“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” — Edgar Degas
The background of a painting creates the atmosphere for the entire artwork. The success of the subject matter comes to life as the viewer steps into the background, becomes engaged, and is guided to the point of focus.
A close up of a flower, a bowl of fruit, a mountain cabin on a lake, or a distant star on the horizon all need to relate to a harmonious background. Closeups, still life, portraits, and landscapes are all sustained and strengthened by the background’s visual story.
The background forms the stage and is a big part of what the artist is wishing to convey. It should complement the middle ground and foreground while infusing light, depth, harmony, and visual appeal.
Planning Your Colors
Before you rush into painting the background, do a little prep work. By now you should have the Double Primary Palette set up and are ready to begin mixing paint hues for the background application. You have your scrap in hand and an idea of the composition of your painting.
In the same way you learned how to mix the correct value percentages for blue and cloudy skies, the base mixes for this area of your painting will start with primarily these 4 dull colors plus white.
The four dull colors are:
- Ultramarine Blue
- Alizarin Crimson
- Yellow Ochre
- Naples Yellow
At times your painting’s background will also need to include the other two dull colors: Burnt Umber and Raw Sienna that are also used when painting cloudy skies.
Follow the plan as you see illustrated above when using these four dull colors and create three mixes of blue, red, and yellow as your base background colors. You can also use this same technique using the two other dull colors if needed.
As you apply the paint to your canvas, the mixes are blended again according to your scrap or your color guide plan.
To keep harmony always mix by adding a little red, yellow, and blue to each mix.
Remember, the background value should never exceed 55% or it will become too dominant. The viewer’s eye will get confused and your painting will lose its sense of atmosphere.
Applying The Background Paint
It’s important to always think in values as you see in a greyscale based on degrees of ten. As you move from the background forward, always add 10% detail as you get closer to the middle ground. The above sample painting is the background slice of a larger image.
The next tutorial will provide instruction on painting background mountains. These majestic structures need additional instruction before we move to the middle ground paint colors, values, and their intensity.
Table of Contents for the Perfect Palette Series
- The Many Hues of Color
- Best Palette Colors to Build Depth
- The Double Primary Palette
- Painting Blue and Cloudy Skies
- Mixing Colors for Painting the Background
- Painting Mountains
- How the Middle Ground Creates Harmony
- Stepping Into the Foreground
- Laying Down Foreground Foundations: Rocks, Tree Mounds, etc.