Background Thought Process?



  • How do you attack your background work? I never know what to do! My current plan is to learn to draw things to go in a scene, and then fill the scene with those things --- Draw50Things style.

    But I'd love to hear what other people think about when they work on the background (which, to me, is everything but the immediate character action). I've taken some great courses through SVS on the topic, but it kind of feels like learning to juggle. I can do one thing at a time, but to make a great picture I need to have them all working at the same time!
    What do you do first? Composition? Colours? Then fill in your space with items? What else needs to get juggled and when do you think about it?



  • Take what I say with a grain of salt, because I love simplicity -- if I can get away without a background and still tell the story effectively, that's the route I'll always choose. However, some illustrations require background. In that case, this is what I do:

    1. Sketch out the composition, starting with really rough gestural lines to indicate background then quickly sketching the required elements of the illustration: characters and any items or props they interact with, AND making sure that there is ample space for text (I usually place the text in a slightly bigger point than I think it will end up being). At this stage, I may or may not do simple scribbles or shapes to indicate where details will go.
    2. Refine the sketch, focusing on shapes and, most importantly, balancing out the composition. This is where I also figure out lighting and value. If this is for a project, I show the sketch to my client at this stage to get their feedback (the really rough stage either tends to scare them or it's too rough to clearly communicate the visuals).
    3. Make revisions and/or finish the sketch.
    4. Color comps. I used to skip this step when I worked completely traditional, but now that I've incorporated digital media, I use ProCreate for the initial drawings and color comps. It has really helped because it is so easy to make changes!
    5. If this is going to be an all-digital piece (and if my client has approved it), I jump right into color. If this is going to be rendered mainly with traditional media, I print it out on watercolor paper and complete it traditionally. Either way, I follow the color comp, but usually find I do some tweaks here and there.

    Here's a more complex illustration I did for a picture book project, following the above process. (If the visual helps at all...)
    a657d035-39bb-4588-b047-7abf1077ef30-LM Pg 32 & 33.jpg LM Pg 32 & 33.jpg

    This is my process, anyway, what works for me, and I find that it's constantly being refined and evolving. Hope this helps! ❤



  • @Cayleen This is great think about out. I'm also curious how others approach it!

    To be honest, my process is still a bit of a jumble and though I try to follow a sort of method, the steps kinda bleed into each other a bit. But! I find having some guides very helpful, even if I don't follow them all the time.

    • I start with the thumbnails, focusing primarily on the main elements of the scene--these are the important things that will stand out in an image, like the characters, and objects they are interacting with, and anything that would have a lot of visual weight. When I'm working on the thumbnails, I try to make sure these guys all seem visually balanced. (right now I'm making thumbnails for an image with ladybug characters, so I'm focusing on their positions and the giant flower they're standing on--but not so worried about the other flowers and stuff I want in the background).
    • After I've picked out 3 or 4 thumbnails that I like, I start turning them into rough sketches, considering the background elements, how they can assist the main part of the image and bring attention to the main focus. For me, this usually involves framing, color/value contrast, and leading lines.
    • I'll also make sure the sketches are still visually balanced, and if necessary, I'll add scribbles in places where more weight is needed and will plan to fill those in with some kind of detail later.
    • Then I'll pick a sketch and start refining it--making sure to prioritize the main elements mentioned in the first bullet point before worrying about the detail in the background.

    I think that's about it!


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    I am literally drawing a demo on that exact topic as a lecture for our new Children's Book Pro class right now. How do you draw a background so it has the most narrative punch it can? You can't just think about filling a scene with stuff. Everything needs to help the narrative that you are trying to tell. In my demo, I am using red riding hood as a story basis to show how to let story drive the content. It's so fun and best of all, when you approach it in the right way, the background will sort of let you know what it needs! : )



  • @Melissa-Bailey-0 This is SO helpful! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! I love your process.



  • @miranda-hoover Thank you so much for sharing! I feel like backgrounds are such an insurmountable wall for me, hearing your method is REALLY helpful in figuring out how to break it down. Thank you!



  • @Lee-White Ha! The course looks great! I’m totally ready for my backgrounds to start talking to me and telling me what they need.



  • @Cayleen you're so welcome! Glad you found it helpful. ❤


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