A Little Background on Backgrounds


I’m beginning a new project and that means new rules and new approaches. For this project I’m toying with the idea of “painting” backgrounds. I’ll be the first to admit that I have very little sense when it comes to using color. I do love a challenge though so I figured I’d just dive in head first and learn as I go.
Because of my lack of knowledge about choosing and mixing color I needed a process that gets me over the initial hump. What I eventually landed on is what’s outlined in the above image. All the work you see was done in Manga Studio, but can easily be replicated in Photoshop. Being unfamiliar with Painter or similar programs I can’t speak for them.
I start out picking the colors I want for the deepest shadows and block them in using a non antialiased brush (in PS I’d use the pencil tool) and the paint bucket. When approaching a new color situation I’m unfamiliar with I’ll often pick a base color I would like for the shadows (in this case a dark lavender) and fill a layer with it. On another layer above that I block in local color. Then I can adjust the opacity of the local color layer until I get what I’m looking for. I didn’t do that on this panel however since I already had a strong idea of what I wanted.
Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 4.07.14 PM

Next I choose the color I’d like as the main light source. In this case I wanted a warm, golden light to match the tone of the scene. I generally just fill a layer set to “add” (in PS it’s called “Linear Dodge”) and fill that layer with that color. Then I can use the flats layer to select parts of the image and carve the shadows out of the light layer. Most people I know prefer to work in the opposite way- adding light with a brush rather than subtracting it with an eraser- but carving shadows just makes sense to me so that’s how I do it.

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 4.07.28 PM

Then I create another layer set to “Add” (or “linear Dodge”) and use various brushes to add details and texture.

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 4.07.38 PM

Finally I add another layer also set to “add” and paint in bounced light. Generally I pick the color of whatever surface the light is bouncing off but in this case I wanted a more airy and light feel so I picked the color of the sky. This helps me define forms and create atmosphere.

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 4.07.48 PM

Like I said, I’m new at this and I’m sure I’ll look back on it and be mortified at how stupid I was, but for now it gets me through.

This panel is for an upcoming project I can’t tell you about quite yet. Expect more info around the time of NYCC.

3 Responses to “A Little Background on Backgrounds

  • On the layer where you add texture and details, are filling the whole layer and erasing again, or are you using a transparent layer and just drawing in the squiggles and such?

    • I used to duplicate the previous layer and continue erasing, but in this example I’m starting with an empty layer and drawing in all those details.

  • Alessandro casaletta
    2 years ago

    Ciao Pete!What is yours next project?

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