Portrait Artist Forum    

Go Back   Portrait Artist Forum > Color & Color Theory


Reply
 
Topic Tools Search this Topic Display Modes
Old 06-11-2006, 10:43 PM   #1
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
UNVEILINGS MODERATOR
Juried Member
 
Alexandra Tyng's Avatar
 
Joined: May 2005
Location: Narberth, PA
Posts: 2,485
Backgrounds




At the suggestion of a forum member, I'm starting a thread on backgrounds.

I've often heard the comment, "I'm never sure what do do with the background," as though the background were a separate entity from the figure. I've seen lots of portraits in which the figure seems cut out and pasted on the ground, as though the background were a separate plane behind the figure.

The most important thing to keep in mind about backgrounds is that they are not actually separate from the figure. The background sets off the figure, and in this sense forms the "ground," but it is actually the air around the figure. It is three-dimensional space! It envelops the figure, surrounds it on all sides, and recedes from the picture plane to varying degrees.

Whether the background is plain or complex, the same principles hold true. The figure emerges from the ground. It is not in front of the ground.

The key to achieving the illusion of "emergence" is to understand the roundness of the head (or figure) and the colors of the light in relation to the shadow. The side of the face in direct light gives the feeling of solidity and opacity. As the form turns away from the direct light, it picks up the indirect light or ambient light in the atmosphere. This indirect light is slightly redder than direct light. Crossing over the line into the shadow areas, the complement of the indirect light will predominate. This is the color of the shadow. But some of the complement (or color of the indirect light) exists within the shadow because it is the color of the space or air around the figure. Conversely, there is a tiny bit of shadow color in the midtones or areas of indirect light.

If the shadow planes of the head are painted using some of the color of the background, the figure will appear to recede into space. It follows that a simple "background" can consist of a mixture of the shadow color and the color of the indirect light.

I've posted two Sargent paintings. The first is a Venice interior with two figures in it. The figures are integrated into the space because Sargent has used a limited palette with similar colors in the space and the shadow areas of the figures. Only the light areas stand out and establish the solidity of the form.

This is no different, really, than the way Sargent handled this very simple self-portrait. The shadow side of the face is painted in a color similar to the background, so he seems to emerge from the background and become a solid entity through the definition of the light side of his head and jacket.

Does anyone have anything to add? Please feel free to diagree--I'm not claiming to be the authority on backgrounds. Also it would be helpful to see more images.
Attached Images
   
  Reply With Quote
Old 06-12-2006, 12:11 AM   #2
Dianne Gardner Dianne Gardner is offline
Juried Member
FT Professional
 
Joined: Jan 2005
Location: Port Orchard, WA
Posts: 208
Send a message via Yahoo to Dianne Gardner
Alexandra, you've explained this beautifully. Thank you for starting this thread! I know there is probably more to be said about this as far as technique and interpretation and I am looking forward to hearing others.

My question has always been what colors to use for the background in a more formal portrait. I know that one should have it planned from the beginning because the flesh is going to reflect those colors,and also oftentimes the clothing. I am both intriqued and amazed at the beauty of the dark backgrounds I see in the masters, both of old and contemporary and have no idea how one gets that deep rich tone, even like the Sargent self portrait that you posted here.

In addition to any other advice that gets discussed, I would really like to know the palette for those elegant backgrounds, and the method of applying those dark tones. Nothing I have ever done has ever come close.

Thanks in advance.
Dianne
  Reply With Quote
Old 06-12-2006, 05:00 PM   #3
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
UNVEILINGS MODERATOR
Juried Member
 
Alexandra Tyng's Avatar
 
Joined: May 2005
Location: Narberth, PA
Posts: 2,485
Dianne, those deep, rich colors have fascinated me, also! Every artist has a different way of mixing colors and achieving certain effects. One very important point to remember is that dead color, i.e. straight black out of the tube, straight brown, etc., will not produce rich, shadowy color as well as warm color with some cool in it, or cool color with some warm in it.

To get an idea how I do it, here are two links to posts on greys and blacks:

http://forum.portraitartist.com/showthread.php?t=5572

http://forum.portraitartist.com/showthread.php?t=5156
  Reply With Quote
Old 06-13-2006, 10:45 AM   #4
Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco is offline
Juried Member
 
Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco's Avatar
 
Joined: Apr 2004
Location: London,UK
Posts: 640
I never liked painting backgrounds as an abstract colour, because it places the subject in nowhere land. I seldom do it, instead I prefer to place even just a piece of cloth behind the model, so that there is a cast shadow that actually makes the painted person feel more real.

In choosing how to paint a background, not only the light should be taken in account, but also the colours and tone of the face and body.
If there is a strong lateral lighting, for example, a light against dark/ dark against light can be very pleasant to the eye. (background lighter then the shadowed part of the face, darker then the lit one).
Also the use of complementary can enhance the colour of the subject: shadows can feel warmer if propped against a cool background and viceversa.
A tonal or chromatic jump can make the subject pop forward without loosing connection with the background. The chromatic vibration between two colours pitched at the same chroma and tone is very beautiful!

I think solid colour backgrounds have great risk of cutout effect. Plain black for me doesn't do as much as a grey would for your painting.

A background needs to be alive to the edge of the canvas, even with subtle differences, and each bit of it must be important and thought about. Dismissing the background, thinking that whatever colour will do, is a typical beginner's mistake.

Dianne, the answer to your question : you apply it in the same way you apply paint in the figure. There is often, in paintings, a unity of measure, like for example the size of your brushes, or the size of a particular area of flat colour.
This unity of measure should come up again and again around the painting (see Cezanne's brushwork). So if you work- as you should- with brushes as big as possible, you can use the same big brushes to lay the background like a patchwork, comparing each area to the next one.
Easier said then done
Ilaria
__________________
Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco
  Reply With Quote
Old 06-13-2006, 11:32 AM   #5
Dianne Gardner Dianne Gardner is offline
Juried Member
FT Professional
 
Joined: Jan 2005
Location: Port Orchard, WA
Posts: 208
Send a message via Yahoo to Dianne Gardner
Ilaria, thanks for your input. I never thought about the size of brushstroke of the background as relating to the size of brushstroke used for the subject. I will take that into deeper consideration as I work.

Alexandra, those links were very informative. There was a comment that someone made about oiling in the background and it sparked another question that I had. For a while I was using burnt umber as a mix to make my darks until it was brought to my attention that the umber pigments do not retain the gloss as others do. Therefore I was noticing dull spots in my paintings. I have since stopped using umbers in my backgrounds, and actually don't use them at all anymore.

Even though many of the portrait painting backgrounds that I see read black especially on the computer I know they are darks mixed with other colors. I have mixed prussian blue with alizarian crimson, Ultramarine blue with black, ultramarine with alizarin crimson and viridian, and other such combinations and I am still unhappy with what I have.

Ilaria, I think I am leaning more towards how you feel about backgrounds, that something needs to be back there to keep the figure from looking like it is coming out of a void. I have been much more observant about what others do and of course find that there are no rules really as each painting is a unique expression of art. I just hope to acquire the skills to know what will work with what I am doing. I am definately learning that the background is just as important as the foreground.

I have an open studio at my place once a month. I am beginning to realize that I need to invest in some furniture and backdrops for these sessions so that I can incorporate a decent background into my paintings with the proper fall of light and form in relation to the model. What do you think?

Dianne
  Reply With Quote
Old 06-13-2006, 01:49 PM   #6
Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco is offline
Juried Member
 
Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco's Avatar
 
Joined: Apr 2004
Location: London,UK
Posts: 640
Dianne, you got the point.
Maybe the best approach is to carefully consider each portrait. At the moment I am painting two young girls, for example. They were brightly coloured clothes and are both very pale with dark eyes. I could really go for a plain neutral background (my linen tablecloth...)
From this you can also understand how important the setting is and how it will affect your work, so, no working from casual photos!

Well done for the open studio initiative, at my school we usually set up with screens, cloths and have interesting chair for the model to sit.
Ilaria
__________________
Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco
  Reply With Quote
Old 12-26-2006, 09:06 AM   #7
Richard Budig Richard Budig is offline
Juried Member
 
Joined: Oct 2002
Location: Lincoln, NE
Posts: 260
A couple of things I know and generally try to use in painting backgrounds is something I heard from Daniel Greene, and read from Robert Henri . . .

Greene taught that it isn't likely that the model will affect the background, but it is highly likely that the bckground will affect the model. In other words, you'll very likely find background colors on, and mixed into your model's flesh and clothing, where applicable.

Robert Henri (I'm paraphrasing) said that you must keep your eyes on the model while painting the background, otherwise your background becomes a separate painting.

I think both comments are valid and useful.
  Reply With Quote
Old 12-31-2006, 11:33 AM   #8
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
UNVEILINGS MODERATOR
Juried Member
 
Alexandra Tyng's Avatar
 
Joined: May 2005
Location: Narberth, PA
Posts: 2,485
Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Budig
Greene taught that it isn't likely that the model will affect the background, but it is highly likely that the bckground will affect the model.
Actually I have to say I believe the figure does have an effect on the background. It has a definite mass and, if you succeed in capturing the sense of movement, the effect of this mass is emphasized. The mass of the figure agitates the air around it. It might seem purely scientific but I think there are ways that the artist reacts emotionally to this and captures it in paint.

One way is to paint the edges of the light side as broken and, in some cases, extending into the background. I think the painting of light auras, which we covered in another thread ("optical red") is part of this. The light from the figure--and energy, too-- radiates into the air.

Another way has to do with our perception of color. The direct light falling on the figure is usually the most dominant light in the composition. The color and temperature of this light determines the color of the ambient light and therefore the color of the shadow. Ambient light and shadow can be found in backgrounds. It's all a matter of perception, and the scientific factor and subjective factor are interconnected.
\
These things, plus the fact that background color can and should be found in shadow areas of the figure, add up to a very lively interplay between figure and background. I believe that this interplay creates the feeling of "air" or "space." This should hold true whether the background is abstract or specific (as in Ilaria's description).

Here are two examples. The first is a portrait head (detail) by Sargent. There's a really nice example of a red aura on the lit side of her head, and the shadow color in her face is similar to the color of the ground. The second painting is a still life (detail) by David Leffel. That leaf on the right-hand side just shoots off into space, and the light on the left side of the jug radiates into the air. On the shadow side, the jug and leaves pick up the color of the background. To me, these are two examples of how the artist paints air, and how the figure and ground are mutually influential.
Attached Images
   
  Reply With Quote
Old 01-01-2007, 08:36 PM   #9
Mike McCarty Mike McCarty is offline
PHOTOGRAPHY MODERATOR
SOG Member
'03 Finalist Taos SOPA
'03 HonMen SoCal ASOPA
'03 Finalist SoCal ASOPA
'04 Finalist Taos SOPA
 
Mike McCarty's Avatar
 
Joined: Dec 2001
Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Posts: 2,674
This quote by John de la Vega seems to fit in well here:

The first job of a background is to stay back. The second is to be exciting (not too exciting), to indicate or suggest a space, a place as evocative and
__________________
Mike McCarty
  Reply With Quote
Old 01-02-2007, 08:55 AM   #10
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
UNVEILINGS MODERATOR
Juried Member
 
Alexandra Tyng's Avatar
 
Joined: May 2005
Location: Narberth, PA
Posts: 2,485
Sharon,

Hmmm...when I saw the Klimts you posted before I thought the faces are most definitely the focal points. So in a sense you could say the backgrounds "stay back," though they don't really, because they give the illusion of space since they are abstract mosaics of shapes and colors. This last one is different because the head and the flowers are pretty much equally dominant. This gives rise to two thoughts:

1) It seems there are many ways to make the background stay back. Even if the picture plane is really shallow, and even if we are not creating an illusion of space.

2)I wonder whether the shift in balance between figure and ground is partly what distinguishes a portrait from a figurative painting. Personally I don't think there is a clear distinction between the two.
  Reply With Quote
Reply


Currently Active Users Viewing this Topic: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)
 
Topic Tools Search this Topic
Search this Topic:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

Similar Topics
Thread Topic Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Portable backgrounds Chris Saper Studio & Equipment 3 01-04-2005 07:39 AM
Photographing background separate from the person Mary Sparrow Composition 10 10-16-2002 10:57 PM
Pricing for Complex Backgrounds? Michele Rushworth Business, Marketing & PR 2 10-13-2002 07:01 PM
John de la Vega's approach to backgrounds Mike McCarty Composition 1 08-23-2002 10:19 AM
Picking backgrounds Bill99 Techniques, Tips, and Tools 1 06-28-2001 03:06 PM

 

Make a Donation



Support the Forum by making a donation or ordering on Amazon through our search or book links..







All times are GMT -4. The time now is 08:03 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.6
Copyright ©2000 - 2024, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.