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What should I put in the background of my drawing?


When creating a drawing, the background is just as important as the main subject or focal point. The background helps set the tone, provide context, and enhance the overall composition of the piece. As an artist, deciding what to put in the background can seem daunting at first. There are limitless possibilities, so how do you choose?

Here are some quick answers to common questions about choosing background elements for drawings:

– Focus on simplicity – Avoid cluttering the background too much so it doesn’t distract from the main subject.

– Consider relevance – Choose background elements that make sense with the main subject and help tell the story.

– Use contrast – Use colors, values, shapes, or details in the background that contrast with the main subject. This helps the main subject stand out.

– Establish a setting – Place the main subject in a physical environment like a room, landscape, etc.

– Convey a mood – Use color, texture, and other elements to create a mood that enhances the overall scene.

– Draw the eye – Use compositional techniques to draw the viewer’s eye towards the main subject.

Choosing Background Elements

When deciding what to actually put in your drawing background, there are many options to consider. Here are some of the most common approaches:

1. Natural Landscapes

Natural landscapes make great background settings and can really help establish an outdoor scene. Try using:

– Skies – Blue skies, cloudy skies, sunsets, etc. Just don’t leave it plain white.

– Water – Oceans, lakes, rivers, waterfalls. Reflective water can add great interest.

– Mountains – Distant mountains help set the scene and add depth.

– Trees and foliage – Try mixing evergreen and deciduous trees. Leave some white space between clumps.

– Ground textures – Add interest with rocks, grass, sand, etc.

2. Urban Landscapes

Urban settings like cities, buildings, and interior rooms also make appealing backgrounds. Things to include:

– Architecture – Skyscrapers, bridges, famous landmarks, etc. Vary building shapes and sizes.

– Streets – Sidewalks, roads, street lamps, traffic signs. Perspective lines draw the eye.

– Interiors – Furniture, wall decor, windows, flooring, ceilings. Use overlapping shapes.

– People – If appropriate, add people to help show scale and create movement.

3. Natural Textures

Abstract natural textures make great simple backgrounds and can convey mood. Try experimenting with:

– Water – Ripples, waves, water droplets running down a surface.

– Clouds – Soft, wispy clouds or dark stormy ones.

– Smoke or mist – Excellent for intriguing, moody scenes.

– Fire – For dramatic effects. Use warm colors like oranges and yellows.

– Ice/frost – Cold, icy textures rendered in blues and grays work well.

– Grass or foliage – Blades of grass or leafy backgrounds look nice.

4. Fabric Textures

Different fabric textures also provide appealing options for drawing backgrounds. Consider including:

– Lace – For delicate, elegant backgrounds. White on white can look striking.

– Silk – Flowing, shiny backgrounds. Drape silk with folds for dimension.

– Burlap – Coarse, rough texture that creates contrast and interest.

– Wool – Use knitted or tweed patterns for warmth and coziness.

– Velvet – Rich, dimensional texture. Dark colored velvet works beautifully.

5. Patterns

Repeating patterns like florals, geometrics, paisleys, stripes, etc. bring visual energy to a background. Tips for patterns:

– Use contrasting colors from the main subject so the pattern stands out.

– Vary the scale – Large patterns tend to recede, small patterns draw the eye in.

– Keep patterns subtle, not overpowering. Let the main subject take center stage.

– Arrange pattern to help lead the eye through the composition.

Background Composition

Once you’ve chosen what elements to include, the next step is arranging them into an effective background composition. Here are some composition tips:

Framing – Frame the main subject with background elements. Maybe with foreground branches, a doorway, shadows, etc.

Leading Lines – Use lines like fences, sidewalks, shorelines to direct the eye towards key areas.

Rule of Thirds – Position the subject off center according to the rule of thirds for pleasing asymmetry.

Negative Space – Use empty areas or white space to prevent a crowded look.

Overlapping – Overlap background elements to show depth through foreground, middle ground, and background.

Variety – Vary background texture, details, and colors for greater interest.

Mood – Use colors, lighting, and textures to help convey the intended mood.

Choosing a Background Color

The color you choose for the background also significantly impacts the overall feel of your drawing. Here are some color tips:

Neutral colors – Grays, browns, beiges recede for more focus on the main subject.

Analogous colors – Colors adjacent on the color wheel suit each other. Provides harmony.

Complementary colors – Colors opposite on the wheel (e.g. blue and orange) create lively contrast.

Tints and shades – Adjust intensity of colors by lightening or darkening with white/black.

Advancing and receding colors – Warm colors seem to advance, cool colors seem to recede. Use this to your advantage.

Muted vs. saturated – Bolder saturated colors are more dominant. Soft muted colors are more subtle.

Background Ideas for Different Drawing Subjects

Here are some background ideas tailored to specific drawing subjects:

– Solid, subtle colored backgrounds in grey, tan, light blue, etc.
– Out of focus backgrounds with blurred shapes and colors
– Backdrops like curtains, furniture, trees

– Sky takes up 1/3 to 1/2 of background
– Distant mountains, hills, trees included
– Foreground elements like rocks, brush, fences
– Bodies of water

Still Life:
– Simple solid colors like grey, brown, white
– Fabric backdrops with subtle patterns
– Wallpaper, wood textures
– Boxes, shelves, tables

– Geometric and organic abstract shapes
– Gradients or subtle color fades
– Splatter textures
– Drips and smears

Drawing Subject Background Ideas
Portraits Solid colors, blurred shapes, backdrops like curtains
Landscapes Sky, mountains, trees, water
Still Life Solid colors, fabric, wallpaper, shelves
Abstract Geometric shapes, gradients, splatters


Choosing the right background for your drawing takes experimentation, but pays off in the end. Start by brainstorming elements that support your main subject and composition. Sketch different options before committing. Look for pleasing contrasts and negative spaces around your focal point. Don’t overcrowd the background or let it compete too much. Most importantly, let your creative intuition guide you to a background that enhances your drawing in just the right way. With some practice, you’ll develop a knack for selecting backgrounds that truly complement your fabulous drawings!