Behind the Art: My Complex Backgrounds

I had not been painting for very long, at most about two years, when I got a great complement from a local pro.

My wife and I are passionate art collectors and we invited Allison OK Frost and her husband over for dinner. We had recently purchased a couple of Allison’s watercolors that were erotic in nature.

Allison went to one of my paintings without even knowing it. At the time, I was working under the pseudonym Ray Montenegro.

“Wow this background reminds me of Monet,” Allison said. “It’s lush and complicated.”

Little did she know…

See, way back in the day I drove more than two hours to see a Monet exhibit in St. Louis. Mind you, I was not a big impressionism fan (and still am not) but the chance to see one of the masters was too great to ignore.

I entered the Monet gallery and was instantly mesmerized by his water lilies series. The lush and complex backgrounds really made a huge impact on me.

Flash forward more than 40 years later, and you’ll find me in the studio laying down complicated backgrounds that are designed to be like intriguing eye candy…your eyes sense something from across the room and draws you in to take a closer look (well that’s the hope at least…LOL).

The idea is to have a sense of something smoldering below the characters in my paintings. It’s not easy to pull off, and I do spend quite a bit of time planning it out as best I can. Of course, I leave myself open to what just comes out naturally in that creative session.

You can learn about this in a “behind the scenes” video of my process. In this clip, I explain how it all starts with what is known as a toned ground.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with different foundational colors. But These days I use several types of yellows, similar to what Monet used, so this layer is variegated. That way the paint ends up on the canvas so that the background already has a nice energy flow.

Then, I create what amounts to a pure abstraction on top of that toned ground, knowing full well that I will paint over most of it.

And that’s where the final coat comes in. It’s basically an acrylic wash, a combination of a custom color mixed with airbrush medium to thin it all out so that as much of that abstraction underneath shines through to the level that looks and feel right for that particular work.

Yes, I know it’s a complex and time-consuming process. But I believe it helps make the final image bold and colorful and also just pop from the canvas.

I do hope you’ll take a moment to watch the accompanying video that lays this all out in detail right in front of you. It’s a great way to learn more about the foundation of my paintings.