The power of a background

I am often asked how to paint backgrounds and how to paint pale colors in watercolor.

I sometimes choose to paint a study with a white background. A floral work with an unpainted background is often titled a “redoute” style painting. After the famous botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté. This lends itself to the look and feel of a botanical study.

Other times I want to create a soft gentle study where the background emphasizes the atmosphere and emotion I want to portray.

Pale colored backgrounds bring a feeling of serenity to a painting and room where the painting is hung. Choose the overall feeling you wish to portray and then give some thought to how you will evoke the emotion and sentiment you want to capture with your message and within your brush strokes.

Much of this feeling and atmosphere comes from the color and tonal range you choose when painting something such as this still life painting. I wanted to share this intriguing insight into this ANZAC’s story was to create a painting that would also evoke a deep and touching response from the viewer. Carefully placed, appropriate time-worn objects, all shrouded in the patina of age, invite the viewer to enter this world and feel the genuine emotion within each brushstroke. I want the viewer to feel the poignancy of this scene and understand the depth of emotion felt by the soldier and the family awaiting his imminent return. Pale sepia/ecru watercolor washes, light cast shadows and quiet illumination all bring peace and a sense of tranquillity where passing time goes unnoticed and we ponder the story this painting reveals.

As artists we can bring to the viewer – this and a multitude of other moments, emotions and a sense of ‘being there’ – by the understanding the five elements of painting: color, color temperature, tone, intensity and edges.

‘On Active Service’
© Susan Harrison-Tustain
Watercolour on Arches hot-pressed 300gsm paper
40cm x 26cm

This is a painting of pride, love, and nostalgia. The letter speaks of the daily life of the young serviceman in his ANZAC regiment, but this painting also focuses on the story of the family back home in New Zealand, eager for news of their loved ones.

A cream cloth covers the breakfast table; a New Zealand Herald symbolises the news of the day. A letter with the official letterhead “On active Service” tells in a self-effacing way of the writer being rewarded for his actions. A letter that also hints at some of the difficulties he and his comrades face. The serviceman’s words are magnified in the lenses of the horn-rimmed glasses. A cherished and obviously love-worn photograph introduces the emotion of the piece. A pristine photograph would not bring the same depth of message.

This is a painting that I felt driven to paint. It symbolizes the precious gift of freedom that we share and the gratitude we owe.

On ANZAC Day (25th April) Kiwis have a special day where we honour those who were prepared to give their lives for our freedom. This is my tribute to all of those who served – and to their families who stayed behind and ‘kept the home fires burning’.

There is much to share and teach – one lifetime is never going to be long enough for me to paint all I want to paint and of course share as much as I can. But watch this space, join my newsletter mail list, enjoy my how to paint DVDs, keep watching Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest as I reveal more and more.

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