Need some help with colors of the background


I came back with a partially colored picture. I do quite like the colors I chose for her dress (and I will search around her skin color more later, and I know that her forearm is way too short, I think I know how to fix that…), but I can’t get the background right… it should be dimmed and all creamy, but with some hints of other colors. Unfortunately, it all looks both too grey and too saturated in the same time. Do you have some suggestions? What am I doing wrong?

(This is my best attempt. There were some previous ones… )

I wanted the frame around her (it’s actually a bed, just the bedding it’s visible, I guess I forgot to paint it in this attempt…) to be a very dark wood. Stairs - lighter wood, the floor - light wood, walls could be whatever. Curtains could be any color I want, and I’m not decided yet what should be the background of her - I guess it should be fabric from the other side of the bed (second pair of curtains, just closed). Light should come from the right side and the right side is a wall that is perpendicular to the stairs and the bed and it touches it (as in, if that woman reached her arm, she would touch the wall). There is a window on the right side just outside of the canvas. (You see, I have all of it thought out, I just can’t figure out how to make colors match what I imagined…). I want colors to be dim and not overpower the beautiful richness of red of the dress.


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This is something where the Gamut masks are coming in handy. For your situation I’d probably try one of the two triangular ones, rotate it so that the exact red of the dress is part of the Gamut, and then stick to the other available colours from that Gamut for the rest of the painting. It helps you stick to colours that are harmonious, but I’ve also found that it makes me bolder in getting some subtle colour variations in that I wouldn’t have dared otherwise but will help make the painting look more vibrant.

Right now it looks like every colour in your painting is pretty isolated and you only vary it towards lighter and darker for shading. Especially the dress and the curtains. This however is not how light works in real life and makes your colours look less vibrant and also like they aren’t part of the same scene. For a warm sunlit scene feel, you want the lighter parts tint towards yellow from the warm sunlight, and the darker parts tint to whatever they pick up from their surroundings—cool colours can be used here to great effect. The bright red of the dress would bleed/bounce into the surrounding items and vice versa.

See for example here and here and here and here.

Pretty good start! So It’s not your color per se, but your values and probably the composition. The back wall should be much darker so the character pops out more, or just have less contrast. And then there’s the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a proper light source. The room seems so evenly lit that it gives the impression there’s a sun inside the room! It’s not necessarily too bright nor too dark, like-
Here’s an example picture:

The whites are overexposed, you can see a lost edge on the right pillow, where it merges with the white of the wall. But still, there’s clearly a light coming from the right. And the image is readable because the values are right. The skin seems to pop out as more saturated due to everything around it being very subdued in saturation.
If I’m squinting my eyes while looking at your picture, I cannot see a distinction between light and shadow so yeah: It’s mainly the values.
Always squint. Squint as hard as you can. Change the values until the picture is readable how you want it while squinting.
And maybe crop it a bit. Right now the composition seems heavy yet wandering and a bit awkward. Try to match it with the rule of third or maybe even the Golden ratio.

I agree with @Rebecca - all your colors are isolated! Don’t be afraid to mix colors around, and remember that some colors when they are desaturated will take on the appearance of other colors. For example, a yellow-orange that is desaturated starts to look green - which complements the red in the dress!

Bucci posts some good videos on colors -

You have a great explanation about what you envisioned, but the painting has to do the talking for you. Sometimes that means adjusting the image. If you have a reference image with a figure by a window, then getting the values believable will be easier - but it can still be very difficult to make people believe there is a window. Your best bet may be to paint in part of the image.

I started to mix the colors around the room - there is a lot more to do, but hopefully this improves the vision. And then i realized i was struggling to figure out the shape of the room and the shadows - so i shrunk your painting a little and adding some definition around the walls and ceiling so i could better define the perspective.

I don’t know whether you’re still working on this, but I randomly stumbled across some master paintings that reminded me a bit of your situation:

Frank Bramely - Hopeless Dawn

Gaston La Touche - The First Born

Peder Severin Krøyer - Tavern in Ravello

In the white fabrics especially you can see how much of the surrounding colours they pick up (note the variation in warm an cool patches!), and the first painting lets the browns of the floor and wall go very cool in the shadows. The tavern has a nice demonstration of what a bright sunlit patch can do to a room.

I think it’s the warm/cool contrast that makes the colours look so vibrant (even on the objects that we read as white or grey), and the same colours being picked up by adjacent objects that makes them look like they belong into the same scene. For the latter, lost and found edges also help, i.e. deliberately let your objects melt together in some places. Usually the shadows.

I have to admit I could look at these amazing paintings all day. Maybe some of this helps. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: