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Simple Approaches for Backgrounds—A Five-Part Series: Part 3 Patterns

April 30, 2018
12 x 12 inch portrait which began as a 6 x 9 inch piece of tan card stock (see this where the washi tape surrounds the edges. The tan in the beard and hair are all the remains of the original paper color.

This is Part Three of a five-part series on simple approaches to backgrounds in the visual journal and paintings. See Part One here.

Today I wanted to look at pattern—it’s something that you can use to quickly fill up the background space around a subject.

I’ve written about some of my favorite approaches numerous times on the blog. 

Perhaps one of my favorites is to surround sketches with collaged patterns and textures. In this linked post you can see how I used a piece of decorative paper that I painted to surround a portion of the subject. I like this approach because I think it does fun things with the picture plane. It also sets up a fun contrast between the contour line of the subject and the riot of colors on the decorative paper.

In this linked post you can see how I often like to frame the subject with washi tape and continue from there.

Typically I use a doodling approach to background texture as I did in this portrait linked here. There is something very fun in continuing to play with a variety of lines after the portrait is finished, or before it has been painted. Sometimes it is possible to discover new ways to use mark making tools with this type of play. And it is also useful as a painless method to test your tools against a new paper in this way.

Here is a detail of the first sketch in today’s post. You can see the patterns of the washi tape against the toned paper and the patterned paper.

In the image that opens today’s post you’ll see an example of my piecemeal style. Often I get my scale wrong when I start, and the sketch grows and grows. With a portrait, it’s important for me to get both ears included. On this particular day I was working on a 6 x 9 inch sheet of toned Speckletone paper. You can see in the image from the positioning of the frame of washi tape where the original boundaries of that paper fell. I didn’t have the ear on that page so I grew the page by adding a large 12 x 12 inch piece of scrapbooking paper.

If you like pattern and would like to add it to your page without other paper collage you can apply washi tape as “wallpaper” stripes or in any playful arrangement.

9 x 12 inch brush pen sketch with light washes of gouache.

If a more realistic approach appeals to you consider working in the background of your sketch with direct brush painting. Use dilute washes and cool temperature pigments to create a sense of recession. (See the final sketch in today’s post.)

If you keep your pigments limited and create the background from mixes of the limited palette you can also create color harmony throughout the painting. This will also keep the background from becoming too strident and competitive with your main subject.

It doesn’t matter whether you like to collage, doodle, or create naturalistic approaches for your backgrounds, the possibilities are endless.

Start experimenting with some today.

Part Four and Five of this series will appear this week.



    • scone
    • April 30, 2018

    Hmmm, this gives me an idea. You could do a monotype patterned background, then paint on a plain flat rectangle for the face, and draw the face inside it, or break the frame, or deliberately misregister it. You could monotype and put translucent painted paper collage over it, then collage a portrait over that. I’ve even got some old Herculene drafting film that might be interesting. You could do a series or multiples. A good way to use up a lot of old bits and pieces that have been sitting around the studio for far too long. Thank you.

    1. Reply

      You do that and send me a note—it sounds like it would be fun! I’d love to see what you do.

    • scone
    • May 1, 2018

    Will do, although it may take me a while given my schedule. As I’m sure you know, drafting films are tricky, but you can draw on both sides, so that’s got even more potential for layering.

    1. Reply

      I think there are lots of fun possibilities in what you describe! I hope you get to experiment.

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