I’ve taken a pretty unusual path to become a background artist, in the way that for over a decade, I used Adobe Flash almost exclusively to draw backgrounds.
One of my backgrounds created 100% in Flash
It all started in my high-school days when I discovered Newgrounds around ‘06 and this little program called Flash that we’d been introduced to in multimedia class. With these I could make something and show it to the world. The possibilities were endless! I spent a lot of my free time making flash project, always trying to improve every time.
Around the beginning of the 2010s I became interested specifically in pursuing background art as a career. I also started making money creating background and environment assets for flash games. This further reinforced Flash as my drawing tool of choice. This culminated in 2015 and 2016, when I painted almost all the backgrounds in Flash for an animated short ‘The Tale Teller’ by my friend and long time collaborator on many flash games and cartoons, Jazza.
Some of my Flash backgrounds from the Tale Teller (2015-2016)
I’d become a bit TOO comfortable with Flash and I had all my techniques and tricks I’d developed over the years to work around a rather unintuitive program for background painting, and I became known for the obscene amount of gradients I liked to use.
Another background I created entirely in Flash CS3
But now in 2016, in the real world, the flash game market was dead and 2D animation backgrounds are almost always done in raster programs. So it became vital to ditch Flash in favor of Photoshop to pursue a career as a background artist.
My plan to ease myself off of Flash involved a very smart 2017 New Year’s resolution. I was going to do 240 30-minute studies in Photoshop.
I had a few rules. I was going to use Anki, which is flashcard software I could re-purpose to show me pictures to draw that I’d saved earlier. Conveniently Anki also kept a record of my number of studies. I could only do a maximum of 2 studies in a day. This meant I could always catch up if I fell behind, but I still needed a sustained, consistent effort across the year.
The explicit purpose of these studies was to become more comfortable in Photoshop, not to make pretty looking studies. Meaning that if I spent a lot of that 30 minutes looking at a tutorial or changing my keyboard shortcuts or fiddling with photoshop settings, Great! That’s the point.
All of the studies I’m showing are cherry picked out of the best ones I did and all of these are ones I painted closer to the end of the year when I got a little better. I’m generally not a fan of sharing my studies on social media (unless I’ve specifically set out to make a pretty piece to share.) I find making something that looks nice and maximizing learning to be competing goals. I want to resist the temptation to add unnecessary shading or clean up to make something more presentable when doing so doesn’t add to the specific thing I want to learn from the study. And studies should be a bit cringe if you’re really trying things way outside of your comfort zone.
So how did I do?
I failed, but very successfully! I completed 200 out of the 240 by the end of 2017, but I didn’t make it for the best possible reason. In August I got my first studio job, where I worked on the film Shopkins: Wild at Studio Moshi as a background painter. I was very busy, particularly in November and December and couldn’t keep up with the studies. But as the entire thing was done with the goal of becoming a background artist, I can’t imagine a better outcome!
A Shopkins Background I did the final linework and color in my first studio job.
Today I’m even more at home drawing in Photoshop that I ever was in Flash and it seems crazy now to even want to paint backgrounds like that using Flash. But a part of me is proud of how far I managed to push that program in the end.
If you liked this post, check out my previous one: Q&As from Instagram