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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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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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 Design Buttons pt. 2 – Packaging

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This post contains affiliate links. For better information, please refer to my disclaimer here.

Now, you’ve got your buttons sent out and you’re anxiously awaiting that package.

Wait, you don’t? Check out this post on how to design your buttons!

If you DO have your designs, then let’s work designing their packaging!

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How to Design Buttons pt. 1 – File Preparation

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So, you’re an artist that wants to sell their work at conventions or fairs. Or, there’s a cause you’re down for and you want to sell buttons to raise money. Well, I got you covered. Sit back, relax, and I’ll give you the low-key-low-down on my button designing process. 😉

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How Do You Price Art Commissions?

*Reading Time: 2 minutes*This is a question that many, many artists struggle with. I still struggle with this as well! The only thing I can suggest is, always have your prices be a work in progress.

When I took multiple art commissions in 2010, I started small. Really small. I had things priced extremely cheap. I remember back in the day I had a $2 sketch sale… Those were the days.

One reason was due to inexperience and lack of interest from others. What you’ll often read and what I’ll regurgitate is to check your market. Do you have any peers or people on art communities you frequent that you’re watching who works in a similar style? Research their price sheets. Research their following. Are they able to get away with a “Your Character Here” piece for $300? They probably have the followi- (I’ll rephrase that), the right following to back that up.

If you’re just starting out, it’s okay to begin your prices a little lower. But once that value, the quality of your work, and the demand for your work rises, your prices need to do the same.

Just…don’t drop your prices after charging others your current rates. Your clients will be highly peeved when they find out.

This answer will not give you a definite price, nor will any other answer. You, the artist has to decide your worth, but again that’s where that work-in-progress pricing comes in! This year, I decided to look at my prices and determine is this enough for me? Is what I’m being paid for sufficient for the amount of work I do? I’ll be honest, at the moment, no. I’m not satisfied with my prices. But once I answer these questions, I can then decide to revamp my prices depending on how the demand is progressing. And with every year or so after that, I’ll revisit, and tweak my prices as I see fit.

Next time, we’ll talk about flat vs. hourly rates, and how I charge my clients.

Until next week!

~PK

Networking is Crucial for Illustrators. Here’s Why.

*Reading Time: 3 minutes*I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying “it’s who you know” in show biz. Well, that applies to the illustration biz as well. Making connections is the best thing you can do for your business and your quality of life. When you make new friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, not only can you bring value to them, but they can do the same for you.

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How to Find an Illustrator to Hire

*Reading Time: 3 minutes*Are you a writer? An author? A person who forms ideas into words? You might need a creative companion. Someone who forms your literary ideas into something… visual.

You need an artist. But not just any artist. You need someone who is competent, who knows their value, and knows that the possibility of teaming up with you will benefit you and them. You also need an artist who can use your hard-earned money and ensure you seeking out their talent was the best decision you ever made.

You need a hireable artist.

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How to Enjoy the Process of Making Art

*Reading Time: 2 minutes*“I hate my art”.
“This is ugly”.
“I need to rush to get this done”.

Hold on there, tiger!

Artists on a deadline do have to churn out things in a remarkable amount of time, but when that becomes something that needs be done day in and day out, the joy of creating gets sucked out of you, and your project.

Here’s three words to get your groove back.

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