As I now have realized the general light and shadow masses for my main subject, I am ready to establish a background color. This is an extremely important decision. I want to choose a color that will relate to my portrait tonally and chromatically. When it comes to color, I leave nothing to chance. My approach is very methodical. I am aware of how one layer will modify the color of a previous layer. In a sense, I am thinking backwards. I knew that some of the greens in the underpainting would be evident even in the final layers, and, because green is essentially a cool color, I decided that a compatible background color would be a deep blue. I wanted a blue that would be extremely rich and vibrant, like so many Flemish paintings of the early Renaissance. A commonly used color of that time was Lapis Lazuli, made from precious minerals. The color is no longer available today, but I discovered a close substitute. Many of the colors that I am using in this painting are not commercially produced. They are sold in a small store in Brooklyn, run by an eccentric man named Robert Doak. He is a purveyor of historical pigments and materials, and one can walk into his store and feel like they’ve entered another century. In the store, he has large jars of powdered pigments as well as synthetic brushes, homemade resins, mediums, varnishes, and tubes of paint. If you go there though, be sure that you have a lot of time on your hands, because he will talk your ear off. His website is www.robertdoakart.com.
For the initial layer I used a combination of two of the blues he sells — Chromatic Blue and Wellington Blue. Both of these colors are very saturated and creamy in consistency. I mixed them together in equal portions with a palette knife, and then with a # 4 round brush, I proceeded to apply the color around the contours of my subject as shown in example A. I concentrated on brushing the color out evenly, eliminating texture and opacity. Because I am applying it directly over the white ground, the color will appear lighter and more luminous than it would if applied over a toned ground. I continued to work the color away from the contours of my subject towards the outer edges of my panel as shown in example B. These blues are naturally transparent colors, and will appear streaky at first, but they will be evened out with additional layers. Once I established the background, I could see that some of the values in my subject needed adjusting.