Completing a Background before the Subject

//Completing a Background before the Subject
tabby kitten in pastel pencils

Tabby Kitten

On several occasions over the years I have been asked if I complete the background first, before starting the subject. In this article I’ll explain what I choose to do with different subjects.

There are variations on a theme. If you are working on a pet portrait, I have never done a background first because you really do not know until you have completed your pet portrait with all the pencil colours the kind of background you are needing. I like to include some of the pastel pencil colours used in the portrait in the background.

You can vary the background according to the subject. If it is a pretty kitten then you really need a pretty background or if it is a butch dog then greys and browns might be needed in the background. The finished portrait will be the guide and you will instinctively know what colours will be needed for the background. As in the case of a white cat then you will not want a light background, you will need a medium tone one. In the case of a black labrador you might need a lighter background.


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When you have an animal in a landscape it’s slightly different and you are having to do some of the landscape first. As in the case of the Rhino, I did the Rhino first and then the background. In the case of detailed trees, mountains etc. you will need to do those first otherwise you will have a problem leaning on the picture you have just done. It is sometimes necessary to do some of the background so your hand does not go across the picture.

What’s your approach to doing backgrounds? Let us know in the comments below.

By | 2018-03-15T15:13:30+00:00 December 1st, 2014|Tips & Techniques|0 Comments