Learning photorealism -Dru Blair wildlife workshop

My dream came true, when I participated in Dru Blair’s wildlife airbrushing workshop. I saw Dru’s amazing photorealistic paintings in mid nineties. I was totally amazed and hoping that one day I could try to test his style.

Four days long workshop was held 10.-13.6. in Wolverhampton, England. Place and other arrangements were done by custom paint studio. Garage was emptied and a long table placed in centre for students. We had to bring only our notebooks and pencils, all other supplies were provided.

Our first day gave us huge amount of information. After introduces we got great three hours lesson of colour buffer method, elements of photorealism and how our brain sees things, colour and lightness. After theory, we were given the horse picture we were supposed to paint during the workshop. When starting photorealistic painting style it is almost must to practice by copying photograpfs. Latter when caustics, radiosity, reflectivity and other phenomenons come familiar, you can start painting more based your imagination.

Everyone got one colour from background that they had to mix. Now hue, saturation and value had to be exactly same than in our reference picture. It took time to make correct paint. My paint needed 19 corrections before gap between original colour and paint colour was invisible.

After paints were mixed we had to do famous “dot of the death” exercise. We had to hide black dot painted in the middle of neutral brown coloured paint. The challenge was that we had to use paints directly from bottles. Mixing paint on the board! During this project we got clearer idea how this buffer colour theory works.

Slowly hiding the black spot with paint

After mixing paint and doing dot exercise it was time to start our main project: horse. During first evening we painted foreground with lots of details and background with many subtle colour changes. Fine tuning of hue and saturation was again done mostly with paints directly out of bottle.

Mixing paints on the board!

Next couple of days we focused in painting different surface structures and shadowing. Everything was done with thin paint layers that were manipulated with erasers, surgical blades or even with fingers. Occasionally I found out that some things that I had painted, did not work, and I had to erase paint of and start again.

During first part of the last day we painted hair with split frisket method. I had bad problems with the glue of frisket film. Even if I rubbed frisked against my skin, it still picked up some paint from my painting. Correcting exposed white board dots took long time. No one made their horse ready, but after the lessons we now know how to do it at home.

After lunch Dru showed us how to paint feathers and scales. We had also time for lots of questions. Last couple of hours every one tried to paint their horses as ready as possible.


Our daily painting time was roughly 10 hours. Theaching was exelent and easy to follow. This time there were only 5 students so we got all help and support we needed. As American Dru praised us a bit too much sometimes, but he managed well to support us when we struggled with our paintings. Many of the airbrushing techniques were familiar to me, but there was lots of new variations and tricks. More precise colour mixing skill will be very usefull for me.

The only thing I would have wanted more to this workshop would have been one more day spent entirely painting tricky things like eyes, snout of animals, horn structures and other similar things. This would have given some confidence even if we got all information needed during lessons.

During the workshop we had new Iwata custom micron airbrushes that worked fine and proved to be excellent. Paints we used were new Createx illustration colours. They seemed a bit better than Holbein paints I have used.

My hotel was Premier in Wallsall Bentley 3 mails away. It had very quiet rooms and good restaurant.

Thanks for Dru Blair for all the new knowledge and skills I got, Custom pait studio for organizing this workshop and all fellow students who shared this experience with me.