Three Strange Tips For Improving Your Backgrounds If You Paint Or Draw From Imagination

2017 Artwork Improving backgrounds article sketch

Painting or drawing interesting backgrounds is fairly easy if you’re drawing from life or painting from photographs. After all, all you have to do is to copy what is right in front of you. However, if you’re painting or drawing from imagination, then coming up with interesting background locations for your artworks can be significantly more challenging.

So, I thought that I’d offer you a few unusual tips that might help you to think of more interesting background designs.

1) Play a lot of 3D computer games: This may sound counter-intuitive, but playing a lot of 3D computer games (particularly those that don’t use hyper-realistic modern graphics) can give you a greater understanding of how three-dimensional spaces “work” in a way that you won’t get by looking at rooms, buildings etc.. in real life.

Or, more accurately, it will change how you think about the three-dimensional locations in your own art.

After all, although the locations in a computer game might be three-dimensional, you are seeing them on a two-dimensional computer screen. Since your drawing or painting will also involve turning an imagined 3D location into a 2D image, repeatedly seeing a fully interactive version of this process can help you to think about your location design in a slightly different way.

Likewise, exploring a 3D area in a computer game (with the full knowledge that it’s been artificially-constructed, and that you can spend as long as you like looking at it) will mean that you’ll start to get a sense of a location as a whole. This is kind of hard to describe, but thinking of your imagined locations in a holistic way (as if you have a 3D model of them in your mind) can seriously improve the design of the backgrounds in your art.

2) Layering and verticality: Before I go any further, I’m going to show you a reduced-size preview of a painting that I’ll be posting here in full later this month, see if you can spot one of the ways that I added more visual appeal and visual interest to this picture.

The full size version of this picture will be posted later this month. But, see if you can spot how I made this picture more interesting.

The full size version of this picture will be posted later this month. But, see if you can spot how I made this picture more interesting.

In case you didn’t spot it, the picture contains two vertical levels. There’s a balcony/ staircase on the far right of the picture and a street in the middle part of the bottom of the picture. Here’s a highlighted version of the preview to show you what I mean.

 The upper level (on the far-right of the picture) is highlighted blue and the lower level (at the bottom of the picture) is highlighted green

The upper level (on the far-right of the picture) is highlighted blue and the lower level (at the bottom of the picture) is highlighted green

One of the simplest ways to cram more interesting visual detail into your art is simply to include more than one vertical “level” in it. Include balconies, windows that overlook streets, shelves filled with interesting objects etc…..

Obviously, this works best in large, expansive outdoor areas – but it’s certainly something worth thinking about if you want your backgrounds to look more interesting.

3) NPCs: If you aren’t familiar with computer gaming jargon, “NPC” stands for “Non-Player Character”. In other words, it’s a geeky-sounding term for the people in the background. If you’re making art fairly quickly or are focusing entirely on the foreground, then it can often be easy to just draw a few generic, undetailed people in the background.

However, if you have a bit more time and if you think a bit more carefully, then you can add a lot of visual storytelling, humour, visual interest etc… to your background by showing the background characters doing all sorts of intriguing things.

Here are two examples, which will include close-ups of the relevant background details.

Here’s the first example:

This is a reduced-size preview of another painting of mine. I'll include a close-up of one of the people in the background.

This is a reduced-size preview of another painting of mine. I’ll include a close-up of one of the people in the background.

This is a close-up of the mid-background. As you can see, there's a "point and click" game protagonist in the foreground (trying to combine a pirate hat and a feather, presumably for some obscure puzzle) and someone walking a dog in the distant background. A pirate's skull sits menacingly at the bottom of the picture.

This is a close-up of the mid-background. As you can see, there’s a “point and click” game protagonist in the foreground (trying to combine a pirate hat and a feather, presumably for some obscure puzzle) and someone walking a dog in the distant background. A pirate’s skull sits menacingly at the bottom of the picture.

And here’s the second example:

Here's yet another small art preview. Now, let's take a look at the mid-background...

Here’s yet another small art preview. Now, let’s take a look at the mid-background…

Two "film noir" detectives in trenchcoats stand over a dead body. One of them is smirking, as if he's just made a tasteless joke. The other detective glares at him sternly.

Two “film noir” detectives in trenchcoats stand over a dead body. One of them is smirking, as if he’s just made a tasteless joke. The other detective glares at him sternly.

So, if you do something a bit strange or interesting with the characters in the background, then you can instantly make the background of your drawing or painting significantly more interesting.

———–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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