View Full Version : Background Help?
02-13-2001, 12:49 AM
Talking acrylics here. Are there any rule of thumb for backgrounds of portraits of people or pets? I use the fredrix pre-primed, read to use canvas boards, are they Ok? Second question, How do you determine a background color for portraits? I usually mix a color with some glaze. I have found that when I apply at a "guess" at color and do it, I am unhappy with it or it just doesn't look right with the subject. Is there a way you can do a test? like hold a piece of paper with different colors painted on next to the photo? Desperatly need some tips here, don't want to make mistakes again and have to live with it. Thank you
tish, Chelsea's mom and inspiration
02-13-2001, 07:05 AM
Look for a colour thats going to compliment their hair, their facial colouring, their clothes. At least withh acrylics you can paint over it.
Billyg http://www.wetcanvas.com/ubb/biggrin.gif http://www.wetcanvas.com/ubb/biggrin.gif
02-13-2001, 07:30 AM
Yes, you can use the canvas boards, but if they are the pressed cardboard kind, I recommend using stretched canvas or other surface instead. The cardboard types are not suitable for permanent work. But for practice and travel they're fine.
And yes, you can test, a couple of ways. One would be to take a canvas and use the whole thing as a test. paint strips of colors from cool to warm across the surface (these can be tones and tints, not pure colors...that would be too harsh). Then make another test canvas using warm grays and cool grays. When these have dried, test for hair colors, eye colors, clothing colors on the strips to see what effects you can achieve.
Generally, if your subject is "cool" a "warmer" color to start works well and really sets off your subject. Conversely, if your subject is generally "warm", use a "cooler" underpainting color.
You can tint the surface with a wash of acrylic or solidly paint it in a color to start. Test which way you'd like to do this too.
The other way to test is as you mentioned, hold up colors to the photo. However, photos that are more "portrait" type shots have a plain or mottled background selected by the photographer. Many times, this background is fine, other times it was unsuitable for the subject anyway. So look at the person only when you hold up your background colors.
Another guideline, if you use the exact same color as the person themselves for the background, it will tend to look dull or flat. Deftly handled, it will be wonderful, but when you are just learning to use color, I recommend choosing either a medium neutral gray to start or a complimentary color for the underpainting Then all your colors will "read" immediately and you can paint with more ease.
You will paint out most of the background anyway, but the parts that glow through glazed areas will help unify the painting.
Also, if you'd like a rougher surface for your portraits, the medium canvas is fine, but if you work in a very fine detailed manner, you might consider a smoother canvas surface (many pre-stretched canvas' come with smooth as well as medium surface).
And if you have not already, invest in a couple of good books on portraiture relating to acrylic and/or oil.
Wish you the best with it.
L. Diane Johnson (http://www.LDianeJohnson.com/) NAPA, PSA
Plein Air Workshops (http://www.LDianeJohnson.com/workshops/)
02-13-2001, 08:31 AM
I like to begin with a grey neutral gesso, by adding a bit of black to it..so that my lights show up immediately and I can better judge them...all that white is a bit intrusive when I'm trying to judge lighter values early on.
My darks show up right away as well.
There are a couple thoughts that go into the masters having used warm backgrounds, and in particular umbers. For one...a commission seeks to present the individual as inviting and warm. Warm colors psychologically do that for us....they make a person "feel" more inviting. Cool colors cause us to shudder and feel more distant. For example, a Wyeth villain or pirate might have cool colors throughout to heighten that sense that we would not like this person.
Secondly...many painters paint still on a natural wooden palette...so their warm colors do not seem quite so warm while mixing. This causes the artist to make even more dramatic warms to apply to the painting.
If you mix on a white palette...the warms appear warmer than what they should, and in mixing you naturally downplay them. This accounts for some duller lesser lively works of some artists.
Consider no lighting throughout the evening to work, often oil lamps only and the type of light they cast. That earth tone pigments were more readily availale, and what was being passed down from academy to academy...and you have many warm umber backgrounds throughout the Renaissance and Baroque era.
It was when the Impressionists went outside that they saw light bathed everything differently that artists sought more naturalized color. Today...portraits are wide open in one's approach. Many artists consider more the context of which they paint, meaning "modern" times...and thus, rather than imitate the umbers of times past include a dialog or setting that speaks more about modern people. So in a roundabout long way Letisha, what I've come to say is that the type of background is wide open, and many considerations there are now available.
Look at Milt's Ladies...and see the context I speak of as one example. As a matter of fact, I don't know if it is as a result of Milts greater exposure, but I have noticed of late a few other painters that seem to be painting somewhat in his style. Perhaps past students of his? I picked up a recent American Art News..and saw such a few.
"Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do!" Edgar Degas
02-13-2001, 11:17 PM
LARRY AND DIANE! Thank you so much for taking the time to write in dept about approaching background painting. Both of you explained very clearly. Now I'll do my homework instead of just ploping paint right on the canvas and saying "OH NO!" It all makes sense now. I've printed out your posts and have them hanging in my work room. Thank you again.
tish, Chelsea's mom and inspiration
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