This quarter I’m teaching a course on background design and layout. Though I’m familiar with background design, this is the first time I am teaching a course specifically on the subject. As such, part of my preparation includes developing my own files to use within my class room demonstrations. Essentially, I’m doing my “homework” to show my students my process and what my expectations are.
Designing backgrounds doesn’t have to be intimidating. I spend a considerable amount of time collecting environmental references (both Pinterest and Google are excellent places to start your search). Once I’ve amassed my references, I start to work sketching thumbnails. My thumbnail images are very crude and not particularly detailed. When I approach drawing thumbnails I try to keep in mind four major design principles: perspective, focal point, contrast and positive / negative space.
The thumbnails are only a starting point, and I recommend working through as many as possible. I use Autodesk Sketchbook for drawing my thumbnail images. I use a custom ink brush to block out the shapes and the Copic Extra Broad Nib to add value. The great thing about the Copic Extra Broad Nib is that you can layer the color to get darker tonal values.
Many students want to jump right into the details. Pulling back and studying shape can save you a lot of time because you can see at a glance whether the composition will work or not. My rule of thumb is to spend no more than a minute or two on each thumbnail. The goal here isn’t perfection – it’s about searching and exploring different options. Have fun with the exploration!