Go close to the subject, but don't take so long that you allow the background area to dry. Mix colors on the paper as little as possible. Let the water move the paint around and do the mixing work. If you use your brush to stir the paint around too much, you'll make mud. Instead, pick up the paper and tilt it until the colors blend nicely. Flip ahead to Figure 9-11 to see an example of this type of background.
Do you always have to paint the background after you finish the main image in the still life? Of course not. There really are no rules. At some point you just need to make a plan (even if it's just in your head). Sometimes the background is easier to paint first because a light background can be covered later by a darker subject. Sometimes you want to surround the subject after you have painted it on clean white paper. You can even work the background and foreground up together if you have a plan. Or you may not want a background at all, and therefore, white is alright.
Lines or hard edges in backgrounds are caused by uneven wetness. The color travels to the edges of wet, gets stopped by a dry area, and creates a hard edge. Don't allow a spot to dry if you want the color to keep traveling. Of course, if you go back in and introduce a lot of water, you have uneven wetness again, only this time with too much water rather than a dry spot. More water in a damp area causes a blossom. Practice keeping your paper evenly wet. Get the dampness consistent before adding color. Blot too much water with a paper towel, or soak it up with a dry brush. Better yet, spread it around. The paper will absorb the water quickly. If you have too much wetness, wait. Watercolor will teach you patience.
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