I thought this week I would talk a bit about backgrounds. Not mine ( I don't want to bore the socks of you, although if you're interested I am a northern lass from Lancashire). 

I wanted to talk about backgrounds and when I do and when I don't use them in my work. I am mostly self taught, and so all opinions are my own , although I did for a while go to an evening class where I was often encouraged to add a background even though I didn't want to. I think it is a matter of choice you must do what you are happy with.

Often I like to paint my animals without a background



I  like the paint to almost 'disappear' into the paper , I like the clean modern look of the hare , his clear eye shining brightly and nothing to distract you from the animal itself.

Some times I add a touch of a background, I need some colour 'behind' the swan so that it stands out , I use a mixture of cobalt blue and cadmium red which I love as a purple shadow . Here you need to contrast light against dark and dark against light. The black dots show where I have added more colour.


Often you need some background to add a context to the painting, 



The stag is the main focus but the indigo background with the trees and the snow create a context , it is winter, there is woodland . I like the viewer to create stories in their minds eye, I don't like to paint every feather and hair. I like to get to the essence of what I am doing as economically as possible.

Without a background some paintings don't exist , in my dandelion paintings the dandelion emerges from the darker blue around it. I like my backgrounds to be interesting and dynamic. I don't ( very often) use flat colour. So I add watermarks to the background, darker and lighter areas and salt. I love to see which textures emerge, this is where watercolour becomes alchemy .



There are times when you need to put a dark colour behind a very light one to make it pop! Then you are using artistic licence , the colour you are using is probably not there but you want it there to add the contrast, to draw the viewers eye where you want it to go




Finally there are paintings where the background is a part of the whole, here the dragonfly is on the lily pad in the pond and the whole of it needs to be there to tell the story 



Backgrounds are not really my thing , I use them sparingly, I like my paintings to say as much as they can using as few marks as possible. If I can describe something with one well placed splatter of sweep of a brush I am very happy, you must do what suits your style best too, and as always my advice ( for what it's worth) is enjoy it whatever your background ! 



Back to blog


The fox is stunning!!

John Hughes

Beautiful paintings & lovely backgrounds which I find very difficult. Thank you for sharing your methods and palette.

Hilary Pearson

H Wendy if you go back to my blog October 12, 2017

Throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it!! ( or a step by step guide to painting a turtle)…that describes a turtle painting

Rachel Toll

I just love the background on the Turtle. Can you explain how you achieved this please ? I can see some salt reaction.

Wendy J Edwards

Leave a comment