Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Atmospheres & Backgrounds

     Welcome to my 200th post!  I hope I have been able to offer you insights into the world of a professional artist, and to give you valuable and useful suggestions to make your own art successful.  Thanks for sticking with me!

     One of the greatest attributes of watercolor is its’ ability to create lifelike atmospheric effects.  On a vignette this adds a realistic feel to the subject.  One of my blog friends, Shelley, has asked for some suggestions and help on her painting of a polo player. 
     I had originally planned to repaint her photo to the point where Shelley has hit the “background wall”, but I opted to use one of my photos that presents the same basic problem, and show you how I solved it.
     Here’s Shelley’s painting of the polo player.  Her questions to me were based on her uncertainty about adding the background.

Shelley's painting

    I will show my progression, without much fanfare, to get to the same point as Shelley.  I thought you might like to see the process.

     So here we are with a painting very similar to Shelley’s.  It’s a finished subject floating in a sea of white.  So where do we go from here?
     The first consideration before we ever get to this point in Shelley’s painting is to start integrating our background washes as early as possible.  Let me stress this again:  The way to integrate a background into a painting is to start early.
     My first step towards resolving my background problem is to just start the process.  I start with a wash of Burnt Umber to indicate dust being kicked up by the horse and calf.

      I let my first wash dry and prepare for another layer.  You should understand this will be a multi-layered approach of adding glazes of color to create my final effect.  

My second wash is Burnt Umber again, but I add some textural brushwork to break up the color and give it a painterly feel.
      Here’s the painting after glaze #2 of Burnt Umber is complete and dry.

     Now I add Ultramarine Blue to the background I created a basic cloud-like shape so the Burnt Umber would appear to be in front or in the foreground, in relationship to the blue.  No pre-planning was needed for this shape.  Dust clouds are rather random in nature --- keep it that way. 

     I also added a touch of Cadmium Orange around my cowboy subject.  I want an interplay of colors working together.  (If you want to study a master of cool and warm washes, get Thomas A. Daly’s book “Painting Nature’s Quiet Places.”  Daly is a master of glazing warm and cool washes to create this interplay of color).

     The details are hard to see in the photo, but I darken the shadow under the horse’s neck and add a weak wash of Cadmium Orange over the entire background.  This serves to unify the atmospheric effect and bring the total painting together.
     Shelley, I hope this helps. If you have problems with your background, don’t hesitate to contact me.  Good Luck!

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