What is the Best Background - Tonal Background
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What Sort Of Background For Pencil Drawings Pencil Sketch

What Sort Of Background For Pencil Drawings Pencil Sketch What Sort Of Background For Pencil Drawings Pencil Sketch

Art Blog Sketching Pencil Backgrounds: Five Steps to Success

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  • A full landscape will distract from the subject
  • The drawing is a basic portrait such as Joker, or Blizzard Babe above

Relative Scale: Obviously, things that are bigger will appear closer, especially in comparison to a smaller version of the same kind of object.

But if we add an apartment building behind them, something happens.

Relative Position: This may be less intuitive than the previous two concepts, but things that are lower in the picture appear closer. Things that are higher seem farther away.

This type of background is more labor intensive than either a plain paper or tinted background, but it is very useful if you want to add color without getting into the detail of a more complex background. It’s very useful for portrait work, still life drawing, or a number of other subjects, so long as the subject is not overly complex.

  • You want to create a scene or tell a story with the artwork
  • The setting is as important as the subject

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  • You would like the look and feel of a landscape, without all the detail
  • If a setting adds to the composition, but you don’t need a full landscape

But it gets rather boring rather quickly, and there are subjects for which a plain paper background just doesn’t work. So although I still use a plain paper background sometimes, I use it sparingly.

Now, their world becomes more real for the viewer. Carefully observed details enhance the image. It’s not just a building, it looks like an old Art Deco building. The pickup truck looks like an F-150. These details give verisimilitude, or realism, to the drawing. This feels like a real place. And their location also lends itself to building a narrative. Why are these two men on the street? What are they seeing?

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This portrait has a plain paper background. The color of the paper is the background. I did nothing else with it.

All too often, artists tend to think of the background as serving a minor role in their artwork. They may ignore it altogether, or skip over it quickly to get to the “fun part”: The subject.

But part of what makes good art good art is the way the subject and background work together to form a cohesive “whole”.

The subject paired with any other type of background would not convey the same emotional message to the viewer. Especially with portrait work, the background is just as much a part of what your client wants to remember as the subject.

Think of it like the backdrops used by portrait photographers.

  • The subject of your drawing is very complex
  • You need to establish a setting for the subject

You might also enjoy learning how to draw ellipses in perspective or diving into perspective in landscape drawing. Come back to the Craftsy blog on Thursday to discover how to capture a likeness in your drawings.

Horizon: The horizon is always the same as the viewer’s eye level. You can place the horizon wherever you want in a drawing, but it determines the viewer’s eye level. So anything placed above the horizon line is above the viewer. Correspondingly, anything below the horizon is below the viewer. So unless you want the viewer to think he’s floating in a hot-air balloon, you’d better make sure that street lamp extends above the horizon.

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One step up from a plain paper background, this background is essentially a plain paper background with a little bit of pencil work in selected areas. For Blizzard Babe (below), I shaded darker grays into the corners to focus the attention on the gray mare.

I’m going to show you the five types of backgrounds I do most often, and explain why that type of background works with each subject.

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The background should support the subject of the drawing. Whether you’re drawing a still life, a portrait, or a complex action scene, you should choose a background that “sets the stage” for the subject you’ve chosen.

The beauty of using this type of background is that you can let the color of the paper carry the weight of the background until the subject is finished or nearly finished. Then you can tint the background with a color (or colors) that go with or accent the colors in the subject.

  • The drawing is a “moment in time” drawing, in which you’re attempting to capture not only a subject, but the setting as well.
  • You’re drawing a portrait with a single subject shown “up close” because the increased detail could detract from the subject.

Here’s a pencil sketch of two cool dudes standing next to each other. But with no background, there’s no context; nothing to suggest a location or narrative.

You can also add color to the corners as I did here, or add color around the subject. In either case, you should use the background to spotlight the subject.

There are more than five ways to do a background, but I want to focus on the five I use most often. I’ll explain each one, then share a couple of tips for when you should consider each background–and when you shouldn’t.

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Dark vs Light: Dark objects usually appear closer and light objects usually appear distant. This is a real phenomenon in nature known as atmospheric perspective. It’s the reason far-away mountains are a light, hazy blue, while closer mountains and other objects are darker and retain more contrast. The pencils you choose can enhance this effect– hard pencils in the H range are lighter, while dark pencils in the B range are darker.

Without getting into the rules of perspective, there are still a few things to remember when considering how to depict background space realistically. Most of these you know without thinking, and so does the viewer, but it’s easy to forget about some of these rules when sketching a background.

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[Backgrounds are] my weakness. I have a little confidence in drawing and painting subjects but have no confidence at all with backgrounds and don’t seem to have many ideas as to what to do. How can I tell what is the best background?

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Five Types of Background and How To Decide What is the Best Background

This used to be my favorite type of background because it’s the easiest to do. Choose the right color paper, and you’re done with the background!

This is just what it sounds like: A landscape with your subject in it.

  • If the only color paper you use is white
  • The composition is very complex. It’s more difficult to make a plain paper background work well with complex designs.

One of the biggest challenges in drawing and sketching is tackling background space. Often times we get caught up in the foreground and ignore or only half-heartedly realize a successful background for our foreground imagery to occupy. A strongly drawn or sketched background can provide necessary context for what’s happening in the foreground, and can add visual interest to keep the viewer’s eye moving and examining the image. And pencils are a robust but forgiving medium that provide the flexibility to explore these background environments.

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Most important to a realistic pencil background is research. Seek out specific environments and details– find the right tree or car or building for that space. Marshal your resources so you have them at the ready- keep files of images and go and seek out the real thing whenever possible to draw from. These will help keep your backgrounds from looking like an afterthought or too generic, and keep the viewer engaged. A good drawing is only as strong as its weakest element. A strong foreground can’t save a weak background, and vice-versa, but if both are strong and can hold somebody’s interest, you’ve succeeded. Where would you like your next drawing to be?

In a drawing like this, the setting is just as important to the drawing as the subject. It’s like a meal in a fancy restaurant compared to the same meal at home, on the couch, in front of the TV.

Camping trip? Lost in the wilderness? The narrative possibilities fly out at the viewer.

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Romain has an impressive resume, including art direction on Symphogear and mecha design for Space Dandy. Over numerous months, he’s been kind enough to share his insight and tips on Twitter. His advice is wonderful and will no doubt make you a better artist. I think it’s great he takes him out to share his knowledge.

Check out this video by Lisa Clough of Lachri Fine Art. She shows a step-by-step tutorial on trying different backgrounds with your subject before you start drawing. I found this video informative and helpful if you happen to use Photoshop.

  • To soften or reduce the starkness of a plain paper background
  • The subject needs a little more than a plain paper background, but would be overwhelmed by a more developed background.

The drawing below shows a tonal background. In this case, I wanted to create the illusion of a blurry landscape without actually drawing a landscape, so I used the same colors, but applied them randomly, then blended them until there were only color and value patterns.

This background is the half step between a tonal background and a fully landscaped background. As you can see below, the landscape is more clearly a landscape and not just a mottling of color and value.

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For more, check out Romain’s Twitter account. You can also read an interview with him on Robot-Envy.

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Overlap: How objects overlap other objects in the picture determines how the viewer understands the space. Anything overlapping or partially obscuring something else will appear closer to the viewer

Thomas Romain is a terrific artist working in the anime industry in Tokyo. Previously, he showed how to draw detailed buildings. This time, we’re going to learn from him how to draw backgrounds.

  • Your subject benefits from a more varied background than tinted or plain paper, but not from a more developed background
  • You want a colored background, but prefer using white paper
  • You’re drawing a simple portrait or still life
  • You don’t have much time to finish a drawing

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However, it’s nowhere near as detailed as the fully landscaped background in the illustration below. This type of background is a good way to place your subject in a setting without having to draw a complete landscape. It’s also a great way to suggest mood, though you can do that with a tinted or tonal background, as well.

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