. Positive shapes are the objects themselves. Negative shapes are the spaces in between. The following suggestions on what to do with negative shapes may help solve the problem of what to do about the backgrounds in paintings.
  • As well as looking at the shapes of the objects within a painting, give equal consideration to the shapes of the spaces between the objects. Look out for an imbalance in distribution. For instance, is there a large area of negative space within one area of the composition? If so, rearrange the objects or shift the viewpoint.
  • Look out for any linear echoes which may jar the painting, such as too many vertical lines which may remain unnoticed in the background until the painting is completed.
  • Simple elements make effective backgrounds, such as a pebbledash wall or crazy paving. Rustic wood, brick, climbing ivy, particularly under oblique lighting, add a textural element to a painting, which can be achieved by a painting technique known as Sgraffito.
  • Use backgrounds to create contrast in hues, as well as texture. A background containing a cool palette adds interest to a foreground consisting of warm colours
  • Juxtaposing complimentary colours such as violet and yellow, or blue and green will create a shimmering effect and add focal points to a painting. Introducing neutral colours will tone down a background that might be too garish
To heighten awareness of backgrounds, examine photographic snapshots and look for background elements which the photographer may not have been aware of. Use the same practice when deciding on a background for a painting.

What Makes a Good Background in Painting?

Non solid elements within a painting could create effective backgrounds if given equal consideration to solid objects. Textures in clouds, reflections in water and dappled shadows could provide a focal point. Further ideas for backgrounds for paintings could be clouds formations, such as a mackerel sky, a silhouette on a curtain or a foliage cascade.

Links on Oil Painting Advice

No comments: