For any artwork, regardless of the subject matter or media, the background serves as an indispensable part of the composition.
Many artists tend to focus entirely on the foreground and fall into the comfort zone of leaving the background blank. It would be a huge waste because a good background can emphasize the subject, create the context, and imbue the elements with an ambiance. From there, it adds a layer of depth to your artwork that will take the final finished piece to the next level.
Let’s take a look at how to draw a background and what an artist needs to be aware of during the process. I will highlight some of the basic and advanced tips so you can draw the background of your artworks like a pro. Hopefully, after reading this post, you shall know how to take advantage of the environment to add a visual appeal to your drawing!
Table of Contents
Factors That Makes A Good Background
There are three elements that create the perfect background for your artwork:
- It is out of the spotlight. By saying “out of the spotlight”, I don’t mean that the background needs to be bland or uninviting, but it shouldn’t fight for attention with your main subject.
- It should complement the rest of your drawing. The colors you use in the background, your brushwork, or your shape should be harmonious with the foreground.
- Last but not least, a good background should enhance the artwork. Simply said, your drawing should look better with the background than without it.
Let’s look at some examples below:
Complement Instead Of Compete
This is the painting of Lake Como done by Russian painter Isaac Levitan in 1894. As you can see, the artist has muted the background mountains, thus added a sense of depth to the background. These distant mountains cannot catch viewers’ attention as much as the foreground (the buildings and the boats), but they work as a backcloth to highlight the subject.
Unifies The Drawing
The artist used small dabs of the same colors used in the subject (a black-caped chickadee) to add interest to the background. The final finished piece remains colorful but not distracting. Matching colors link the background to the main elements and give hints about the scenery that viewers cannot see in the drawing.
Improve The Drawing
On the right side of the drawing, you can see that the forest afar has been removed. Although they are not portrayed with many details, removing them definitely affects the visual pleasure of the artwork.
Common Background Errors
So you have been trying to draw a background, but something just seems… off? Well, it happens quite often, even for skilled artists. In that case, you’d better check if you have made one of these mistakes:
- The color scheme you choose for your background is too vibrant that it dominates the rest of your artwork.
- The background is too detailed and draws the attention of viewers more than the subject.
- There is a mistake or a single detail in the background that forces people to turn their attention to it.
- The colors you use in the background are not related to the ones you use in the foreground.
- Your background is too “quiet” and not interesting enough.
How To Draw A Background – Basic Principles
Considering all the factors that create a good background and mistakes that can ruin it, we list out 7 basic principles for newbies to follow. Of course, you can get all creative once you have mastered how to draw a background, but at the beginning stage where you are still confused with many details to handle, they will help you become familiar with the process.
Prioritize Light Colors In The Background
When it comes to drawing your background, the rule of thumb is to choose light colors. Even when you are just going to leave the background simple and plain and just want to add some colors to make the whole artwork seems more appealing, these colors can still emphasize the main subject without distracting viewers’ attention.
Imagine drawing scenery with brown rocks in the foreground, mountains in the middle ground, and blue sky in the background at the upper portion of the artwork. You would like audiences to focus on the brown rocks. In that case, you need to add colors mixed with white to the background to prevent it from being distracting.
For instance, you can paint the sky light blue. For the mountains, it is possible to select the same brown colors you use for the rocks, but mix them with white to create a different shade. That way, you can add a light effect to the drawing.
Hence, the main point here is to avoid colors that can compete with the main subject of your drawing. Again, once you thoroughly understand how to draw a background, you can play with colors and create all kinds of surprising effects, but this is the safest choice to ensure that your background works.
Avoid Long Straight Or Curved Lines
The second thing to keep in mind is to avoid long straight or curved lines. If you are wondering how, I had the same question too when I was practicing backgrounds. Quickly, I figured it out. Yes, long straight and curved lines are everywhere in a drawing, and they are unavoidable. To make a background look intriguing, though, there should be some objects that break into them. If your background is filled with long lines, it will look stiff and boring.
It is just like decorating your room. You will want to make your room more lively by adding furniture, wall hangings, or carpets just to fill up the blank spaces. Drawing your background is just the same.
If your background is monotonous with long straights and curves, you should disconnect them by adding small details. Otherwise, viewers will find the drawing unattractive or disturbing to the eyes. Let’s look at an example:
Other items may be seen in the right image to help break up the long lines. It seems more natural when the lines are disconnected.
Do Not Let The Parallel Lines Conflict With One Another
The third tip on how to draw a background is about parallel lines. To add a vibrant vibe to the subject, as well as the general composition of your drawing, you should avoid letting parallel lines in the background conflict with one another.
Let’s imagine your room again. You have to decorate it with a couch, a flower vase, a wardrobe, a wall hanging, and a table. If you place all the lines parallel, would it be nice? Absolutely not!
Just like long straight or curved lines, parallel lines need to be disrupted by other objects. For example, if you draw a curtain, its parallel lines should not be conflicted with the sofa’s. It will look much better if you place the sofa in front of the curtain instead of beside it, just like this:
Apply A Tinted Background To Soften The Hardness Of A Plain One
In some cases, you don’t want your background to be too detailed yet also don’t want it to be too plain. The solution here is a tinted background. It is basically a plain background but with some shades of colors or a pencil brush added to a selected area (usually at the corner of the artwork or the edges of your main subject).
A tinted background is extremely useful when you want to make audiences focus entirely on the subject. Still, remember that the colors used in such background should match the colors you use in the subject, as the previous part mentioned.
Different Elements In A Background Can Create Its Depth
The next thing you need to keep in mind is that different elements in your drawing can add more depth to it. Imagine you trying to create a landscape drawing. Everything seems perfect and the lighting is beautiful, but something is definitely missing, making the piece look flat and compressed. In that case, the problem lies in the background. Just look at this:
On the left, the whole scenery looks so flat with just the mountain. On the right, though, the small hill, especially the lake, links your eyes to the mountains and makes the drawing look deeper. That’s how using different elements will add to its visual pleasure and give depth to your drawing, making it more intriguing.
Add Shadows And Highlights
It is always better to add shadows and highlights to your background using various techniques. They give your artwork the illusion of depth and the feeling of space, transforming it from a lifeless 2D image to a three-dimensional scenery that catches viewers’ eyes.
To add shadows and highlights to your background, though, you need to understand the basic principle of how light reacts with the object it hits. It is crucial to determine the main source of light within your artwork to correct shadows and lights.
Adding shadows and lights to an environment is more challenging than to a certain object, so if you are new to this, I suggest you watch this tutorial and practice first:
Improve Your Art With Better Shadows
Use Various Shades Of Colors
This is another tip for you if you want to keep your background plain to highlight the object, yet don’t want it to turn out so boring. In this case, applying different shades of the same colors in the background is a good idea. Though very simple, this trick can help you create a colored background like a pro.
Which To Draw First, The Background Or The Subject?
In fact, there is not a fixed rule for this. I’d say it depends on your medium. If you are drawing on a traditional medium (paper or canvas, for example), you might want to draw the background first then add the subject later. It is much easier than drawing the subject than try not to make sure the background does not intersect it.
On the other hand, you can choose anything to draw first since you will work on different layers for digital drawings. Personally, I would prefer to set up the background first. It helps me determine the perspective viewing point so I can add the foreground items in the drawing more naturally.
To have a better understanding of how to line up the perspective angles, you might check out this video:
So, How To Draw A Background For Comic?
Drawing backgrounds for comics is not much different. However, since there are many panels, you don’t have to go deep into details for all of them. In most cases, you can start with an establishing shot, then apply one of these tips to make the whole process much easier:
The idea is to place your character in front of a surface (a brick wall, for example) and complete the panel with a feel appropriate lines, just like this:
That way, you give viewers an illusion that your character still stays in the same venue as in previous frames without adding many details.
The outline of scenery behind your character is enough for viewers, and it will save you a lot of time.
A graphic shortcut is referred to as a “riff”, which every comic artist has. A riff isn’t always a realistic portrayal of something; sometimes it’s just some shapes and lines:
You can create your own riff or get them from some comic book background free sources, such as Freepik or Vecteezy.
How To Draw A Background – A Conclusion
So, above is everything you need to start drawing a background. Whether you are creating a background for your artwork or comic, it is always crucial to keep it simple so your audiences can focus on the subject you want them to pay attention to.
If you wanna share your experience in drawing the background, please tell us in the comment below!
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