Acrylic Painting – Painting the Background

In the numerous forums I visit, I’ve seen several questions come up about painting the background in an acrylic painting so I decided to create this post about the subject.

Acrylic painting can be done in several different painting styles depending on the effect that the artist is trying to achieve. Acrylic paint can be applied using the same techniques that are used to create watercolor paintings in that the paint is applied in very thin layers known as washes. One popular technique is known as impasto where the paint is applied very thickly to the surface with virtually no thinner added to the paint.

When painting wildlife paintings, I prefer to paint the entire background first and then paint the wildlife in the foreground. I can better control things like atmospheric perspective and continuity of the objects in the background if I don’t have to work around objects in the foreground. The ability to paint the entire background first is not possible with the watercolor or the impasto technique.

Let me explain what I mean by that last statement. Let’s say for example the finished painting is to have subjects such as ducks, deer, turkey, or other similar wildlife that will appear in the foreground. Using the watercolor style of painting, the artist will typically create a very faint sketch of the subjects and then begin laying in the various washes to achieve the effect that is desired for the painting.  In this technique, if the artist painted the entire background first, the thin washes used to paint the foreground wildlife would allow the background to show through.

Now let’s look at an example using the impasto technique. With this technique, very thick layers of paint are applied with a lot of brush strokes leaving a very textured surface. If the entire background were painted first, the rough texture of the background would show through the wildlife in the foreground. Neither of these cases is condusive to the quality look of a painting.

With the technique that I like to use, I can paint the entire background of the painting first. This is because I like to pre-mix my acrylic paints in 2 oz. plastic dixie cups using just enough water to give the paint a creamy mix. This mix of paint flows very well from the brush and leaves no brush strokes. With this technique, I can achieve very fine detail in the painting with no texture to have to work over or thin washes to see through. With the background complete, I can paint the wildlife in the foreground without having to worry about exposed canvas or paper between the subjects in the foreground and the background.

With the background painted, I make the sketches of my wildlife on paper and then transfer the sketch to the painting using white transfer paper. One key to the success of this technique is that I have plenty of the pre-mixed paint from painting the background on hand. If I make a mistake or the brush slips while painting the wildlife, I can easily fix the background from my pre-mixed paints.

I hope by explaining the technique I use to paint my wildlife paintings, you will be inspired to venture out and try your hand at creating your own works of art. Don’t be afraid to try different techniques to find what works best for you.

Until next time, keep your brushes clean, your colors pure, and as always, thanks for stopping by the North Forty.


Clark Color Labs

Thank you.

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