How I’m Improving on Backgrounds

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Someone in a Facebook Art Group I’m a part of asked this question:

“How do you improve on backgrounds”?

And man, as much as I wanted to save the post and add nothing to the conversation out of laziness, I needed to make some sort contribution. I’m not alone in the pursuit of illustrating believable backgrounds. While I am still very much in need of getting my environments down-pact, I offered some advice on what has helped me so far. And this is what I’ll share onto you.

1. Go outside and observe

Annoying as heck, I know. But this is really helping me see why certain places and certain spaces are more aesthetically pleasing that others. If you turn in one direction and find an interesting layout of trees and foliage, and turn another direction and find what you see is flat and uninteresting, that’s a good start.

2. Copy.

Like, literally copy. Trace if you so dare! I do this with my favorite artists, commercially free stock reference photos (Pexels is my go-to, all the time), my favorite movies, animated ones especially, and so much more. I have over 15 PSD files of stills from Kung Fu Panda, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Studio Ghibli movies, you name it. Netflix, Full Screen and ‘Print Scrn’ are your friends.

The reason why I trace stills from animated films is simple. Teams of people spend years deciding on what frames to use and what to animate. There is a reason why certain background shots make it in movies in the first place. This works with compositions, color schemes, color keys, and character designs as well. Take and absorb everything you can from this.

You’re learning from the best. 

3. Books.

‘Nuff said. I bought a few books that really made me look at the ins and outs of background design. “Art of” books always makes me feel tingly inside. Literally, any big-budget animated movie will have one. Because of that, whatever movies that really make an inspirational impact on me will be rewarded with physical space on my bookshelf.

I own the Art of Moana, the Art of Rio, and even the Art of Song of the Sea. Do this for whatever field you are in. Game Designers and Concept Artists, I’m looking at you, too. 🙂

Another book, (and it’s BIG) is the Disney Layout and Background book. It covers environments and background stills from movies, short animations, and short films dating from their early, early work, to their more recent movies. With this book, I can take a look at the background for what it is without the characters in it. Even with environments, they have their own visual language and attitude. Environments are practically treated as characters, themselves.

4. Monthly challenges.

If you’re really serious about improving your backgrounds and you want to see improvement over a short period of time, I suggest doing a monthly challenge. I did one for Inktober with interiors (and it wasn’t pretty), but the more practice you give yourself, the better you will become. Try it for Huevember, Mermay, or any other monthly challenge and taper it to your background-improving needs. I’m currently working on a list of challenges for each corresponding month on my blog. It’ll be updated soon!

If you’re looking for something a little outside-the-box, I have a free downloadable on my website of a PSD of random thumbnails I created and I’m encouraging you to experiment and create backgrounds of your own from these. Feel free to use this any way as you see fit. Results from this can be for personal and/or commercial use.

I hope this helped. And while I’m learning just like everyone else here, I’m all for sharing what I know.

Have a PrettyKitty Kind of Day,

~PK

A List of Monthly Art Challenges

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Making art can get tricky. Sometimes just a word can spark our imagination, and other times strict rules are the best for creating.  If you want to participate an art challenge but don’t know where to start, here is a monthly art challenge list I gathered up, just for you.

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3 Simple Ways to Improve Your Illustrations

*Reading Time: 3 minutes*I know as an artist it’s extremely hard to break that barrier of stagnation.

There’s a moment of time with your work that always has the same results, no matter how hard you try.  There are even times when you’re working on the greatest illustration you could imagine, and when you finish, it… doesn’t come out like you imagined. It’s frustrating!

I know how you feel.

That’s why I’m here to give you three simple, actionable ways you can work toward improving your art.
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What Doing a 30 Day Challenge Taught Me

*Reading Time: 4 minutes*The past few months, have been going through an ongoing creative block. There have been times that were hard for me to produce anything, if anything. I had blank canvases piling up. I was afraid to finish paintings in fear I wouldn’t like them. I was afraid to finish paintings in fear that I would ‘waste’ the canvases I painted on. This led me to doing something drastic.

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The Juiciest Brushes In My Studio

*Reading Time: 2 minutes*One thing that I love about making traditional illustration is not just the surface I’m working on, or the brand of paint I swear by, but it’s the watercolor brushes that I use.

Each brush has it’s own style of mark making,

Each brush has it’s own flair.

The way the handle is held, the way the bristles dance back and forth on the painting, this results in it’s own personality.

It’s time to tell you about my favorite watercolor brushes in my studio: Princeton Neptune.

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The Watercolor Brand I Swear By

*Reading Time: 3 minutes*When I first started watercolor, I learned from a mentor who works at a local commercial art supply store in my city. I was raised on really great quality watercolor brands, however I could only afford student grade paints.

As I tested out paint after paint, one watercolor brand that stood out to me were the Qor line of watercolors from Golden Paints.

I’ve been painting with these for about two years and I doubt I’ll go for any other brand of watercolor.

If you’ve seen any watercolor illustration from me, then it’s made with Qor.

I love the vibrancy, the clear, deep hues of each paint color. And what I love the most is the sheer mixing power these colors possess. But… how?

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How to Become A Happier Artist

*Reading Time: 3 minutes*Artists are fickle. Our inspiration is fickle, our sense of self can come as fast as it goes. One thing that I’ve noticed around the art community is the sheer amount of people unhappy with themselves and their work. There’s so many people that complain about their lack of improvement in their art, as well as the many mental troubles they face because of it.​

In order to become a happier artist, you’re definitely going to have to check yourself before you spiral downward.

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How to Start Selling Your Art OFFLINE

*Reading Time: 2 minutes*It’s already a doozy starting to sell your work online, but selling your work personally might be able to net you quicker results. If you want to sell your art, the first thing I suggest you do, dear artist, is to take a look at the style of artwork that you do, and see what places accommodate your style.

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Wanderlust and the Stationary Artist

*Reading Time: 2 minutes*​I’m a city girl.
Metropolitan areas are my jam.

But one thing that sets me apart is that as much as I love the city, as much as I love bustling people and places and transit and things, I need something a little more… Green.

Taken on my trip to New Orleans last year.

There are days that cripple me with wanderlust. There are days during my commute to work that I wish I was in Japan, or Ireland, or maybe Switzerland or Amsterdam. Literally, if I’m walking to my job and it starts downpouring, I think of how much at peace I’d be if I were on the other side of the world.

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Art Inspiration is Everywhere. Yes, Even in Winter.

*Reading Time: 1 minute*​​​Being a city girl, experiencing different areas is something that I treasure the most.

I see so many cars and people and buildings that it all looks the same to me. After watching a few videos of artists exploring different areas and reading about some were able to transform a photo into a new painting, I had to do this myself.

Continue reading “Art Inspiration is Everywhere. Yes, Even in Winter.”