I have been teaching for over 25 years now and I find one of the most often asked about subjects is backgrounds. So many artists are intimidated by the background. It seems painting foreground is a pleasure – but when it comes to a background – fear sets in!This is one of the traps for young players!I find the initial problem is lack of confidence. Confidence of course comes from lack of practice. How do we overcome this common issue? My suggestion is to have a trial run first. But we need to start by looking at our painting subject in a different way.This is an early painting – painted maybe 15 or more years ago. It is one that always evokes much interest.It started off so well that I became intimidated to put in a background in case I ruined it. Sound familiar? This is what I did:I turned the painting toward the wall and left it there for over 6 months! The frustration ate away at me during that time – until a light came on!I knew what background I wanted to paint. So composition wasn’t the problem. My problem was I had never painted a soft-edged, light colored buildings and cobblestones before.

I was focusing on the labels (”light colored buildings”, ”cobblestones” etc)  instead of what was actually in front of me: a soft-edged, pale background. What I should have been concentrating on is: the surfaces and textures – or lack of them – these are the things that we actually see and recognize as buildings, steps, cobblestones!

We often cripple ourselves unnecessarily. Why think “I don’t know how to paint cobblestones – I have never painted water before” – when what we need to do is delve into what it is we are actually seeing.

In this case – it was not a matter of ‘pale cobbles’ – it was a matter of light colored suggestions of blurred lines that become less aparent the further back they go. Very little detail on any surface, soft edges, pale color allowing the white paper to show through.

Easy! Basic! We can do that!

I took a scrap piece of watercolor paper and practiced. I then cut the shape of the boy and the fountain out of the scrap paper. I placed the paper over the original painting – allowing my painting of the boy and the fountain to show through. I could then see how the painting would look if I used that background. I could also see if I needed to make any changes.

I then began painting the simple background on the original painting – with confidence!

The end result was exactly as I wanted it to be!

What did I learn? An invaluable lesson:

Don’t label things “I haven’t painted ??? before”! Look at the surfaces and the textures – or as in this case – the lack of them. Practice on a spare piece of paper. Gain the confidence and then JUST GO FOR IT!
Have fun!

Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog so you can be notified of next week’s post!Susan Harrison-Tustain
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