During my many years of teaching, I have often heard students ask, “What background color do I choose for my painting?” They have spent valuable time painting a subject or portrait and now they need a background.
As a follow-up to my last blog post where I wrote “3 Steps to Painting a Subject Round,” I thought I would take this same apple and play around with a few background color options.
There are many color strategies to consider in answering the initial question. One of my favorites is to choose an analogous color of the subject. In this case, the analogous colors to red are either purple or orange. I chose the purple. Notice, however, that this purple is not of high intensity. It has been de-saturated, which makes the more intense red apple pop out.
A second option would be to mix the complementary color, which is green. Again, the green has been dulled for this color background. According to Chevreul’s Laws of Color, the de-saturated color opposite of the featured subject will make it stand out the most. I also added some warm greens within the cooler dull green colors to add a little interest.A third option, could be to paint a monochromatic background.
Notice how each of these conveys a different mood and/or message. There is no right or wrong answer to choosing the color background. However, it is important to think about because the background does impact the subject it surrounds.
Some artists may find the monochromatic appealing because it is calming. It is also a good strategy if you don’t want the subject to pop. Instead you may want it to disappear into the background.
In the situation where you have multiple colors, such as a bouquet of flowers, and no one color dominates, the choice of background color will influence the outcome. For example, if you have a few yellow flowers in the bouquet and you choose its opposite of purple for the background, they will pop out more than and red or blue flowers you may have.
For fun, I thought you might be interested in seeing the different values in each of these studies. Notice that the values are not different in the green and purple backgrounds and the value is slightly lighter with the monochromatic. I show these as reminder that it can be helpful to remove all color in a photograph of your work so that you can see the values. This is easy to do in this day of smart phones.
I found it worth the investment to play around with a few options. Several years ago, I painted colored boxes to explore different background colors. Which ones appeal to you and why?
It does come down to which one you prefer. What other color schemes or strategies could be used in choosing a background color? Most of mine are de-saturated colors, what might happen if the background colors were more intense? Values also play a role in making in impact. Experiment with a simple object to try out some variations. Let me know what you discover.
If you found this information helpful and interesting, please share it with others.
Colorfully and gratefully yours,