Finishing Up on Backgrounds

Last week I took a workshop on integrating figures with backgrounds. We used our personal photos as the reference and with watercolor on white paper. I learned a bit about the emotion of color and brushstrokes, but had trouble recognizing the finished products as something that genuinely reflected my own feelings about the subject.

Today I gave it another go with a photo I took at a wedding over the weekend. The photo shows an older woman clapping for the young couple. I was moved by the stark emotion of the woman and wanted to capture it. This time I worked with gouache on black paper and feel like it reflects what I noticed about the woman’s reaction.

Each of these paintings tells a story and the backgrounds contribute meaning. The last is my favorite because the colors are strong, the shapes are clear, and the brushstrokes are not fussy.


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This week I am taking a workshop to learn how to integrate figures with backgrounds. The idea is that the body language of the figure should be amplified by the rest of the painting. The background should be suggestive without being too narrative. So far I get the idea but am still far too explicit with the background.

I have an abundance of 20- minute sketches of figures from my drawing group. I brought several to the workshop thinking these would be good to develop. I started with this one because I thought that the figure’s body language clearly looks like she is feeling a little insecure and is studying a situation. Perhaps she might be wondering if she will be welcomed, or is wondering if she should have worn the hat. Anyway, I tried to make the rocks behind her and the water before her suggest that she is feeling boxed in, worried, and in need of holding back.

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Napa Vineyard II

Napa Vineyard II

I started this sketch last Thursday but did not have enough time to finish it. It is very similar to the Napa Vineyard sketch that I posted that day. That sketch, though, had a disconnect between the mountains and vines, it was not really clear which was the focus. Before leaving on Thursday I sketched a new composition that eliminated the middle ground and minimized the mountains. Then today I painted it using the first sketch as a reference for colors. I am not sure at this point which works best but since I am home in San Diego, figuring it out will have to wait until I go back to Napa Valley again.

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Redwood Picnic

Redwood Picnic

We went for a long walk at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve near Guerneville California. Redwood forests are among the most incredible natural wonders ever and by the end of our hike I wanted to capture the feeling of being a tiny soul beneath the immense trees. I looked around and saw a family picnicking across the way and thought it might evoke this feeling.

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Napa Vineyard

Napa Vineyard

We stopped for a few hours today so that I could sketch the rows of grapevines in Napa Valley. I liked the shapes of the rows of vines against the mountains. The sun was so bright that the shadows appeared purple. I made a few other sketches and hope to finish them up tomorrow.

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The Polite Listener

It was so nice to be at the gallery and paint a live model, even if the poses were only for twenty minutes. The model was awesome, on the older side, and had a way of looking at us while we worked that suggested she was keeping her opinion of our efforts to herself.

For the last pose of the morning I wanted to distort the model’s features and then paint them in flatly, using just three colors, a soft yellow, turquoise, and violet. However, as I worked my way up her body I forgot and her face ended up with fairly regular features. I still like this sketch and think I caught something of the model’s air of reticence.

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Mesa’s Edge

One of the San Diego views that I particularly like is the view of the mesa beyond the cactus garden at Balboa Park in San Diego. We are in the middle of our dry season here in San Diego so the non-irrigated vegetation is predominantly rich tans and browns.

I painted this mid- morning before the fog has fully lifted.

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