Abstracting the foreground

Paintings pose problems in many ways – there are always decisions to be made at every step along the way. One of the problems that I almost always face is what to do with the foreground. I don’t like foregrounds!

Photo by Stijn Dijkstra on Pexels.com

Now sometimes the foreground is the star of the show, as in the photo above. You could really make something of that, and keep the background as a backdrop. I attempted this in my watercolor sketch below. See how your eye is continually drawn to the foreground. The directional lines of the flowers lead your eye up to the mountain where you spend only a few seconds before coming back to the mass of detail and colour and light/dark contrasts of the flowers. These are the focal point, even though it is a landscape painting with an impressive mountain in the background!

However often the foreground is just a lead in to the main event as in this photo of the same scene below:

Photo by Stijn Dijkstra on Pexels.com

Same mountains, but now they have become the focus of our attention. The foreground is just there to lead us to them. We are lead in by the path, but apart from that there is not much else going on in the bottom half of the picture. So what do we do with it? How can we make something more interesting of all this space? One option would be to just paint it in deep shadow, making it dark and with little detail. That would make the sun really shine on the rest of the picture. However let’s try and do something more imaginative…

Let’s get radical!

I used water mixable oils to achieve this effect which is a combination of traditional oil technique at the top and a more watercolour style for the foreground. As you can see I have only loosely followed the photo reference, but I hope I reached my objective of leading the eye to the distant mountain while still maintaining an interesting foreground.

Watch me paint this on the YouTube video below.

And here are a few other of my paintings in oils and some from my watercolour sketchbook which also have abstract foregrounds.

Of course the other way of going completely abstract is to go like this (below)- a flat plane of colour.

I’d love to hear your comments on all this. 🙂


  1. This technique is just what I’ve been needing for a watercolor painting of a house and umbrella trees in Italy. I want to have the focus on the height of the trees and the ridge that they and the house are on, but the foreground keeps getting in the way. So unless I wanted to have a very long rectangular painting, I needed to find a way to minimize the effect of the foreground. This may very well solve the problem. Thank you, Andy!


  2. Interesting problem, your solution Andy seems one with lots of potential. I just found a pdf online of Andrew Loomis’s “The Eye of the Painter”, where he analyses, rearranges and manipulates these aspects of a subject. Fascinating reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right about the potential Lucy, this abstraction could be developed in lots of different ways. Thanks for letting us know about the Andrew Loomis article – I’ll look it up.


  3. I like the flat plane of color. I would have edited those photos to zoom in on the lit middle ground and left only enough of the dark foreground to serve as a jagged frame at the bottom and on the sides. But then I’m a cut-and-dry kind of person.


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