Background for portraits

Is there a rule for the color of portrait backgrounds? Light? Dark? Graduated from light to dark? Should the background color pick up some of the color of the subject? I/m working on a dog painting and would prefer a muted background with little detail so the focus is mainly on the animal but I don't know where to start.



  • Is your reference a photo?  If so, then I would use the colors that are in the background in the photo and blur them out for the painting.  Maybe soften them.  It is very difficult to change a background color and then do a really good job of the portrait.  Color bounces around and has an effect on your whole painting.  It would help to see the photo.  Other wise it is a shot(suggestion) in the dark.
  • oilpainter1950

    I agree about the background. Enough of those suggestions in the dark already.


  • The photos I have of the background really suck so I thought I could just create a suitable background but I see now why it's not working. I tried to do a really dark background from a photo where the dog is in a lot of sunny vegetation.  I'll try the basic colors of the vegetation in the photo and diffuse the detail as best I can and see what happens. I still wish I had that brush with a 10 foot handle........
  • edited January 2017
    maybe a rubber band on your wrist to snap when you catch yourself blending and a box of chocolates nearby for when you don't, lol! :3  Can't wait to see your painting! You can do this!
  • Love those shots in the dark. I wouldn't try to get all those background colors blended into a single color. maybe some splotches of vegetation color. Use color checking to maintain the values as if you were actually including elements (objects) from the background in the photo. A bigger brush might help but don't rule out the chocolates as a viable option either.
  • Would i use the color checker on the photograph?
  • I have not seen the photo.  Is it an excellent photo?  Is the color reproduction good?  Are the lights and darks clean?  Is it over exposed?  If your response to this is that you really like the photo and feel it could make a good reference for a painting, I would have it enlarged.  Then I would use the color checker extensively to reproduce what you have captured on film, with, of course, some artistic license.  The more extensively you use the color checker the more realistic the painting will  be.  It can be tedious when you first start, but it will pay off richly in the end.
  • no, the photo is over exposed and I find myself having to guess on the true value and color. Artistic license does take over but it ends up being a crap shoot because of my lack of experience and when I'm in the middle of it all painting I feel lost in space with little direction.  What about using a color checker on a different photo of a similar scene taken about the same time of day under similar light conditions? 

  • Using another photo of a similar scene under similar conditions might help.  You have chosen a difficult job.  I'll be interested to see  how it comes out.  I use to tell my children that you always learn from a situation.  Things to repeat and things to never do again.  Like, for instance, always have a good reference to work from.  I've done exactly what you are doing and then been disappointed with the results.  The finished product will not be your inability but the sources you used to paint from.
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