I’m wanting to do a bokeh/blurred background in colored pencil for an image I’m working on, but the tutorials seem to range greatly between methods, and none of my practice samples look right. Some say all the circles much be the same size, some say different sizes, and still others say elliptical circles mixed with round ones. Some also say to start with the lightest highlights first, while others say do the dark outside first and leave the highlighted circles for last. Do you happen to have a tutorial on bokeh-like backgrounds in colored pencil?

Thank you for this question. While I’ve used blurred backgrounds in the past, I’d never before heard the term “bokeh”, pronounced bo-kay (like bouquet.) Research led to a wealth of information.

So much, in fact, that I decided to answer the question in two parts. I am planning a detailed tutorial on drawing bokeh backgrounds later this month, but today I’ll be exploring bokeh in a more general sense, as well as answering some of the questions that are easier to answer.

What Is Bokeh and How Can I Use it with Colored Pencil

What is Bokeh?

“Bokeh” is a photography term that refers to the blurry quality of backgrounds in photography. (Here’s the article I read. It won’t tell you how to draw bokeh, but it will tell you what it is and how it looks in photographs.)

Bokeh is the visual quality of out-of-focus areas of a photography. The term applies especially to the use of particular lenses, but can also be achieved if you use a shallow depth of field in taking photographs.

This photograph shows a blurred background. While this is not technically a bokeh-style background, it does show the effect of the method in emphasizing the flowers.

What is Bokeh Blurred Background

This photograph does not. The background is nearly as sharply focused as the flowers.

What is Bokeh Focused Background

The blurred background emphasizes the flowers by making the background look distant. When you draw a bokeh background, you’re doing essentially the same thing–pushing the background into the distance.

Quick Answers

Is Bokeh and Blurred the Same Thing?

They are similar, but they’re not the same.

This photograph shows a simple blurred background. The focus is on the foreground daisies, so the background daisies are out of focus, also known as soft focus. The edges are soft and get softer as the daisies get further away, but they’re still clearly daisies.

What is a Bokeh Background Blurred Daisies

In the following photograph, the background is a bokeh background. The shapes have been created by a lens attachment. They retain the colors of the objects in the background, but there’s no way to be certain whether those objects are tulips, stones, or sparkles on water.

What is a Bokeh Background Bokeh

What Shapes Appear in Bokeh Backgrounds?

Unless you use a special lens attachment, the shapes are generally going to be round. My theory is that the lens opening is round, so the blurred light also appears as round.

They may also be slightly oval.

However, there are lens attachments that create shapes such as stars, flares, and hearts.

Do All The Shapes Have to Be the Same?

If you’re using a lens to create bokeh photographically, the shapes will all be the same and are quite likely to be the same size because the function is in the lens, not whatever you’re shooting.

When it comes to creating a bokeh-like background by using a shallow depth of field, the blurred shapes will resemble whatever is in the background, so they will be different shapes and different sizes.

The Difference This Makes to Your Drawings

“That’s all well and good,” you say, “but what does it have to do with art?”

Not much, since you can obviously draw whatever type of bokeh or blurred background you want. But it explains the method behind the photographic process and may help you determine how to draw a bokeh background in colored pencil.

It may also help you decide whether a standard blurred background might suit your subject better than a bokeh and when bokeh could be the best choice.

Video Tutorial

The best tutorials I’ve ever seen on this are from Lisa Clough of Lachri Fine Art. She works in many different mediums, including colored pencil. Many of her subjects are very sharply focused, up-close-and-personal compositions with bokeh-style backgrounds. They all look great. If you watch almost any of her bird or butterfly videos, you’ll see her using that type of background.

But she uses an air brush to get those affects (an amazing process all on it’s own.) Here’s one of the most recent videos showing the air brushing for the background and the colored pencil butterfly drawing. There’s a bit of a promotion on a photo service first, but it’s short. It is a time lapse demo, but Lisa offers commentary over the video.

Other Ways to Draw Bokeh/Blurred Backgrounds

As for myself, I’ve never used bokeh for backgrounds, but I have done quite a few blurred or soft focus backgrounds with colored pencil drawings. Sometime ago, I wrote an article on drawing soft-focus backgrounds for EmptyEasel, which you can read here.

You can also take a look at the tutorial on the palomino filly here. I used a soft-focus background for that.