Your Background Can Make Or
Break Your Art

The background of your art needs to be interesting.

It’s like the supporting cast in a movie - there to support the star of the picture and move the story along.

Same thing with your drawing’s background. While it shouldn’t overshadow the star – the focal point – of your drawing or painting... should be an important part of your intended design.

And it should help your art hold a viewer’s interest.

In the simple pen and ink at right I didn’t just fill the space around the flower with black.

Nor did I leave that space blank, showing only the white of the paper.

By varying the background tone a bit I’ve accentuated the diagonal design of the drawing. And I’ve created a more interesting feeling of depth around the flower.

No Boring Backgrounds

Too often an aspiring artist will assume the main subject of his or her drawing is all that’s needed.

And sometimes that can be true.

Like when you’ve drawn your subject in a way that creates a nice design...

...and fills the space in the art in an interesting way.

When you do that correctly you can have a winning piece of art.

But, too often the background is left blank or simply filled up with a flat, lifeless tone. That can take away from the exciting work you may have done in your subject.

A Good Background Adds Energy

If you are going to spend the time and the effort to try to create an interesting piece of art, devote your attention to all of it.

It doesn’t have to take a lot of thought or work for the background to add energy to your drawing.

All I did here was begin with charcoal smears on toned paper.

Then I drew over those smears, adding darker tones for select features of her face and hair.

As the drawing developed, I simply added more smears where I felt they were needed or….

...used my kneaded eraser to eliminate them to complete my design. The total effect was a background that added energy to an otherwise calm, quiet pose. 

A Simple Background Ties Things Together

Perhaps you’ve heard the terms negative and positive space.

In art these terms aren’t used like you would in every-day conversation.

Positive space generally refers to the star, the main subject of your picture. Negative space would then be everything else – basically the background.

And as I have shown you, the negative space, your background, has an important role in your art.

One last part it can play is fusing different parts of your drawing into a pleasing whole.

Here I used a simple blue-green tone to unify these imagined objects.

The watercolor wash flows from upper left to the lower right and provides both a shadow area on some objects and also a small background tone.

So don’t underestimate or forget how important the background is in your work.

It can make or break your art. 

Best Wishes,
Gary Gumble
Founder of
(Without art the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable. George Bernard Shaw

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