Question From a Reader: How to Paint Backgrounds

A reader asked: “I always struggle with backgrounds. Any tips for how to approach backgrounds and make them interesting without distracting from the main focus?”

This is a great question. I’m sharing my tips as you might also find them helpful.

– Focus on big, simple shapes. Don’t get lost in the details.

– Simple doesn’t mean sloppy. Aim to paint the right values, colors, and shapes, just with less detail. Anders Zorn comes to mind. His backgrounds are simple yet realistic.

– Squint to see value masses. Squinting tunes out the “noise” and allows you to see the major light and dark shapes.

– Use large brushes and thinned paint.

– Use the background to complement your focal point. If your focal point is vivid red, try a dull green background. If your focal point is thick and luscious, try a thin and transparent background. It’s all about contrast.

– The background isn’t just there to fill up space. It plays an important support role to the focal point, like the bass player to the lead guitarist. Your focal point cannot shine without a good background.

Keep in mind, these tips won’t always apply. Feel free to break them if need be.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott