The background to a painting is often a forgotten element when a composition is set up. An empty and featureless area creeps in unforeseen until the completion of the painting. This could ruin the artwork, regardless of how well the objects have been painted. How does the beginner overcome the problem of empty backgrounds in a painting?

Backgrounds Good and Bad

The following practices are often the causes of unsatisfactory backgrounds in landscape painting:

Giving sole consideration to the main subject matter, and none to the background elements within a composition.

Viewing non-solid objects, such as clouds, reflections and shadows as incidental.

Using a neutral or pale colour for backgrounds, or using one colour to represent the entire background, such as green for distant trees or blue for the sky.

Conversely, having too much going on in the background, robbing the painting of any focus.

Painting the background from memory in an effort to fill blank spaces resulting in idealised background elements that fails to convince.

Negative and Positive Shapes

A good composition in painting can be achieved if the background is given equal importance to the foreground (images 1 and 2). These two elements to a composition are known as “negative” and “positive” shapes.

Positive shapes are the objects themselves. This might be a village church, a Lakeland tarn or Cornish tin mines.

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