Join John Derry for an in-depth discussion in this video The background is not the subject, part of Digital Painting: Transforming a Portrait.
When describing the importance of a background and portrait subject, I often use an analogy of a stage and actors. When a play begins, we often see the entire stage lit up to provide a sense of time and place. However, when the actors begin to speak their lines, the theater lights comes down and the spot lights isolate the actors and the background goes dark. This focuses the audience on the story and the action. In other words, the background is not the subject. If the stage backdrop were left entirely lit, our attention would be divided.
The same is true when considering a portrait. Like the actors on a stage, all of the focus should be on the portrait subjects. So we're now in Painter, and this is where we're going to be doing all of our creative brushwork. There's a couple things we're going to want to take care of before we actually get started doing the brushwork. I'm going to temporarily turn off these two elements so that we can see just the subjects. As I mentioned earlier, this is offset to the right a little bit. I want to move this so that it's pleasing in a compositional manner, so that they'll be centered when they're on the front portion of our finished print.
So we've done that. Let's go ahead and turn these back on. And, you don't want to have an undo number of layers if you don't need them because every time you add a layer, it's just going to eat up more processor and you could eventually cause problems with your brushes slowing down and what not. So, whenever possible, I try to limit the number of layers I have. And having said that on one side of my mouth, out of the other side, I will tell you before you start dropping these and trying to minimize your layers, there are times where you're going to want to save your file at a certain point so that if we do need to get back, we can always do so.
So I'm now going to go ahead and select this layer that I want to drop, and then I'm just going to go up here to layers. And I'm going to say drop. So, now we've eliminated that layer and we're free to start to work on this. And the other thing that I'm going to do, is I'm going to go ahead and add a new layer at this point. We'll probably be dropping it later on, but I can go ahead and I can paint on this layer, what I want to make sure is that that pick up underlying color is on. So, let's go ahead and I'm going to use John's round camel as my brush and let's just test it out here.
Now, the first thing that I want to do is just kind of quickly pull in this color. See, if I didn't do it very well, I'd end with a kind of a white ghost in here, so I'm doing my best at this point just pull these colors into and under our subject. I try to always change the angle that I'm doing brushstrokes. I don't want it to just look like every stroke is pulled into there, so I may do that initially, but then I'm probably going to come back and just throw some differences in here.
Like, there's that little bit of green. And the same with the head here. Let's go ahead and just pull our color down initially, and then I'll go back and kind of refresh that area with some different directed strokes. You can see I kind of do a, it's not really a star pattern, but I just try to always keep changing the angle of the brush. If they're all in one direction, it kind of gives it a mechanical look. Having said that, at the same time, the goal here isn't to imitate exactly what I'm doing. If you have a different feel for how you want your background to look, of course, go ahead and do it the way you want.
And this may or may not, in an image that you do, end up having the same kind of technical issues that I'm having here. So, you may not even have to deal with hiding something like I'm doing. Right here, that seems to be pretty unchanging. So, I'm just going to pull some color in there. And that way I can just kind of break this up. So that it just has less than 100% one color appearance going on. So if you see me kind of streaking colors into an area that's what I'm doing.
And so I'm just going to go ahead drop down into here, same here. And one thing you can do too, is if I turn this off, even though it's not on, I can still see where my brushstrokes have been applied and where they haven't. So even though this is invisible, Painter knows to paint with the underlying color. So I find this to be a really nice way to ensure that I am pretty much covering up that background. We want to, as little as possible, have any remnants of the photographic imagery remain in the painting, because, in fact, it is a painting.
You don't want to spent a whole lot of time on the background. But, of course, as I mentioned, there's times where your style may dictate, well, I do want a little more going on in there, so. You don't have to follow exactly the way I'm doing it. This just tends to be my style. Even when I'm painting this not for video, like I'm doing here, I will often paint this quickly just to get this done knowing that this is not the actor. This is the stage. And so, one of the things this does if you do this very freely, like I'm doing here, it gives a nice spontaneous quality with strokes in the background as well.
Now, we do have this area, so I need to temporarily jump up to the layer he's on and I'm just going to pull this out. And this may look like he's got an unduly large shoulder, but remember this is going to wrapped around the edge so it's not really an issue. Let's just turn this back on temporarily. I can see I want to just throw some colors in here. And now that I've done that, once again, you may want to save at this point what you've done.
Because I'm going to now drop this layer. I don't need it, and I'm just getting some last look at here, just to ensure that there's kind of an overall quality to all of these strokes. That looks good. And, once again, I'll go over to the layers here and go to drop. And drop that. Now, the other thing I want to do while I'm here, is overall that seems a little light, and normally I would go to Photo Shop to do my adjustments. But this is a pretty minor adjustment, so I'm willing to rely on painter's colors here.
All I'm going to do, is just turn this value down a bit. And see how it dropped down. And I don't want to overdo it, but to me that felt a little light. So there, we've now got our actors on the stage. The stage is not demanding attention. It's got a nice overall brush work and that's basically where I want it to be. By contrasting the finer brushwork we'll use for the subjects against the larger indicating brushwork of the background, we'll bring focus to the subjects and let the background act as an atmospheric backdrop.
These techniques work with subjects of any age or skin tone, and are perfect for memorializing moments a photo can't quite do justice to.
- Building the image nondestructively
- Extending the edges of your image for gallery wraps
- Removing distractions
- Handling patterns
- Making preliminary tonal adjustments
- Blending skin
- Adding lighting
- Using vignetting to focus on the subjects