When NOT To Include A Background In Your Artwork- A Ramble

2016 Artwork when shouldn't you add backgrounds article sketch

Although this is an article about compositions and backgrounds in art, I’m going to have to start by talking about my recent cyberpunk art series (again) for a while because it provides an example of what I’ll be talking about.

Anyway, here’s a cyberpunk painting that I made the night before writing this article:

"Blue Light Lab" By C. A. Brown

“Blue Light Lab” By C. A. Brown

And here’s another painting from the series. You can probably see the obvious difference:

"Strange Case" By C. A. Brown

“Strange Case” By C. A. Brown

Yes, there’s no background! Whilst virtually all of the paintings in the series have large detailed cityscapes and/or rooms in the background, this one painting doesn’t.

Why was that? Well, it was to do with the fact that adding a background would have completely ruined the painting. If you don’t believe me, then just take a look at the original line art for the painting and you’ll see a couple of my failed attempts at adding a background.

"Blue Light Lab (Lineart)" By C. A. Brown

“Blue Light Lab (Lineart)” By C. A. Brown

Because my original idea for the painting was to have the entire picture lit by a glowing blue orb, I quickly realised that this would probably only illuminate things close to the light source. Although I later added orange light to the painting too (to compliment and contrast with the blue light), I realised that the low light levels in the picture would be great for emphasising just one part of the painting.

As such, I had to leave the background out – since it would have distracted from the more interesting parts of the picture and it would have also ruined the gloomy atmosphere of the painting too.

But, when shouldn’t you include backgrounds in your art?

Generally speaking, if you want to emphasise something you’ve drawn or painted- then the easiest way to do that is not to include a background. Likewise, if you have a limited amount of time to work on a piece of art, then the background can often be the first thing to go in order to save time.

In situations where a background would be expected, an easy way to get around this is to – if possible – use a solid colour background, rather than just leaving the background blank (personally, I like to paint it black – but you can use any colour that compliments the rest of your picture). This gives the impression of a background, without actually including a detailed background.

As for learning when it’s right to include backgrounds and when it isn’t, the only real way to learn this is through trial and error. Of course, since every drawing or painting is different, you can only learn a few general guidelines rather than a specific “one size fits all” rule.

But, this isn’t as bad as it sounds – if you’re more of a traditional artist, then just experiment with backgrounds in your preliminary pencil sketches (they can be easily erased). If you also work digitally, then backgrounds can always be added or erased later (although it’s obviously much easier to erase a background – I mean, you can do this in MS Paint – than it is to add one digitally).

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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