Screw the Background! Or wait…that could be important.

Posted by on Sep 10, 2013 in Opinion, Tutorials | 0 comments

Hey guys – I am back in commission blogging woo!

Today’s inspiration came from my friend Marina actually, though it’s been an accumulative subject which I have discussed oh so many times with figurative artists over the past few years.

The subject being: the background.

For the majority of all artists I have spoken to about that annoying time consuming topic – they all love to paint one thing: the human face. There is none so appealing a feature as the eyes…the lips…the planes of the cheeks. Inside a face we all capture pieces of ourselves and in some small ways the world around us.

When it comes to the background however – well it’s a bit of an eye roll.

"Hunter's Run" - 46 x 38 cm - acrylic on canvas by Christina Lank

Early work painting of mine, where I was allergic to backgrounds

When I first started painting with acrylics I basically made them one simple color or gradient. I just wanted to get my figure out there!! It took a lot of encouragement from my other half to propel me into wanting to create backgrounds. He seemed insistent that there was a value to it all – and he was quite right.


year of the dragon 2012 by christina lank plantiebee

Year of the Dragon 2012 by Christina Lank

I did a few branches, and a few trees in my early work (even back then my love of the woods shone through) – but New Years 2012 (the year of the dragon) I went all out on a background. There was no real gradual phase with it 😛

I made the above painting, full of symbolism expressing my hope and wishes for that year. It was such a lesson, not only on how to express myself through imagery but also how to construct a real scene and setting. Something of which fear and impatience prevented me from doing before.

Rebirth acrylic painting 42.5 x 60 cm

“Rebirth” – painted February 2012

Only a month later I had found the wonders of youtube videos, detailing painting techniques I had previously been lost on. And with it my love for creating scenes grew and grew. Suddenly, putting a figure on a board or canvas and making a gradient around them didn’t seem like the best option anymore! The painting above wouldn’t have been nearly as impacting if the antlered girl simply sat on a green board.

Equilibrium by Christina Lank

“Equilibrium” – July 2012

Now that is not to say a gradient now and again cannot prove to be just the thing – because there is always a time and a place for more abstract settings as well.

But I think that not pushing oneself to at least experiment, learn and truly figure out what creating a scene for a painting can do, it can be that much more difficult to make the judgement call of what would suit the painting and concept best.

Remember –

  • Painting a face on a white plain board is a big no no. Always paint the background first. The colors of the skin and your figure will always look different depending on what colors are around it.
  • Painting a background first not only helps you decide the main figures colors, but also helps you get it out of the way!! Save the face as a treat. You’ll be happy you did.
  • Youtube has some great instructional videos on how to create ALL kinds of scenes! Dig around on there, or other great free online resources.
  • Impatience & Boredom are your enemies. Or perhaps you could say, you are your own worst enemy 😉 I know we all get this way, not willing to try something because your afraid it wont turn out great. Well guess what, who cares if it doesnt turn out great the first try…or the second….keep trying anything and your bound to make it a success one day.
  • Plan Ahead as best you can. Somethings like forests are quite organic in their painting process – but you can plan out which way they will be growing around your figure at least. Make digital collages, cut images out of magazines and paste it all together, make concept sketches and get reference materiel. The more you have what you want figured out ahead of time, the less daunting it will be once it comes time to paint it all together.


Mona Unveiled Mona Lisa Interpretation Painting by Christina Lank

“Mona Unveiled” – July 2013


Now and days, I still have my challenges. For one thing, as I was telling Marina, architectural designs make me go a little bit crazy! But nonetheless, I am not giving into my conceptions of my own abilities…;)


Let me know what YOU think about backgrounds? Hate them? Love them? Learn to live with them?

And be sure to tell me what your next challenge is going to be!



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