Painting Backgrounds for Portraits -

Painting Backgrounds for Portraits

 Any experienced painter will tell you that creating a realistic, lifelike portrait requires more than just replicating the subject’s features with paint onto canvas. They’ll tell you that, beyond the subject, the background plays an important role in bringing out the life and character of the portrait. In this article, we’ll take a look at some tips and techniques for painting attractive and eye-catching backgrounds for your portraits.

The background of a portrait can make or break the overall effect. It needs to be balanced with the colors and tones of the subject to create a harmonious composition that draws attention to their features without overpowering them. It’s important to use colors and shapes that complement each other without becoming too busy or distracting from the focal point: your subject!

By using some simple principles and techniques, you can create stunning backgrounds for your portraits that bring out the best in your subjects. We’ll explore how to choose colors, textures, shapes, and other elements to craft beautiful backgrounds that will enhance every aspect of your work. So let’s get started!

Definition of a Portrait Background

portrait background

A portrait background is an integral part of any portrait. It provides the context and atmosphere for the subject, and helps to define the portrait.

In order for a background to truly define a portrait, it must contain elements that reflect the individual’s personality or mood. It should also work together with the subject’s clothing and facial expressions to enhance the atmosphere of the piece. Backgrounds also add depth and character to a picture by creating visual interest and perspective.

The type of background used in a portrait will depend on several factors such as the style of portraiture desired, where the portrait will be displayed, and what impact the artist intends to have with the painting. By carefully considering these aspects when choosing a background for a portrait, one can create an image that conveys its own unique message.

Types of Backgrounds for Portraits

When choosing a background for a portrait, there are several types to consider. From painted landscapes to abstract designs, there’s something for everyone. Here are some popular portrait backdrops:

  • Painted Landscapes - Painted backgrounds allow photographers to incorporate natural elements into their work. They can be anything from a majestic mountain range or an idyllic beach scene. These painted backdrops offer vibrant colors and textures that create beautiful, timeless images.
  • Abstract Designs - Abstract designs give artists the freedom to experiment with texture, color, shapes, and lines. These designs provide endless possibilities when it comes to creating dynamic portraits with eye-catching visuals.
  • Monochromatic Hues and Muted Tones - Monochromatic hues and muted tones are great options for those who want an understated look for their portraits. These subtle backgrounds help draw attention to the subject without being distracting or overwhelming. An artist can use these backdrops to create clean and simple images that showcase their subjects without detracting attention from them.
backgrounds for portrait

These are just some of the many options available when it comes to choosing a background for a portrait. When selecting one, it’s important to think about how it will complement the subject and overall composition of the painting.

Considerations for Choosing a Background


When choosing a background for a portrait painting, there are several considerations to keep in mind. For instance, an artist, Jillian, wanted to paint a couple’s engagement portrait. She had to consider the purpose of the painting—was it meant to be hung in their home or presented as an anniversary gift? Additionally, Jillian thought about the physical environment of her subjects when selecting a background. In this case, she chose an outdoor setting with lush foliage and rolling hills in the backdrop that was similar to their local surroundings.

The background selection should also reflect on the subject’s personality and interests. For instance, if they loved spending time outdoors, then Jillian would choose an outdoor setting with natural elements like trees and mountains. Alternatively, if they were more urban-minded individuals, she might opt for a cityscape or industrial landscape as the background instead. To go the extra mile, Jillian could ask the couple about their favorite location, perhaps a place where they share a fond memory of being together.

Finally, Jillian ensured that her choice of background didn’t overpower or distract from the main focus of her painting—the couple. To do so, she selected colors and patterns that complemented but didn’t overwhelm the image of her subjects. She noted the colors and tones of the clothing the couple were going to be dressed in, the colors of their physical attributes such as their hair and eyes, and chose colors that would bring out the couple’s features and wardrobe. With these considerations in mind, Jillian was able to create a beautiful portrait with a background that suited her clients.

Preparing the Canvas


Once you’ve chosen the ideal background for your portrait, it’s time to prepare the canvas. The first step is to prime the surface. This can be done by stretching pre-primed canvas or by applying gesso on raw canvas. When stretching a pre-primed canvas, use a staple gun and make sure the fabric is pulled tight so that the painting surface is smooth and even. If you are using raw canvas, apply several layers of gesso with a wide brush or roller, making sure to cover all parts of the canvas evenly. Once dry, sand down the whole painting to eliminate any  bumps or ridges before beginning your painting.

After prepping and priming the surface of your canvas, it’s time to sketch out your composition. Consider what type of mood you want to evoke and how it will interact with your subject matter when selecting colors. When using multiple shades in one painting, make sure they complement each other well and give visual harmony to the overall portrait. With careful preparation and thoughtful consideration of color schemes, you can create an eye-catching backdrop for any portrait painting.

Color Schemes

Painting backgrounds for portraits is like creating a song, where each color is a different note that can be used to build the perfect harmony. Color combinations are essential for creating an aesthetically pleasing painting. Knowing how to combine colors correctly is key, as it can make all the difference between an amateurish and professional-looking piece.

color schemes

When considering color schemes for backgrounds, there are many options: complementary colors, analogous colors, monochromatic colors, and more. Complementary colors are those that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel; they are often used together to create vibrant contrasts in a painting. Analogous colors are those that sit side by side on the wheel; these will usually create a more subtle yet harmonious effect in your background. Monochromatic colors involve just one hue but with various levels of saturation and lightness - this creates a soft, dreamy feel.

No matter which scheme you go for, you should always keep in mind the principles of color harmony and balance when selecting your background palette. It’s also important to consider how the individual elements of your portrait will interact with one another - if certain elements clash too much with their background then they could end up looking out of place or distracting from the overall composition. Combining colors thoughtfully and skillfully will help ensure that your painting looks polished and professional!

Combining Colors

Creating a beautiful background with color is an essential part of portrait painting. To achieve the desired look, it’s important to know how to combine colors effectively. Here are some tips on how to do this:

  1. Learn about color blending and color mixing. Color mixing is a technique of combining two or more hues together to create a new one. This helps create interesting gradients and textures in your work. It also helps to have a basic understanding of tone combinations and hue gradients so that you can create a variety of looks for your painting.
  2. Try texture layering. Texture layering involves adding different layers of paint or other mediums over each other to create interesting effects in the background of your painting. Experimenting with various methods will help you find the perfect look for your artwork.
  3. Use complementary colors in your backgrounds. Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel, so they tend to make each other stand out when used together in a painting’s background. These colors can provide contrast and depth that bring out the subjects in the foreground even more vividly and effectively than single-color backgrounds do.
combining colors

By learning and experimenting with these techniques, you’ll be able to create stunning backgrounds for any portrait painting project you take on!

Techniques to Create Texture

texture techniques

Painting backgrounds for portraits can be a fun and creative way to add texture and depth to your work. Textural painting involves creating texture through various techniques, such as implementing texture with brush strokes, adding texture with various mediums, and creating texture effects with layers of paint. When painting a background for a portrait, there are many ways to create interesting textures that will lead the eye through the composition.

One method of creating texture is by using brush strokes in various directions and sizes. This can create a sense of movement and interest in the background. For example, you could use short vertical strokes or long horizontal lines to add visual interest or use large circular strokes to create a soft effect. Additionally, if you are painting on canvas or other textured materials, you can take advantage of these natural textures as part of your design.

Another way to add texture is by using different types of mediums such as pastels, pencils, pens, or oil paints, though keep in mind that you should not paint over oil with acrylic. Also consider using mediums such as impasta, linseed oil, or modeling paste. Be sure to mix water-based mediums with acrylic and oil-based mediums with oil paint. These are all great tools for adding an interesting visual element to your background and for drawing the viewer’s eye into the artwork. You can also layer colors on top of each other to create interesting effects that will make your background more dynamic. Finally, using multiple techniques together will help you create unique textures in your paintings that will make them stand out from the rest.

With these creative techniques, you can easily add depth and interest to any portrait background that you create. Transitions between colors and textures are key when it comes to creating a visually pleasing background.  Experiment with different styles until you find one that works best for you! With some practice, you’ll soon be able to master the art of adding depth with perspective in your portraits!

Adding Depth With Perspective

adding depth to painting

Painting portraits requires more than applying a few brush strokes. To create a stunning piece of art, the artist must strive to add depth and dimension to their canvas painting. This is done by considering perspective when painting backgrounds for portraits.

To achieve this, it’s important to select the right color palette and brush selection. A cool color palette will give the canvas painting a calming atmosphere while warm colors provide an energetic mood. The brush selection can also impact how much depth is added - long, thin strokes provide subtle texture while thicker layers of paint add a bolder effect.

To make the background look complete, consider these elements:

  • Perspective Painting
  1. Using linear perspective techniques
  2. Employing atmospheric perspective
  3. Creating depth with overlapping planes
  • Adding Depth
  1. Applying shading and highlights
  2. Working from dark to light layers
  3. Incorporating shadows and texture

By considering these elements, artists can successfully create detailed backgrounds that bring portraits to life.

Selecting and Blending Brushes

When painting backgrounds for portraits, selecting and blending brushes is an essential step. There are several things to consider when choosing brushes, such as the type of brush needed, the size of the brush, and what will be used to blend the colors.

Different types of brushes can be used depending on the desired effect. For example, a round brush is great for creating thin lines or curves while a flat brush is great for filling in larger areas with paint. When selecting a brush size, consider the level of detail you are trying to achieve. For finer details and more intricate shapes, smaller brushes should be chosen. Conversely, for larger areas of coverage, a bigger brush is more effective.

To blend colors together without streaky lines or harsh edges, use two different types of brushes. A soft-bristled brush can be used first to create a soft transition between colors. Then a stiff-bristled brush can be utilized afterward to refine any remaining hard edges and provide a smoother look overall.

blending brushes

By taking into account these points when selecting and blending brushes, one can create beautiful backgrounds for portraits that enhance the entire composition.

Creating Shapes With Paint

paint shapes

By using brush techniques such as stippling and feathering, you can create texture and mix colors to form distinct shapes within your work. With a few careful strokes, you can begin to make the background come alive with color and texture.

When working with shapes, it’s important to remember that each one should be deliberate in its placement. Consider how each shape would interact with other elements in the painting. For example, if you want an object in the foreground to pop out from its background, you may want to use a complementary color for the surrounding shapes. If you’re looking for something more subtle, then experiment with different shades of a single color or combine two colors together for an interesting effect.

The key is practice and experimentation - try different combinations until you find something that works for your painting. With enough patience and dedication, it won’t be long before you master creating beautiful shapes with paint!

Working With Light and Shadow

paint shadow

To make the most of our painting, it is important to consider how light and shadow interact. By using a light source, we can cast shadows that will help to bring out the details of the subject’s features and create an effective shadow contrast.

When beginning a portrait background, it is important to establish a light source. This will determine where shadows will fall and how they will look on the subject’s features. Once this is determined, highlight details can be adjusted accordingly in order to bring out certain features such as eyes or lips. To create more interest and depth, dark tones should be used in areas that would be naturally shaded by the light source. Finally, shadows can be used to draw attention to certain elements or create a focal point within the painting. When establishing one or more light sources in a painting, make sure the background and foreground agree with each other. For example, if there is a sun setting behind some mountains in the background of a painting, think of how that would affect the shadows and highlights in the foreground.

By understanding how light and shadow work together, we can paint backgrounds for portraits that are dynamic and full of life. With careful consideration of our light source and use of highlights and darkness, we can create paintings that are both impactful and visually pleasing.

Painting From Reference Photos

When painting from a reference photo, it all starts with the background. It’s important to choose an image that has an interesting backdrop that you can use to bring your portrait to life. Photographers always seek interesting settings for their photos, and this will be reflected in your painting.

reference photos

When painting backgrounds for portraits, consider the composition of your image and the colors. If you’re using a photo reference, make sure it has enough detail and clarity so your painting will look as good as possible. Once you have chosen your reference photo and established the composition of your painting, it is time to start planning out how you will paint the background. Think about what kind of atmosphere or mood you want to create in your painting and how this will affect the colors and textures you use for the background.

When working from a photo, you can divide the image into a grid, and draw a proportionally equal grid onto the canvas. Be sure to measure carefully and to divide the photo and canvas into the same number of squares. From there, you can sketch in the scene from each grid square of the photo onto the corresponding square on the canvas. This way, you’ll have all the proportions and placements of the background and foreground copied accurately! Now you can start working on adding detail and any embellishments or amendments you wish.

Working With Live Models

Now that you have a handle on painting from reference photos, it’s time to move onto working with live models. Working with live models provides more opportunities to capture the expression in a portrait. It allows you to observe their poses and adjust them to suit the painting’s composition.

Working with models also gives you the chance to get creative. You can make changes in the background or clothing of your model while they are posing, using props and costumes if it helps to inspire you. This will give you more control over how the portrait turns out, allowing you to create something truly unique and personal.

When working with live models, be sure to keep your background simple so it doesn’t detract from the portrait itself. Pay attention to the details such as clothing and accessories, and make sure they complement each other well. Also consider adding props or furniture pieces that add interest or tell a story about your subject. Taking these steps will help create a professional-looking portrait that captures all of its nuances.

painting live models

Finishing Touches for a Professional Look

finishing touch

To really hit it out of the park when painting backgrounds for portraits, you need to add a few finishing touches. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, and that couldn’t be truer when working on a professional portrait. Here are some things to consider:

  • Portrait Framing - Make sure your portrait looks complete by choosing the right frame and matting material.
  • Professional Touch - Finishing details like custom-made frames and mats can help give your work an extra professional touch.

Whether you decide to go with traditional or modern framing options, it’s important to take into account how each choice will affect the overall look of your portrait. With careful consideration of the finishing details, you can create a stunning piece that shows off your skills as an artist.

How to Frame a Portrait

Framing a portrait is an important part of the art-making process. Frames protect the artwork and add visual interest to the piece. There are a few steps involved in framing a portrait correctly. First, choose the right frames for the artwork. Consider both the size and style of the frame, as well as what type of materials you are using for framing. The framing process can vary depending on the materials used, so be sure to research the particular materials you are going to be using. You can also have your painting framed by a professional.

frame painting

Next, measure out where you will place your portrait within the frame. Measure twice and cut once! This is key for ensuring that your artwork fits perfectly into its frame. Once you have measured and cut, carefully position the artwork in its frame and secure it. Some framing techniques use nails, as nails are removable for when a painting needs to be taken out.

The right frames can bring out all of the details of an artwork and make it stand out in any space. With careful consideration and attention to detail during each step of the framing process, you can create beautiful results that will last for many years to come.


In conclusion, painting portrait backgrounds can be a rewarding and challenging experience. When it comes to creating a stunning background, there are a few key elements that need to be taken into account. Firstly, you want to make sure you choose colors and patterns that will help your subject stand out. Secondly, you can use reference photos or live models to help bring your painting to life. Lastly, don’t forget the finishing touches such as framing the portrait for a professional look.

Painting portrait backgrounds is an art form that takes time and patience, but with practice and dedication you can create some truly amazing works of art. So grab your paints and brushes and get creative! With each brush stroke you make, you are transforming an empty canvas into something beautiful and unique something that will be treasured for years to come.

So go ahead and take a deep breath - let your imagination run wild! After all, this is your opportunity to leave your creative mark on the world in an unforgettable way.