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Readers Respond: Do You Paint Backgrounds First or Last?

Responses: 53


From the article: How to Paint a Background
Do you paint a background first, before you start on the subject. Do you paint it last, when you've finished everything else? Or do you create the background at the same time as you paint everything else? Which approach do you find easiest, and why?

Vote in the Poll: When Do You Paint the Background? First thing I paint / Last thing I finish / Mostly first / Mostly last / As I'm painting the rest / Something else

Background First

I cover the canvas, first, with areas of different colors. Then I put patches of gesso and a new layer of color. Superposing two colors, you get a third. In places where there are the gesso patches, the second color does not mix with the first. The result is a canvas covered in many colors.

Is the sky considered "background"?

That's always the first thing I put in. I don't fight to get it to look a certain way, though. I've found that the sky often dictates the landscape, and it's not unusual for me to paint a wholly different landscape than I envisioned if the sky creates a different mood. If the foreground is going to have water or ice/snow, I'll underpaint some areas with some of the sky color to unify them. Then I start at the horizon and work my way forward, imagining myself walking backward toward the picture plane.
—Guest Edward

Back and Forth

I usually start with the forms of the major planes. Next I fill in the background and then I go back and forth between the foreground and the background as the relationship between them is very important.
—Guest Arthur Oster

Chinese Composition

I took up Chinese ink brush. They invariably begin with the foreground, and then, as the ink on the brush becomes lighter, they move to the background as they exhaust the brush. Then, reload, and back to the foreground
—Guest Michael

Half Completing Background First

Starting and half completing the background is better for me, and then focus on the foreground till I'm satisfied that the overall picture will be better.
—Guest Odile Pereira


I suggest to work on background first. Painting is always layering. The same process as you set up your still life; you have to find a good background (place) first before setting the middle ground (subject) then the foreground (the subject) towards the viewer.
—Guest AcCF Malubay

Background First

I chosen a color that I like for background first, thinking that it would look good with the object that I choose to do; and then sometimes, I regret the choices that I made. I have to change the way I'm doing it.
—Guest Good sobject

Foreground First

It depends upon the subject being painted. I always taught my students to start by painting the background first as this will alleviate many problems. I have noticed that when my students started working the foreground first they met some difficulties in really matching elements in the foreground and background. Once the elements in the foreground were painted, difficulties aroused as to pay heed to the contour lines of the different element painted. An example to illustrate the said, suppose they had to paint a red circle on a green background. They will first of all paint the positive shape of circle paying heeds to the contour outline of the circle. I said " good, and now paint the background and tell about the difficulties you encouraged". Many responses were similar and one which kept on repeating was when painting the green background they had to pay caution to the edge of the already painted circle so as to avoid overlapping of green on red. Paint background first is better.
—Guest Ali


That is decided after I know what my primary subject or focus will be and decide on its weight or position within the composition. I tend to lay down the background because I enjoy glazing. My paintings are colorfully and topically chaotic and reflect how I see; it is my style.
—Guest Parris Larrain

Background First

I think painting background first works for me since it has less details.

Depends on the Subject

With me it depends on the subject matter. If I am doing a complex piece such as a portrait then I will focus mainly on the subject then work the background in later. With landscapes I often do the background first, but I have also flipped back and forth between background and foreground in a painting to try and work them in together. I think it really is up to the artist and what they like best. Though when doing the foreground first it can be hard to do the background after without making any defined strokes around the subjects in the foreground that may draw the viewer's eye in a negative way.

Background First

I like to paint the backgrounds first, as these normally have less detail and intricacy. Making the foreground later gives a brightness to the main picture.
—Guest TOSHI

It Really Depends

I usually start painting the subject in the foreground first, and then the background. But lately I've been noticing how much of a pain that can be. But I'd say it depends on what you're painting. In my case right now, I'm starting a painting of Hindu God. They are so intricate, but then the background has its solid red color with sun rays. So I'm not sure how I'm gonna do this one, because I really don't want to ruin the background.
—Guest Zeefar

Backgrounds and Subjects

This is why I LOVE painting -- the freedom of choice! No rightway/wrongway rules. I typically do a brief background first to help me settle into the project.

Backgrounds First, Always

Always paint backgrounds first, feels like foundation of the work. I do sketches before starting and this brings clarity.
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