How to Draw a Blurry Background

Today’s subject is how to draw a blurry background. Here is the reader question.

I would like to know how muted backgrounds are done. It’s where all the background looks like it’s melted. No specific item is clear. Please help.

I am understanding the question to refer to soft focus, blurred, or bokeh backgrounds. If I’m in error, please correct me, Mardy.

How to Draw a Blurry Background

I’ve already written on drawing a bokeh background, which is one form of a blurry or muted background. So I’ll talk about soft-focus or blurry backgrounds in this post.

What Makes a Blurry Background Blurry

The edges you draw determines blurriness. The softer the edges, the blurrier the drawing looks. Whether you draw intentional edges that are crisp, or whether they just happen due to overlapping strokes, the sharper and clearer the edges are, the less blurry the area looks. That’s because sharp focus brings things forward, and softer focus pushes things into the background.

Here’s a landscape photo. I cropped it but that’s all.

How to Draw a Blurry Background
This photo shows the landscape in crisp focus, the way you’d see it if you were looking at it in person.

This is the same photo, but after I’ve used a blur filter on it in a photo editor.

The edges have been blurred slightly in this photo. You can still tell all the trees apart, but they all have softer edges and are out of focus.

This version shows a little bit more blurring.

A little more blurry. It’s more difficult to see individual trees in the background. The main tree still stands out, but now it’s more because of shape and color than because you can clearly see the edges.

And in this one, I used a different filter to totally “explode” the shapes.

In this photo, none of the trees are distinguishable as trees, let alone as separate trees. Instead, the landscape is reduced to colors and vague shapes with no clear edges.

How to Draw a Blurry Background

The same principles apply to drawing a blurry background. The more you soften the edges of shapes, the blurrier those shapes appear. So when you want to draw a blurry background, avoid creating sharp edges either between colors or values.

How do you do that?

By overlapping the light and dark areas in the background, and fading one color into another.

One Way I Draw a Blurry background

Here’s a quick demo of one way I draw blurry backgrounds. In fact, it’s my favorite “blurry background” drawing method.

I usually begin with a medium- or light-value color as a base. I use light pressure and a sharp pencil to layer color randomly, leaving some areas untouched while others have multiple layers.

How to Draw a Blurry Background

Repeat the process with the next color.

If there’s a pattern in your background, such as vague shapes of trees, you can follow that pattern, but don’t make it too obvious.

Apply colors in multiple layers. If I’m using four colors for a background, for example, I’ll go through all four colors two or three times, always with light pressure, often in the same order. That’s not a hard and fast rule, by any means, but it’s a place to start.

And don’t repeat edges. Overlap them enough to keep them from getting too crisp.

Continue layering one color over another until the background is the way you want it.

The process is described in full in the palomino horse tutorial.

Here is the finished drawing.

How to Draw a Blurry Background - Finished Drawing

Two other things you might also try

After a few layers, use a neutral color as a blending layer. If I’m using Faber-Castell Polychromos, I often use Warm Grey II for blending. If Prismacolor, French Grey 20% is a good blending color.

The blending layer smooths out the previous layers of color. Use light pressure and draw even color. You want all the layers to be smooth, but this layer should be especially smooth.

If, after you’ve put all the layers you want on the paper, it still doesn’t look right, try burnishing.

When you burnish, you use heavy pressure to grind the colors together. You can use a colorless blender for this, but I usually prefer to use a light color. My favorite burnishing colors are light neutrals such as Cream or Light Umber, but use a color that goes with the colors you’ve already used.

Conclusion

I hope that explains how to draw a blurry background.

Drawing a blurry background may look intimidating at first, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Don’t worry too much about duplicating your reference photo exactly or getting everything perfect, and it will be much easier!

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