You don’t always need an intricate background or painted scene to showcase your painting or coloring. Another great idea to fill in that boring white space behind your character is a wall. These can be as varied as you want them to be, but the most successful ones include a few common elements.
Backgrounds should not detract from the character. They are an element that enhances the scene. You wouldn’t stay interested in a book that spent pages describing a normal house and only a paragraph about the people inside it, would you?
The type of wall or panel is going to be determined by the character. How are they dressed? What time period do they come from? What vibe or emotion do you get from them? Where are they? Who are they? What are they doing?
As a colorist or painter you get to choose the scene. Some characters might look great in front of old wallpaper, brick, or boards. Then again, you character might look more interesting in front of a marble slab or a shiny piece of metal.
Look at these three examples and see what you think:
Battlestations Midway: [link]
Black Cat: [link]
A couple of things to watch out for when you make your wall:
Saturation - The colors should be less vibrant or rich than your character. Your eyes should go directly to the point of interest. The best way to check if your background is distracting it to step away from your art for a day or two then look at it with fresh eyes. If the first thing you think is, “Wow, my wall is really blue!” You probably need to tone it down. But if you open your file and think, “I did a great job on her eyes!” That’s the perfect result.
Sharpness - Walls behind you character are not going to have crisp lines. If you look at the three examples you will see that even the corners of the room and the stripes of the wallpaper are just a little blurry or cast in shadow. This helps your character stand out.
Texture is an important part of your wall or panel. Not only does it add visual interest, it tells the viewer if the area is old and scratched, water-stained, damaged by a fire-fight, or fresh out of the factory.
Pitfalls of using a Photograph:
The worst mistake new artists make is to use a photograph. It’s not impossible to create a nice looking background using stock photography but you need to have a lot of experience with blending and style. The objects of a photograph are usually meant to be sharp, crisp, and in focus – exactly what you don’t want in your background.
Distance and Location:
Is your character leaning against the wall or are they standing a few feet in front of it? This is a good opportunity to think about painting in your character's shadow. This will help them pop out on the scene and give your image depth.
Once you are comfortable making walls think about where in the room they are. Are they standing in the corner of a room or alley? When you start to play with the perspective you add an extra sense of location to your picture.
The best kinds of textures are also some of the most simple to achieve. You can use a grunge brush or one of the many cement or stone brushes available and play with their opacity or layer styles, you can create your own wallpaper patterns or use some of the great (and free) sets provided on the web, or you can actually come up with some great walls just by playing around with your filters.
Here are a couple of videos that will help you get started:
Brushed Metal: [link]
Rough Wood Texture: [link]
And some free texture brushes from our Gallery:
*We will be adding several pattern sets to the gallery soon! A lot of these are great for creating wallpaper backgrounds.
When you create an interior wall it helps to add small details like wood trims, faded areas where a picture once hung, and shadows.
When you create an exterior wall you can add small details like fog or steam, metal pipes, small plants or grass, and perhaps a poster or some graffiti.
Take a day or two and see what kinds of walls you can come up with. Search pictures on the internet for inspiration and have fun with it. A lot of great textures come from blending things you may not think go together.