View Full Version : Backgrounds

09-13-2000, 08:39 AM
Hi, I'm sure this question has been asked before, but I would love any and all tips anyone has on how to master watercoloring backgrounds. I have ruined more paintings because of the background than all other reasons combined. I would sure appreciate some solutions. Thanks.

Phyllis Rennie
09-13-2000, 08:15 PM
I think it would depend on the subject of the painting. Why don't you post a work in progress in the watercolor forum and ask for suggestions on that particular piece. I'm sure you'd get more suggestions that way. Phyl

09-13-2000, 08:28 PM
One of my art tutors banned the use of the word 'background'. Why? Because there is a tendency to think about those parts of the painting as being of less status. Therefore these, er, non-foreground elements either get less consideration or are painted in a different way to the rest and the coherence of the work is lost.

best wishes


09-13-2000, 09:26 PM
I think it all relates back to that positve and negative space. I agree with Sandra. Just the term negative space gives a "negative" connotation on it's importance. Always think in terms of the whole and not its separated parts. Try to plan it all out, even if it is only in your mind and work from a preconceived concept/idea. Can you find any similarities in the paintings where it didn't work (ie color, texture, fluidity...)? Maybe you'll see that there is a common problem in all of them, and then you can begin to work on that. Don't get discouraged. It happens to all of us at some time. Good Luck and keep trying!!!

Lady Artist
09-13-2000, 09:59 PM
Yes, I see this as a big problem in a lot of new artist's work. It either gets too little attention or not enough and true, it can ruin the whole subject matter if not handled right.
Maybe I do backgrounds-back-wards but I always paint mine in lst. It seems to set the tone and the mood and the brushstroke method for the subject matter. It hasn't failed me yet.
I like a lot of texture in my backgrounds as opposed to flat washes. I do wet-in-wet of about 3 colors, often starting with the lighter ones at the top and working down to the darker shadowed tones near the bottom. Then I often go back when I'm finished with the subject and add shadows if necessary. This is primarily for my still lifes.
Your own technique is something to experiment with. I'd say, don't be afraid of the paint. Splash it on and try to free yourself up to make mistakes and learn. :-)

Lady Artist
09-13-2000, 10:07 PM

Here's an idea of how one of my backgrounds looks. Hope the URL above works.

09-14-2000, 01:52 AM
One of the things I have always done, right or wrong, but works for me is to work my whole canvas or paper at the same time. I tend to work in layers, and decide on color before I begin a piece. That way the background, foreground and subjects all develope at the same time.


09-14-2000, 01:35 PM
Lady Artist, Thank you for that beautiful painting. I'm starting to wonder if I'm leaving too much of my paintings as open background. I have a hard time painting around my objects quickly enough to avoid backruns and splotches. Sometimes a background I've meant to be a smooth wash has to be textured to hide my mistakes. Often these turn out interesting, but it also changes my vision for what I wanted to do. Maybe I should stop worrying about the backgrounds and just paint. I usually do the background first because I find it the most difficult and would rather toss an attempt at that point than be disappointed after I have painstakingly completed the subject. Thanks again for the beautiful sample of your work.

Lady Artist
09-14-2000, 01:41 PM
Catjoe, oh gee, don't toss them at that stage. I look at mine in the beginning too and until I start to build on shadows and details they look so flat and uninteresting. Try to give it a chance to develop. And if they run and splotch, sometimes all the better. I know what you mean about "vision". I don't think I've ever done a painting the way I actually pictured it in my mind. But I think of them now as having been guided by a "higher power" or whatever that's coming through me. Sometimes it's just nice to let it develop as it will.
And thanks for the compliments.

09-15-2000, 12:37 AM
Lady Artist: What a nice painting! Thanks for posting that. Always interested in seeing other people's styles.