Portrait Background Tips

Goodmorning Draw Paint Mix community,
I am working on a portrait of a celeb... the reference photo has people behind the actor... i removed the people in the background as the pose was perfect for a portrait... my question is how do i choose the correct background... is there a system or style that would make this easier for me? Im also working on another portrait of a celeb from 1940s...the reference photo is in black and white... i used other photos to get the flesh tones down, but how would you chose a solid background color... should it be light or dark/ ? i see most of the classics are dark...and it seems that most use a darker value of perhaps what the subject is wearing... if the subject is wearing a dark orange...u go in with an even darker orange as a background? what if someone is wearing black... what would the color of the background be... i read somewhere you should choose the opposite color on the color wheel from whatever color the subject is wearing...hmmmm.... help!


  • dencaldencal -
    edited June 2015

    Here are a hundred great backgrounds. Try them out in Photoshop layers with your portrait.

    For preference I would choose something that relates to the sitter's life or career and make it soft focus and muted in color intensity.

    100 free Photoshop textures to download | Digital Camera World
    May 9, 2012 - Download our packs of free Photoshop textures, 100 in total, which you can incorporate into your images and designs.


  • Thank you, i will def check this out :) but the texture or design isnt so much what is in question but rather how to chose a color that just works perfectly or compliments the the subject.
  • Check out: http://forum.drawmixpaint.com/discussion/comment/33598/#Comment_33598

    As with a still life, choosing the color you use in a portrait as the forms turn away from the light, or a greyed down version of that color, or that color's compliment, are all good choices for a background. Keep your edges soft as the form recedes.
  • Mark

    Something that relates to the sitter's life or career and make it soft focus and muted in color intensity. A brownish dapple will intensify a brown eyed portrait. A greenish for blue eyes.

    I like to juxtapose darks (hair, clothes etc) against lights (sky, sunny veg.).
    A dark or black background will add depth (as will soft focus) and bring the sitter forward.

    Think of the sitter as the foreground and build a mid saturation middle ground with a light saturation background.

    Alignments of background objects can direct the viewers gaze towards the sitter's face, but be subtle with this.

    Successful portraits are often nicely balanced lights and darks, so offset your sitter with the opposite range for a visually attractive painting. I aim for the sitter to occupy at least 85% of the canvas.


  • Great advice guys, thanks
  • One more thought. Look at what the masters have done, for instance look at Rembrant.
  • Great idea Ron! But what was that color? I looked at the few Rembrandts, and Hals, etc. at the Cleveland Museum of Art a lot and tried to duplicate the deep rich warm with no success. (this was all pre-Geneva, of course! :))
  • Yeah, that's the problem, I sure don't have the answer perhaps someone who is an art restorer can answer the question.
  • Hi Ron!
    I talked to a professional artist who does a lot of commission portrait work. He said a rich background can be achieved with ultramarine, burnt umber and alizarin in varying degrees. He said that all of these colors are of a transparent nature and that layering transparents will add to the appearance of depth. Just an FYI and an invitation to experiment for the folks here.
  • @RichMark, thanks, I think those are the colors that LeFell recommends as well.
  • Totally agree with other comments you can find different backgrounds easily.Photoshop is best for this.
  • I think a basic philosophy or question to always ask yourself is "why?" 
    So, if you are thinking of adding anything to the background, ask yourself 'why? what purpose does it serve?'. Unless there is a narrative reason to drop the subject into a 'scene', then I would just go for an undefined space sorta thing (unless, the lighting is so specifically outdoor, or direct sunlight, that it would look weird to have a background which suggested an interior). 
  • It happens to all of us... I think also that in the modern world of computer technology, and digital art in which you can simply keep changing colors and ctrl Z anything you don't like has changed our feeling towards experimenting... The issue is, if you have a sitting with a brown backdrop lets say and you decided it should be more red or darker or even black, the whole painting has to change... for the skin tones may not work with the overall painting. 
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