Getting Past the Fear of Drawing Backgrounds

Getting Past the Fear of Drawing Backgrounds

Do you have a fear of drawing backgrounds? If you do, you’re not alone. The reader who asked the question for today’s post has the same difficulty.

Backgrounds! I fear them probably because I don’t really know what to do with them. Also, I dislike doing them first because it seems like an extraordinary amount of care then needs to be taken to protect it while drawing the subject. But, the potential of spending time doing a drawing, and then messing up a background terrifies me. (Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration), but it does give me some angst.

I am currently drawing my son’s dog. The background has detailed grass in the foreground and out-of-focus grass as it moves toward the background. I like drawings with no background, however this pose needs to be anchored. Any suggestions? (Been drawing for years but brand new to colored pencils.)

Drawing backgrounds can be a problem if your favorite medium is colored pencils. It takes so long to complete artwork that it’s sometimes difficult to justify the extra time it takes to draw a background.

There’s also the problem this reader pointed out. It can be difficult to protect a background if you do the background first.

But what if you do the background last and end up ruining an otherwise perfectly wonderful portrait? That’s an even worse possibility!

For years, I did plain backgrounds or tonal backgrounds, which had variations in color and value, but no other details. This portrait has a tonal background. This kind of background is easy to do and can be drawn at any point in the drawing process.

Tonal backgrounds like this are a great way to begin drawing backgrounds. They’re easy to do, and help add a little pizzazz to portraits.

Since I’ve written lots of articles on backgrounds, I won’t go into all the options here. Suffice it to say that the options range from plain paper color backgrounds to complex, full backgrounds.

But none of that information helps if you’re dealing with a dread that keeps you from doing any kind of background. So let’s talk about some ways to get past that dread.

Getting Past the Fear of Drawing Backgrounds

The best way to tackle this problem is in steps. Don’t jump right into fully landscaped or complex backgrounds. Start simple.

And start small if you can.

For example, I did a lot of work with art trading cards and miniature art years ago. The portrait above is one of those small pieces. Little works like these are great ways to try new things without worrying about ruining larger pieces of paper. You can try anything you want to try. If something doesn’t turn out, it’s easy enough to throw away.

Another thing I suggest is starting with tonal backgrounds. To make this kind of background, shade just enough color into the corners or around the subject to frame the subject.

You might also try adding just enough of a background to anchor the subject. A little bit of grass or a cast shadow is really all you need for this.

What I’m really suggesting is that you move into drawing backgrounds a little bit at a time. Once you get comfortable with a tonal background, for example, then you can try a blurred background like this one.

This is a blurred background. It’s a little more complex than a tonal background, but it’s also easy to do and can be added at any time in the drawing process.

From there, you can do partially landscaped backgrounds like this one, and then eventually fully landscaped backgrounds.

Getting Past the Fear of Drawing Backgrounds
This landscape background gives the horse a place to “live”, but it’s still not very complex.

Drawing Grass

As for the question about drawing grass that’s in focus in the foreground, but fades into the background, that requires a tutorial to answer.

As it happens, I wrote a tutorial some time ago on this subject. It may be helpful to you if you want to anchor your next subject with a similar background.

Getting Started Drawing Backgrounds

Whatever you decide to do about your fear of backgrounds, I hope this post has been helpful. Just remember that there’s nothing wrong with plain backgrounds. Botanical artists use them all the time. They don’t even do cast shadows to anchor the subject.

And one of my early art “heroes” was Glen Loates, who created the most beautiful wildlife paintings on plain white backgrounds. He did other styles, too, but the style that always caught my eye was the white background pieces.

Got a question? Ask Carrie!

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