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How to Make Backgrounds Realistic and Compelling

The background in an essential part of a composition that can make or break a piece by, for example, drawing too much attention away from the subject of the piece or making the composition uninteresting.  

Here are some techniques for incorporating backgrounds into your artwork.    

Your Paper

The background will always be part of the image so you can’t ignore it as part of the composition, whether a landscape image or portrait of a person, animal or object. 

If you are planning a plainer background, then you could use colored paper. Consider adding highlights and washes to add atmosphere.

Lighter Colors

To draw the eye to the foreground or subject you should use dark and strong lines while using lighter colors in the background.

With watercolors in a countryside scene this might be a light wash of blues and greens. With pencil or markers, you could use lighter shades to denote distance.

Use Perspective

In a portrait of the 6-foot tall adventurer you would have the subject close (and larger) with smaller mountains behind. Perspective can be achieved by setting small vanishing points in the sketch and drawing lines between for size and the distance. 

Distant objects will have less detail. Imagine a city scene where there is a lot going on - and all of that activity would need to be communicated in your artwork. People and cars and buildings may be smaller in the distance.  

Mid Distance

A car may be two oblong shapes in the far distance, but in the mid-ground it will have wheels and perhaps a windshield, windows, headlights, and even wipers and door handles. 

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