There are many methods of blending colored pencil, but they can be classified in three basic ways.
Over the course of the years, I’ve touched on each of these methods in various demonstrations and mini-clinics. Today, we’ll take a look at them all in the same place.
Basic Methods of Blending Colored Pencil
…Your colored pencils.
It’s also the method that is the most automatic. Every time you layer one color over another, you’re blending.
The most familiar way of blending colored pencil with colored pencil is burnishing. When you burnish, you use very heavy pressure to “grind” layers of color together. You can use any color over any color, but it’s most common to burnish with a color that’s lighter than the color you’re burnishing. The one thing to keep in mind is that the color with which you burnish will affect the color you’re burnishing.
When blending colored pencil with colored pencil, be careful to match pressure with sharpness. The sharper your pencil, the lighter the pressure. Using heavy pressure with a sharp pencil is likely to either break the tip off the pencil–possibly leaving an unsightly mark–or tear the paper. If you want to burnish, it’s best to use a blunt pencil, like the one shown above.
The blending tool I use most often are a couple of household items. Paper towel and bathroom tissue. Both are great for blending colored pencil and producing an eggshell smooth surface. They’re also easy to use. Simply fold a piece into quarters or smaller and rub them over the area you want to blend. You can use very heavy pressure if you want without risk of damaging the drawing paper. Granted, the effects are light, but if all you want is a light blend between layers, paper towel or facial tissue is the tool you’re looking for.
Blending stumps and tortillons are more often associated with graphite drawing, but they also work with colored pencil. I’ve found them to be slightly less effective than paper towel, but they are very useful if you want to blend a small area.
I also use a Prismacolor Colorless Blender. It’s basically a colored pencil without pigment and it works great for any colored pencil that’s wax-based, as Prismacolors are. Other lines of colored pencil may also include colorless blenders. One thing to note when using this type of blending tool is that it adds wax or oil (depending on the tool) to the paper.
I use three basic solvents for blending colored pencil. In order from mildest to most aggressive are rubbing alcohol, turpentine, and rubber cement thinner.
Before you try any solvent on a colored pencil, test it on a piece of scrap paper. You want to make sure the paper will stand up to a solvent blend. Nothing is more discouraging than to have your paper buckle or warp when it gets wet.
It’s also a good idea to see how colors react to the various solvents before blending a drawing. While solvent blends are appropriate in most cases, they may not produce the look you want.
If the paper you’re drawing on is very smooth or is heavily sized, it’s also possible to remove color completely, no matter how carefully you blend.
So test first!
Blending with Rubbing Alcohol
Rubbing alcohol is ideal for doing a light blend. It breaks the wax binder in colored pencil just enough to move a little pigment around and to fill in paper holes. You need a good amount of pigment on the paper for the best results, but it also works with less pigment.
Make sure you’re using a rubbing alcohol that’s 70% or less. Any stronger than that and you risk destroying the drawing. I know of one case where a 90% solution was used and the color came right off the drawing! You do not want that to happen.
Use cotton balls or swabs or painting brushes to blend with rubbing alcohol. Because rubbing alcohol is relatively mild, you can do a little scrubbing with a bristle brush IF THE PAPER WILL TAKE THAT KIND OF ABUSE.
Blending with Turpentine
Turpentine will blend color more completely than rubbing alcohol. It breaks down the wax binder more completely, freeing pigment to blend more thoroughly. Again, the more pigment on the paper, the better the results, but you can also do a watercolor-like wash with turpentine.
For an even lighter tint, “melt” a little color in turpentine, then wash it over the paper. You can use turpentine a maximum of three times with heavily applied color between each blend. You need a sturdy paper or board for this kind of treatment, but the results can be very painterly and saturated.
Any type of turpentine that’s suitable for oil painting can also be used with colored pencil drawings.
Use bristle or soft brushes to blend with turpentine. In later layers, where there’s a lot of pigment on the paper, you can use heavier pressure, but it’s best to use medium pressure (normal handwriting pressure) to avoid scuffing the paper or removing color.
The most potent of the solvent blends I use is rubber cement thinner. It works the same way as turpentine, but breaks down wax-binder even more than turpentine. My experience has been a maximum of two blends before the solvent begins removing more color than it blends.
Use brushes to blend with rubber cement thinner. I don’t recommend more than medium pressure. Bristle brushes are good for more thorough blending, while softer brushes are excellent for creating washes or “gentle blends.”
Make sure you use all of these solvents safely. Work in a well-ventilated space and exercise caution. Don’t work around children or pets and make sure to clean your work area and tools thoroughly and to secure cap containers when you finish.
Artwork should also dry thoroughly before you begin working on it again. I like to let drawings air for no less than an hour and often let them sit overnight.
And there you have it. The only three blending methods you’ll ever need for creating fabulous colored pencil work.
What method is your favorite?