View single post by jtrain
 Posted: Wed Oct 22nd, 2014 05:43 am
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Joined: Sun May 27th, 2012
Location: Missoula, Montana USA
Posts: 994
Backdrops are a must have for any modeler who wished to depict accurate scenes in a small space. Seeing that I can't do a lot of modeling while at college, I figured I should start refining techniques. Since backdrops and painting in general are one weak area, I've decided to start this thread cataloging my practice attempts at painting backdrops with acrylic paint.

To start with, let's go over what is needed:

A set of paints with as many "natural" tones as possible including Burnt Umber, Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Crimson red, Hooker's Green, and any other colors that would be suitable for the scene you have in mind. While the natural colors required will vary depending on the scene being depicted, yellow, white (a lot of it), black (a little of it), Red, and Blue are necessary. While any kind of paint will work with the right technique, I prefer acrylic due to it's ease of use, easy cleanup, bright tones, and simplicity.

For paintbrushes, the size will vary depending on the amount of detail required, and artist preference. I prefer to have a couple sizes of rounded burshes, two or three flat brushes, one of which being fairly large (about 3/4" for a small painting, larger if for a full backdrop). and then some oddballs, including an angle-cut brush.

You will also need a palette. While wood or plastic ones will work, something I've been using recently is a shallow steel pan, and sometimes a 10"x10" piece of glass. THe reason is that acrylic doesn't stick to these surfaces easily, and will stay wet longer than if put on wood or plastic. For the metal, I can come back later with some steel wool and take off any remaining paint. For glass, some hard scrubbing in the sink takes it all off.

And of course, you need a surface to paint. For these demonstrations, it will be cheap canvas pieces ($5 for three of them) and a $10 dollar easel.

Overall cost is about $50 ($20 for paints, $10 for brushes, $5 for the palette, $10 for the easel, $5 for three canvas pieces 11" x 14"). Each additional art piece will cost about $7 for the canvas, paint used, and perhaps one brush if it is destroyed while making the backdrop. With the set-up I describe, the paints and brushes should last about 20 small canvases before the brushes become too used and the paint runs out. So for $50, you get plenty of practice!

With that out of the way, let's start with a simple sky with some background scenery:

To cover the top, I used Bright blue (one or two steps lighter than titanium blue).

I worked down the canvas in horizontal motions, adding white to the blue as I descended.

As you can see, this process gives the feeling of a big open sky, with some oft clouds along the horizon.

Next, I wanted to add some clouds to the picture. Instead of starting with clouds in the foreground, I used light shades of blue and white highlights to give the impression of distant clouds near the horizon (horizon being about 1/4 up from the bottom).

After some time, here is the result:

At this point, you could stop and call the backdrop good. On a layout, this would give the feeling of an open sky. However, to make things interesting, more clouds and some basic landscape to make a more complete backdrop.

I plan to post a how-to on my blog regarding backdrops, so I've taken plenty of photos. I also plan to continue practicing with colors, hue, vibrance, water, and light. After about 20 paintings, I will probably be pretty solid at painting backdrops.

One thing I will say is this, instead of finding a specific image and copying it, paint your backdrop to suit your needs, taking inspiration from photos. Otherwise you'll go mad trying to make the painting perfectly reflect the picture.

I will also add that instead of focusing on shapes, let the landscape and the clouds flow, and always have a soft edge (even at the horizon line). The backdrop is out of focus when taking pictures of models, and even when looking at the layout (since our eyes never focus on more than one thing at a time). In fact, you'll never notice a backdrop unless something glaring is sticking out of it. But that's the job of the backdrop, to provide the feel of open space where there is none.

Oh yeah, I wouldn't recommend actual canvas for a backdrop, as the rough texture looks out of place with small models. Regardless, at less than $2 per canvas, it's well worth using as practice!

More to come...


James W.

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