Things to Know: Backgrounds

10:00 AM

WIP: Pink Petticoats Peony

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Backgrounds are just as important as the center of interest (COI)!* (Maybe more so!)* If you don't plan them out as carefully as you do the COI, you run a huge risk of ruining your painting! I can't tell you how many times I've gotten excited about the COI, painted it while totally ignoring the background, only to ruin the painting by putting in an "afterthought" of a background! I had to learn to slow down and ask the right questions! By asking those same key questions before you start painting you too can avoid this trap!

Some suggestions:
  • Backgrounds are a design element! Use it! Backgrounds can dictate temperature, time of day, distance, evoke emotion, set a mood, create an environment, etc. They can be abstract or realistic, hard edged or soft and blurry, hot, cool, varied, high-key, low-key, etc. Their role is one of support. Backgrounds should enhance the COI and that enhancement should be thought out and planned!
  • Ask broad key questions during the design stage to determine how you want the background to support the COI. What do I want it to say? How important is the background in this painting? Do I even need a background? Should it be in focus? Out of focus? A mere suggestion of objects, totally abstract shapes or realistic? Should it be warm or cool? Show the time of day? Push the COI forward? Will it help pull the viewer into the painting? Is it close up or does it show distance? Answering these questions should provide a direction for the role the background will play in your painting.
  • Once you have the background drawn out, assess it by asking narrow-focused questions. Any confusing shapes? Extraneous details that do not support your COI? Does anything compete with the COI? Get out the artistic license and evaluate the shapes, spaces and objects, with a critical eye. Do they add something? Do they confuse the eye? Do they detract? Do they compete? How can they be changed, adjusted, modified, strengthened, or eliminated to make a stronger image?
  • Once the tweaking is done, assess the background as a whole. Does it say what you want it to say? Is there a flow? Does it have negative and positive shapes? Is anything too close to the edge? Do any shapes lead the eye out of the image?
By asking and answering these questions before you being the painting, you have an idea as to what you want from the background in the way of support. Make conscious choices and decisions! You will find there are an infinite number of answers to all of these questions for each piece of work. Whip out your artistic license again and go for what you think are the best answers. By consciously choosing, you can then evaluate what worked and what did not. If something worked in one painting, that can become a foundation block to build upon.

If you're painting a still life in the studio you have a bit more control and can incorporate the things you want into the set up. If you're painting on location, these questions are just as vital, if not more so! Time is fleeting and it is necessary to focus on the COI and eliminate unnecessary details in order to capture the essence of the scene before the light is gone.

Next, we'll talk about some tips and tricks to use with backgrounds. Meanwhile, any questions?

*Please note there are many opinions in the artworld and these are simply mine. One of the wonderful things about art is there are many "right" ways to do something and no one way is usually the only way. Take this info, try it on for size. If it fits, great! If not, disregard it. I am a student just as you are and will always seek to be a student so that I might continue to learn as there is much to know.

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

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6 Creative Thought(s)

  1. Hi Laure, fantastic post and timely. I just went into the ditch in the background of my current work in progress due to being impatient. Lesson relearned. :-) Also, I haven't been blogging for several days and I just discovered the award you gave me. Ah shucks and golly gee...thanks so much! I shall post about it in the near future!! Again, great info here. May we all apply it! :-)

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  2. Your post is informative and so true. Thanks for the words to live by.

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  3. I am going to have a whole page of bookmarks by the time you get done with this fantastic series!! So much to think about.

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  4. So many of these questions pop into my mind. The answers don't come so easily. SIGH~~ I like the way you have made the questions so concrete by listing them. Most helpful.

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  5. Laure, you opened up a whole subject I had never really thought about seriously, again I would mistakenly think that the COI was the crux of the picture. And you certainly gave many points to consider when planning; otherwise I might have just said, "I think I'm in a green mood today - yeah, that's the background", without putting much thought into it. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, for delving into this topic!

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  6. I am so glad this has added value. Sometimes hearing someone articulate their process opens up doors and window we don't know exist, however, to your point, Krista, sometimes we are in a green mood and that's perfectly okay. That's the wonderful thing about art - we all get to do it our way!

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