Step 3   Painting the background


Having worked out the drawing, transferred it to the panel, and completed a color study for the background, I was ready to start work on the actual painting.

Very often with allegorical paintings, I like to start with the background.  There are technical reasons, for example, its easier to blend a sky when I’m not worried about painting over a finished figure, but IT also sets the mood for the entire painting.  The atmosphere created by the colors and style of the background are what give context to the figures.

In this case, I wanted to keep the background light and airy to give a sense of distance and scale.  I wanted the rocket to look huge, but also to feel like a natural part of the setting.  This means keeping the contrast and the detail low, and the colors away from the rich greend and yellows that would be in the foreground.

Using the color study as a reference, I started in the furthest distance away from the viewer and began moving forward; first blocking in the sky, then the distant mountains and cityscape, the rocket, then the body of water. Obviously, it was a lot more work than the 8×6 inch study version, but having the palette all worked out ahead of time saved me a lot of time.  It also kept me from second guessing myself on the colors, even though at the large scale and in contrast to the color of the primed panel, they looked a little strange.  I knew that in the context of the foreground colors, they would work perfectly.


Over the next few days I kept moving forward in layers from the mountains on the left to the architecture on the right, through mid-ground trees and hills.  The whole time I was referring to the color study both for color and value decisions.  Again, having much of that conceptual work done already allowed me to move much more quickly and with fewer adjustments and changes as I went along.  I didn’t have any real reference material for this part of the painting, and figureing out the lay of the land and the  foliage was a lot of fun.


The color scheme of the composition really started to fall into place once I got to the darker, silhouetted areas nearer to the figures.  I very roughly blocked in the shapes of the trees on the left and a few leaf shapes from the drawing. I put a lot more work into the leafy canopy on the right, but tried to keep it loose enough that it wouldn’t draw too much attention.  I also blocked in some silhouetted leaves in the bottom right to push the rest of the landscape back further into the distance.


I continued moving forward with the background hill and grass until I reached the figures.  The closer I got, the more detail and contrast I allowed.  I went back into the silhouetted shapes of the trees on the left and added some detail to the bark and the leafy vines growing around the trunks.  By now enough of the painting was finished that the colors were all working together in context, and the color study had served its purpose.