It was several years into my painting career before I began to add buildings and cityscapes onto my canvases.
Prior to that, I'd always created characters against an abstract or plain background. I preferred not to give too much away about a character, because I wanted people to be free to project their own ideas about who she or he might be.
Adding in buildings was kind of a big deal, because I felt that they lent a lot of information about the character. They gave the viewer some ideas about context, geographic location, social background.
But also, the buildings to me were characters in themselves. And so this meant that the main figure and the buildings around them would all be weighing in with their own stories and 'noise', so this is something that needs to be balanced.
I went to a writing workshop the other night where we were set the task of giving a geographic location human characteristics. I chose a tower block in South London that I once lived in. I saw it as a malnourished woman in her '30s, who appeared much older. She had scraped back hair, bad teeth, and wore a scruffy pair of trainers that were one size too big for her. She was gobby and loud, but passionately devoted to her Pitt Bull dog, and had a kind heart beneath the surface desperation.
I learned about 'psychogeography' - 'the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.' (Guy Debord).
Interesting stuff to think about, next time you're walking down your street!