How to paint a large subject over a subtle background?
September 21, 2020 3:34 PM   Subscribe

Painters, help! I want to paint a large (koi fish) over a background (stars, galaxies). I know how to paint each thing separately, but I am just getting back into painting after a long hiatus and need some tips on executing it properly.

I used to paint in acrylics all the time (~20+ yrs. ago), and I'm getting back into it, thanks to some recent bursts of inspiration.

My new vision is a koi or shubunkin fish against a cosmic nighttime sky. (I am inspired by my own shubunkins, who wow me with their stunning beauty every day, but I want to create something a bit abstract as well.)

After making some preliminary studies in oils, watercolors, drawing in various media, etc. I would like to get back into acrylics more. This is what I have on hand and I don't want to get into a ridiculous amount of money for additional supplies. Although I'm historically much more familiar with acrylics, it's been a while since I've done more formal work. I already have a prepared gessoed black canvas, which I can add more black to as a blending agent as I work. I have a healthy stock of brushes and paints, which have all held up rather nicely since my last spurt of creativity.

I know how to execute the nighttime sky effect that I want; I also know how to create the koi/shubunkin fish. I'm having a hard time remembering after all these years which goes first; the cosmic background, or to build it around the koi, which I would start with in that case. My google-fu isn't going very well lately and I want to get my technique right the first time.

Should I outline the koi first and then build the sky around it and finish the koi at the end? Or the other way around? Any tips, suggestions, websites/links, videos, etc. would be more than welcome!
posted by chatelaine to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just my two cents: Since your subject is koi, white or orange fish, if you go with a deep midnight blue for the cosmos, your fish colors will look more vibrant.

High viscosity acrylic student range colors are ideal for large applications like walls. The paint store makes tiny sponge rollers that are wonderful for quickly covering large areas. Many artist paint large beginning areas in inexpensive paints and finish the top layers in their more expensive colors. Synthetic brushes will work much better with acrylic paints. If you adjust the paint viscosity with a fluid blending medium instead of water, the pigments will be richer and will adhere better. Several thin glaze layers are better than one heavy thick layer, and allowing the layers to dry between applications will prevent them from fogging or getting sticky in ambient humidity.

You can also buy really great iridescent colors, metallics or interference colors and mediums to add to your cosmic star fish, which I would totally do. I would love to turn out the lights and have a florescent sort of fish constellation above my head as I drift off into the cosmos.

Happy painting and I hope some of this is helpful.
posted by effluvia at 4:09 PM on September 21 [3 favorites]

For the order of application, I would paint the background first, lay in the stars. I would then make a cartoon preparatory drawing of the koi, then trace it on the background, then paint it last. That way I would minimize the strain of drawing a detailed element whilst working on a wall or ceiling, and be certain I was satisfied with the details of the drawing before executing the painting stage.
posted by effluvia at 4:16 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]

I would draw on the fish, mask it out with blue painter's tape (use a flat tipped xacto knife to cut away the edges of the tape to make the shape without cutting through the canvas), paint the background, and then remove the tape and paint the fish.
posted by ananci at 7:20 PM on September 21

Draw your image then paint the entire canvas with a watered down blue/black so you have a good texture to begin with. While the paint is wet wipe out the area where you are going to paint the fish, then use a crumpled paper towel to create further texture in then background. You could even begin to pick out stars here using your finger/handle of your brush. You will want to return to the sky and finish it properly but these steps will give you a good base to work from.
posted by mani at 11:37 PM on September 21

I am currently a painting student getting my BFA. I work in oils, but I don't think the order would be different, and we've been taught to work back to front. So the koi would be last, minus any highlights on the overall piece. It sounds awesome, by the way!
posted by poppunkcat at 5:11 AM on September 22

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