Digital Painting Background Ideas to Enhance Your Art

Digital Painting Background Ideas to Enhance Your Art

Every artist understands the transformative power of a well-crafted background. When created with care and precision, backgrounds can bring your art to life, infusing it with depth and feeling. Think of the rolling landscapes peeking over Mona Lisa’s shoulders or the whimsical, vibrant backdrops of Studio Ghibli’s “Spirited Away.” Without these framing elements, the subjects wouldn’t be as emotive or resonant.

We’ve gathered inspiring ideas to help you achieve the perfect digital painting background for your next masterpiece. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a novice, these insights will guide you toward backgrounds brimming with authenticity.

Make the Background A Main Character

When you first begin a piece, primary subjects or characters can steal a bit too much of the limelight. But backgrounds, when given the attention they crave, can transform a piece from ordinary to awe-inspiring. By making your background a character with traits and intrinsic narrative, you can evoke powerful emotions, tell intriguing stories, and create more immersive visuals.

Learning the techniques behind matte painting is a great way to start viewing your background as its own character. While the practice is traditionally used in film, television, and game design, the principles and techniques are ideal for any background creation. Matte painting embodies the idea of background-as-character while still highlighting your main subject. 

For those interested in learning more about matte painting, try this tutorial on Concepting Matte Paintings for Game and Film. You’ll learn the basics of perspective, lighting, and value structure while practicing a photobashing technique to achieve rapid results.

Use an Existing Background as a Foundation

Digital art gives you a wealth of unique advantages over traditional media: you can undo at will, your paint never gets dry, and you can use all manner of assets to your advantage. As artists, sometimes starting with a blank canvas (or ending with a character surrounded by one) can be daunting. Utilizing a premade backdrop not only saves you time but also challenges your artistic perceptions.

Using a ready-made background can introduce you to a new way of seeing the familiar—a perspective all artists should pursue. However, nothing is stopping you from customizing your premade background with a little photobashing of your own. Painting over an existing environment asset can be a fun exercise in its own right, and making it uniquely yours can help it dovetail neatly with your other elements. 

For artists keen to challenge themselves with existing backgrounds, the Scrollable Backgrounds - Volume 1 collection offers myriad locales that can be used as-is or painted over to fit your vision. These backgrounds fit together seamlessly so that they can be scrolled horizontally with no visible disruption—a handy feature to have if you’re creating panoramic art.

Use a Photo Reference for Realism

A good photo reference can lift your background from monotonous to momentous. Guiding your work with a striking photo adds a touch of authenticity to your digital painting background. But using a real-life reference isn’t just about copying the details of light and shadow—it’s about understanding and molding them. 

You’re probably already snapping inspiring subjects on your smartphone in everyday life; apply this same attention to what’s behind you, beneath you, and surrounding you. Take pics of real-life backgrounds like alleys, mountains, grassy fields, and apartment blocks. Use them to influence your next piece, or paint over them like a rotoscoped movie frame.

For artists looking for high-quality photo references that capture the beauty and diversity of different landscapes, the Scotland: +410 Royalty-Free Reference Pictures bundle is a great start. Whether your painting yearns for a serene loch, a weathered coastline, or a time-worn castle, these photos are a fantastic entry point for future inspiration. 

Go Deep With Perspective

Perspective is a fundamental artistic element, but without a clear understanding of how it works, even a humble cottage can be tough to perfect. By harnessing the principles of perspective, you can make your backgrounds swell with depth, expand with dimension, and soar with space. 

Perspective lets you tell the story of your art subtly, naturally, and seamlessly. You can emphasize certain aspects and create a narrative flow within the work by taking your audience on a journey through the piece. Even in fantastical or abstract work, a solid understanding of perspective ensures that elements within your work believably relate to each other. 

Artists craving a primer on perspective should check out the How to Draw - Perspective and Backgrounds tutorial, which offers comprehensive insights into the world of perspective painting. The 22-lesson series carefully examines the rules behind perspective, guiding beginners through a progression that builds on each technique as you master it.

Test Yourself With Environment Design

Characters take center stage in the lion’s share of art, but there’s a massive world of possibility when you shift your focus farther back. Environment design isn’t just creating an extra-detailed background; it’s a combination of conceptualization, engineering, and creativity that takes you “past the painting” and into the world behind it.

Imagine the world behind your artwork. A post-apocalyptic city, a lush jungle village, a bustling medieval market—all these settings can convey tremendous narrative depth without a single main character in sight. Environment design sees the world beyond the bounds of your artwork, not just the tiny glimpse in the frame.

For artists seeking a deep dive into environment design, the Easy Art Lessons 6-10 (Perspective + Enviro) tutorial will provide an excellent starting point. It delivers several real-time lessons showing you how to draw a farmhouse in perspective based on pivotal design principles that imbue your art with narrative. 

Making Backgrounds That You Love

When you create your next digital painting background, we want you to love it just as much as your main subject. Whether you’re hungry for inspiration, tutorials, or high-quality assets, Cubebrush’s artist-first marketplace is ready to support you. Explore, get excited, and make mind-blowing backgrounds with Cubebrush.