Time for a background check.

While chatting with one of my sons the other day, he asked about when I met his dad and how long before we got married and why I chose to marry him. I was really getting into it, reminiscing and feeling all nostalgic. Imparting life lessons left, right and centre…

I mentioned that even though we came from different states in Australia, my husband and I had similar backgrounds – which made understanding each other and fitting into our respective families a lot easier. At this point, my son looked at me with all the earnestness of a ten year-old considering his bright and limitless future and asked, “Mum, can I have a banana?”  Subtle as a hot-pink sledgehammer.

But it got me thinking. Backgrounds… Those behind-the-scenes, partially hidden and often overlooked details in life can make such a difference to what’s happening in the present foreground of our day-to-day activities. I’m learning that the same is true in painting: A crummy choice of background can really mess with things when you’re trying to get through the foreground layers. At least in painting you can go back and make changes…

I tackled my Toothbrush Painting this week and figured it was probably time to address the actual toothbrushes. In true Fiona-style, I procrastinated for an entire morning until I had no time to actually mix up my paint, so I jumped onto my computer to trial a few colours choices.


This gave me the direction I needed to actually put paint on my palette the following evening. But I noticed as I went, that the toothbrush colours weren’t really jumping off the canvas.


It was time to do something about that background.


This really made a difference, but the shadows were reeking havoc. Their intensity was making the background compete with the foreground. So I toned things down a notch.


What I love about oils is that you can get a nice smudgy edge to things like shadows because the paint stays wet long enough to blend. But this makes it hard to complete small details:


My toothbrushes have a fair way to go before I’ll be happy with their shape and details, but if I keep working on them now, the wet background is going to make a dog’s breakfast of the wet foreground colours.

The trick is to know when to stop. I’ve found that if someone asks you for a banana
mid-sentence, that’s usually a good indicator that it’s time to wrap up.


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