Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

Today’s post is about my first attempt at blending backgrounds with Powder Blender.

This is my second attempt using Clairfontaine Pastelmat Sienna colored paper. I described my first experience here. If you’re interested in traditional drawing methods on Pastelmat, then you’ll want to read How to Draw a Blurred Background.

For this piece, I followed Alyona Nickelsen’s method of colored pencil painting, which is based on the Flemish Seven-Step method. I used many of her Brush & Pencil products, including Powder Blender, ACP Textured Fixative, and Titanium White.

The portrait is 6 inches by 8 inches. As mentioned above, I’m using Clairfontaine Pastelmat.

Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

I’m reading Colored Pencil Painting Portraits, and wanted to try the step-by-step background method described in that book.

I didn’t want to just practice, though. I wanted to do an actual work. This portrait was ready for background work, so I decided to work on it.

Since this is a teachable moment, I chose one of the tutorials in the book, and followed it step-by-step. Here’s how that worked.

Step 1: Apply Powder Blender to the Paper

Alyona recommends applying Powder Blender to the paper before you add any color. According to the book, you can use sponge applicators, a brush, or even your finger if you wear a cot.

I chose a #6 sable round brush to apply Powder Blender to the background. It’s very easy to do. Simply lightly touch the Powder Blender with the brush, then brush it onto the background.

You don’t need a lot of Powder Blender. A little bit goes a long way, so use it sparingly.

Powder Blender is a white powder, but it disappears on paper. Even on colored paper like this Sienna Pastelmat.

Step 2: Layer Color

Next, I layered Faber-Castell Polychromos Sky Blue over the background with light to medium-light pressure and big, bold strokes.

My understanding was that I didn’t need careful strokes in order to get smooth color with Powder Blender. So I used light pressure, but essentially scribbled color onto the paper in just a few minutes.

I didn’t even bother covering all of the paper, since I want a blurred look for the background.

Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

Step 3: Blend with Powder Blender

Next, I used the same brush to blend the color, which is one of the ways to blend described in Alyona’s book.

Blending with painterly strokes stirred up pigment, but didn’t blend well, so I tried a stippling stroke. Stippling strokes (tapping strokes) pushed pigment down into the tooth of the paper instead of spreading it around.

Most of the strokes blended out nicely, but I wasn’t able to cover all of the paper. That was okay, though. It showed me that I needed more color on the paper for effective blending.

Step 4: Continue Layering Color

I layered more Sky Blue over parts of the background, and then added Earth Green Yellowish in some areas. The additional color will create the look of blurred foliage in the background.

I alternated layering and blending several times without adding more Powder Blender.

The more color on the paper, the more satisfactory the blending process, but you can still see a lot of paper showing through the background. At this stage in the drawing, that doesn’t bother me. I’ll be able to continue layering color until the portrait is complete.

I continued working on the background with Sky Blue and Earth Green Yellowish to build color. I also added Deep Cobalt Green for a darker cooler green, and Dark Indigo to create even darker values. When the greens got too bright, I toned them down with Bistre.

I tried a blending layer with Cinnamon, which is very close to the color of the paper. Blending layers often work on other projects, but I didn’t care for the look of it this time.

When the background was finished, I did a final blend with Powder Blender and the color was ready to be “fixed into place.”

Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

Step 5: Spray with ACP Textured Fixative

After finishing with layering and blending, I lightly sprayed the drawing with ACP Textured Fixative.

Two light coats with half an hour of dry time between the two coats. Then I put the drawing away for the day.

My Thoughts on Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

So what’s my opinion of Powder Blender? Favorable! I clearly need practice with this new tool, but I need practice with every new tool. We all do.

Overall, I like this background much better than the blurred background I drew on the same paper using traditional methods.

It also took far less time to do this work. Less than two hours total, while it took several hours over a period of days to do the traditional background. Even if the only place you use Powder Blender is the background, it’s well worth the investment.

I blended with a sponge applicator until I noticed spongy part was coming apart due to friction with the paper. Sanded papers are hard on sponges!

So I went back to my sable brush, but wasn’t getting much good out of that. The next brush, a stiff bristle brush, worked so well that I put the sable brush and the sponge applicators away.


  1. Patricia Wilson

    This was interesting and sounds a little like using Perfect Pearls. What is this fixative that you speak about and what can you use it on, what types of paper/cardstock and with what mediums, ie. only drawing paper and colored pencils? Thanks for the information. It was a helpful article.

    1. Patricia,

      The fixative I used for this piece was ACP Textured Fixative from Brush & Pencil. I’m learning to use Alyona Nickelsen’s “painting” process, so am using her products as she describes.

      Both of the fixatives she uses (Textured Fixative and Final Fixative) dry to a film, so they’re best used on rigid supports. I used it on sanded art papers, because that’s what she uses, but if you don’t intend to roll a piece and you plan to frame it soon after it’s finished, I think both fixatives would probably also work on some of the heavier traditional papers.

  2. Gail Jones

    So this is another method I need to try. I have all the stuff and I really like the look of your soft background. I do go thru my stuff and usually eventually work with everything. I stopped buying written tutorials for awhile so I can catch up. Thank you for showing an example of how this works. Way cool Carrie!

    1. Wendy,

      Good question.

      Alyona Nickelsen, who developed Powder Blender, recommends sanded art papers not only because of the toothy surface, but because of the heavier paper. That’s because you MUST seal Powder Blender with ACP Textured Fixative to make it permanent. If you don’t seal the artwork, the pigment can be easily blended even after the artwork is finished.

      The textured fixative dries to an inflexible film that may crack if the paper isn’t perfectly flat. That’s why she recommends a rigid paper or board for using these products.

      I’ve never tried Powder Blender on anything except sanded art papers, so I don’t know how well it works on them.

      It would be worth a test, though, just to find out.

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