Things to Know: Abstract Backgrounds

5:18 PM

Warning: Practice first! Please do not try these techniques on a "good" painting without first practicing on a failed painting, a practice sketch or a scrap of paper! It takes a few tries (sometimes more) to get the hang of doing backgrounds.

Update: The piece above is Bright Beginnings and has been featured on the blog before - it is not a new piece! Sorry if I have caused anyone confusion. I simply used it as it illustrates the points I am making below very well.

So you've painted a lovely rose and you're ready to put in a background and it looks like, well, nothing. A big green blob. This is where your artistic license gives you the opportunity to change, add, or play with the green blob any way you see fit! Here my process before I ever pick up a brush:

First, I evaluate for color variations. Is there more than one shade of the main color? Other colors? Are they attractive? Do they harmonize? If the answer is no to any of these questions, I change the background to have a variety of colors including at least one from my center of attention (COI). If there is a jarring color, I change it. Just because it's in the reference photo reference does not mean I have to put it in my painting! (In the painting above I changed the background to be a variety of greens using the same greens that are in the stem and sepals [the green leaf-like thingies under the bud] as well as adding the orange and pink.)

Second, I evaluate the overall temperature of the colors in the background, COI and the light. If it's full sun and my COI is out in the open, does it make sense to have cool darks in the background? Would it be more pleasing to have warm darks? A mixture of both? This depends greatly on the subject matter and artistic intent. There is no one answer. It must be determined for each painting. (In the painting above, I chose a variety of warms and cools, but with a definite leaning towards warm.)

Third, I observe the shapes in the background. Is there variety? Are they pleasing? Are there too many shapes? Does anything detract from the COI or cause confusion? Do I need to strengthen a weak area? Variety is the spice of life, but to much variety is still too much. I look for a variety of shapes and unify where necessary to eliminate confusion, busyness or competition. (In my photo reference there was a jumble of partial leaves at the bottom of the image with some very bright spots of light that would have confused the eye had I included them.)

Fourth, evaluate the overall background. Do I want it to be totally abstract or does it need a suggestion of an environment? This depends on several factors - what is the COI and will it be clear what the background should be without any clues to the viewer or would the piece be made stronger by a suggestion of a shape? You may want the background to be ambiguous if you are trying to evoke mystery, mood or emotion. (In the painting above there are no defined shapes, yet you know it is outside in a garden area probably with other plants around that may or may not be roses.)

And last but not least, I look for areas to integrate the COI with the background. Has nature already provided a merger? Are there any similar values between the COI and the background? (If you look at the back two sepals in the painting above you will notice that their edges are soft and that they are much darker than the two forward sepals. I painted all the sepals at the same time as I painted the rose, but I then allowed my background wash to cover the back sepals to integrate them with the background. The wash obscured some of the details, softened the edges, and the values are now similar thereby merging the COI with the background.)

After answering these questions, I have a good idea of the direction I want to go and I'm ready to pick up my brush and start painting. Next installment of the series will deal with the technical side of painting an abstract background!

© Article and text copyrighted by Laure Ferlita, 2009 All Rights Reserved

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4 Creative Thought(s)

  1. Great descriptions of how you go about it, Laure. I particularly enjoyed reading about the two sepals in the rear--nice job! The painting is beautiful!

  2. Geez, I can't get beyond that beautiful marvelous gorgeous stunning rose to read the words!! I need to come back when I can catch my breath!

  3. This is very interesting to sort of 'listen in' to how you approach doing a background. I really appreciate knowing how you approached this.

  4. backgrounds are my downfall, I spend ages on a piece to be stumped by the background, sometimes I even feel I've let a piece down with a bland background simply because I have never taken much time to consider it, this is a huge help to me, I shall be coming back to this article for reference as I had never realised there were so many things to consider, no wonder backgrounds frighten me!


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