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Although the word ground is usually associated with the earth's surface, in image making, it refers to a primary base coat of paint or background color in a work. Its purpose is to unify elements in an image, creating a harmonious color field. It's also meant to provide an environment for the colors to react to, adding to the color language. A ground creates a, kind of, family connection similiar to the use of limited palette. You can use both a limited palette and a ground to create color unity keeping in mind that the colors that sit on top of the ground work best when there's a color reaction.
If these colors on top are too similar to the ground, the relationship is a dud. Here's a painting that I created from my little pony, under the sparkling sea. This is where I started with drawing on a pink pastel toned paper. You can see the paint apply to the ground color. I used opaque watercolor and colored pencil and pastel for this part. The pink becomes both the binder of all the colors and a reactionary tone, with anything different from pink reacting to the color as a complement.
Colors mixed with green, blue green, orange etcetera are all complements of the ground and have the greatest reaction to it. In this painting from the same book I used a different pastel paper for the ground that I thought would react to all the gold orange color in the room. Then I realized it was too close to the color of the main characters in the room. So I painted over it with a pink and then a red watercolor to create a reaction for the blue green characters. I then subtracted the color by using a soft brush to pull the layers of watercolor off revealing the ground tone to bring the blue ground color back to where I wanted to see it.
The finished image shows plenty of vibrant reaction with the complimentary colors and unity achieved by the ground. Using the ground is the most satisfying way to pull a palette together, because it gives you the artist something to react to, and unifies whatever you put on top of it. If you choose a limited set of colors and make sure they will react to the ground, you ensure a dynamic palette and one that is harmonious. A ground color can be created with any medium, pastel, water color, toned paper, digital.
As long as the color exists an, as an underpinning for the palette used, it's a ground, and should provide a great base for your images.
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