Airbrush Step-by-Step

How to Paint a Bokeh background in Wildlife Art

bokeh (/ˈboʊkeɪ/ BOH-kay) (Japanese: [boke]) is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image forcing us to focus our attention on a particular area of the image. In this case, a Quetzal; A sacred bird to the Ancient Mayan Natives of Mexico.

This is a technique that takes the aesthetic quality of the out-of-focus blur and allows you to really make a 3D painting come to life.

So grab your airbrushes and paint along with me.

Photo 10-18-18, 3 53 57 PM
Step 1:   First, I begin with Canary Yellow and spray on some round blurry shapes.  You can create these however you want your background to look.
Photo 10-18-18, 3 55 54 PM
Step 2:  Next I use Chartreuse Green and fade this into all the yellows, blending them together ever so subtly.
Photo 10-18-18, 4 04 06 PM
Step 3:  Now I change the color to Aqua blue for some distant sky.  Airbrush these colors together without any hard lines, blending them nicely together the entire time.
Photo 10-18-18, 4 06 01 PM
Step 4:  Next, I mist in some transparent Orange over some of the Canary Yellow Blurs for some added depth and color.
Photo 10-18-18, 4 12 14 PM
Step 5:  Now for this technique, you have to have a touch of transparent black in there to separate the shapes a little.  The background may be a forest, a field or desert.  These shapes can represent anything from trees, plants, rocks or sky.  Here I paint the black on to create round shapes in the blur, usually in the form of diamonds or Xs.
Photo 10-18-18, 4 22 15 PM
Step 6:  The last stage of the Bokeh effect is to add a touch of white highlights in the blur spots.  This will really make your background pop out once you’ve added the foreground.
Photo 10-19-18, 3 08 06 PM
Step 7: If you really want to make this painting technique pop out at you, then you need to add an in focus subject matter.  Here, I have chosen a Sacred bird called the Quetzal from the rain forests of Mexico.  This is a sacred bird to the Mayan Natives and their cultural and religious beliefs.  I begin by outlining the birds figure in black paint with my fine paint brush.
Photo 10-19-18, 3 15 13 PM
Step 8:  The next step is to add the bird’s white and grey feathers on her tail and wings.
Photo 10-19-18, 3 19 38 PM
Step 9:  Now I take a mix of Scarlet and Magenta and paint the bird’s breasts.
Photo 10-19-18, 3 26 41 PM
Step 10:  Now I can add some Green highlights to the head, tail feathers and mating plumage.  So for this I added the colors Primary Blue and Yellow Green with a fine round brush.
Photo 10-19-18, 3 35 58 PM
Step 12:  Before I switch back to the airbrush, I have to chop out the black areas of the bird and lay them in according to my light source..  Blacken out any heavy shadows in the eyes, beak, feathers etc.
Photo 10-19-18, 3 59 07 PM
Step 13:  One last look at the bird before I add some airbrushed shadow work.  I need to put in the ferrals of the feathers and add just a touch of white where it’s needed.
Photo 10-19-18, 4 25 25 PM
Step 14:  Ok, now back to the transparent black in my airbrush for the real magic. Here I am airbrushing around the body to make it appear round.  I spray some of the wing to also make them folder under the shadows. I love this step because it really helps make the Quetzal pop!
Photo 10-19-18, 5 12 56 PM
Step 15:  Now for some added interest in the over all painting, I am going to add a branch or perch for the bird to land on.  For this, I am using Raw Umber and Raw Sienna over a black base for the branch.  This adds a focal point of the whole painting as the bird is looking to land on that focal point.
Photo 10-19-18, 5 35 22 PM
Step 16:  The tree branch looks a little boring, so I thought let’s add some moss on the branch using some thick acrylic paint and Acrylic Modeling Paste.  This allows for even more 3D effects as the modeling paste really sticks out at you.  It even creates it’s  own shadows in the painting, adding that much more depth and visual to your painting.
Photo 10-19-18, 6 47 31 PM

So there you have it.  A fully 3D painting using the Bokeh technique.  As you can see, there are not many different tools you would need to create such magical effects.  I hope you have enjoyed another fun painting session with me.  Make sure to leave your comments, thoughts and ideas below.  Thanks and Happy Painting!

For more on my art, visit and follow me on Instagram at artistanhpham


Artists Tool box:

Photo 10-22-18, 4 55 35 PM

Airbrushes & Compressor:  ECO KIT-17

Airbrush Paint: USA AB-KIT-12-TRN

Gouache Paints:  USA PT-GOU-36

Paint Brushes:  USA BS-120

Modeling Paste:  USA AM-5041-500


Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: