On trend at the moment, Bokeh is a fascinating technique for making effective backgrounds for all sorts of subjects. Once you’ve given it a try chances are you’ll be addicted to it, and will find yourself adding Bokeh to just about everything you paint!

“Bokeh” is a Japanese word which means “out of focus” or “fuzzy” and can apply to many things as well as backgrounds to paintings. It first became used in the world of photography, in the late 90s, when photographers took to creating photos with out of focus lights in the distance. Later, painters began to imitate the effect created by the camera lens, and the art of watercolor bokeh was born.

Just to clarify the way this word is pronounced correctly, it should be a short “bo” as in ‘body” rather than “boo” as in “book” followed by a “ke” as in “Ken” – bo-ke – not bouquet!

All you need to create this effect is a circle stencil to make it quick and easy, and a small sponge or brush if you prefer. I like to use the Staedtler circle stencil, but there are other alternatives like this one below, which also offers hexagons and ovals which might give an interesting effect. You’ll also need a kitchen sponge cut into small pieces or a stiffish brush. You’ll also want a soft old towel to mop up excess water.

Bokeh Made Easy – Create Stunning Backgrounds for Birds

For the best results you would do well to stretch your paper before you start. First, choose a sheet of paper which has good resistance to friction. Arches 140lb cold pressed paper is ideal, but you can use other less expensive papers, and they don’t have to be 100% cotton. You need paper that will stand up to corrections and lifting out, which is what the bokeh technique consists of. Here are a few suggestions:

If you’re not sure how to stretch your paper, take a look at this video!

Bokeh Made Easy – Create Stunning Backgrounds for Birds

Now you need to create a random background like I do in this video:

Once your background is dry, you can begin to make the bokeh effect. And then, you can draw and paint over the background whatever subject you choose. Here is my Chickadee video for you to enjoy: