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How to Draw Backgrounds

May 31, 2019

Over the years I’ve gotten so many questions about 1) why backgrounds are necessary and 2) how to go about creating a background, especially one that is imaginary and cannot be drawn from direct observation (which is most of the time!  Working on site presents many logistical issues for a long term piece) Especially in our portfolio critiques for students applying for art school admission, a chronic issue I see across the board is images with blank white backgrounds, and we’ve gotten many comments from high school students who are bewildered that a background might be necessary or improve the piece.

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I figured now was the time to confront these questions head on, so I asked Cat and Julie to shoot an “Imagined Environment” tutorial. There really is a specific skill set to not only creating an environment, but also figuring out how to contextualize figures into those environments to make them believable.

When I do figure & space exercises in my drawing classes, its common for students to spend all of their attention and energy in creating a really good figure, and to save the background for the last minute.  By drawing the figure and space separately, the elements have no relationship, and often times the background ends up looking like a fake paper backdrop that has nothing to do with the figure.

Creature Design Illustration, Julie Benbassat

We recently released Julie and Cat’s Creature Design tutorial, and we thought it would be fun to take the character she designed in that tutorial (“Macklemore”) and create an imagined environment for him to exist within. I really liked the idea of linking these 2 tutorials together, as doing all of this content in 1 tutorial would have been too much.

I’m really excited about this tutorial because not only is this subject really important for us to address, but Cat and Julie have a wonderful dynamic with each other on set. They are casual, humorous, and yet incredibly solid in terms of explaining their creative process. I remember when we first started, all of our tutorials were only 1 person. When we switched to 2 person tutorials, the atmosphere of the videos completely changed; it let us slow down a bit in the video so the content was easier to follow, and made the tutorials more fun and engaging to watch.

On top of that, the two person tutorials are easier for us! There’s no awkwardness of trying to figure out whether to look at the camera or not, we can relax more, and what to say flows much better when you can bounce your conversation off a another person.


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