All this month, we’re focusing on various techniques for blending colored pencils. This week, the topic is blending colored pencil with rubbing alcohol. The sample drawing is on Stonehenge paper, but the method works with other types of paper, as well.
I also used an old oil painting bristle brush as a blending tool, but other brushes can also be used, as well as cotton swabs, cotton balls, or even folded paper towel.
I’ve also written on this topic for EmptyEasel. Read How to Blend Colored Pencil Drawings with Rubbing Alcohol here.
Preparing to Blend with Rubbing Alcohol
Blending with rubbing alcohol is very easy and straight forward. All you need is household rubbing alcohol. I’m using 91% alcohol, but you can use a weaker solution if that’s what you have.
You’ll need a blending tool. I use an old oil painting bristle brush that has been worn down, so is quite short and stiff. That type of brush gives me a lot of control, especially when working around edges that won’t be blended.
You can also blend with cotton swabs, cotton balls, or paper towels. If you use cotton balls or paper towel, wear protective gloves.
If you have an old brush you want to use, make sure it’s well-cleaned and contains no residue from previous uses.
You can also buy a new brush if you prefer.
I used a #6 for this drawing, but any similar sized brush will work. A bristle brush will probably work best, but if you’re more comfortable with a softer brush, you can use that, as well.
Pour a small quantity into a small container. A glass container is best. If you have a capped container in which you can store rubbing alcohol permanently, that’s your best option. Label the jar and cap it after each use to keep the rubbing alcohol from evaporating.
If you don’t have a capped, seal-able container, you’ll want to dispose of the rubbing alcohol after you’ve finished with it. Do NOT pour it back into the original container because it will contain some residue of colored pencil.
TIP: Whenever using any solvent to blend colored pencil, make sure to work in a well-ventilated area. I like to work outside when conditions allow. Cover the solvent as soon as you finish with it and allow your drawing to air dry completely before continuing work.
Blending Colored Pencil with Rubbing Alcohol
To blend with rubbing alcohol, dip your brush into the rubbing alcohol, and apply it to a small portion of the drawing. You can either pool it on the paper and allow it to sit a moment before brushing it out, or you can brush it out at once, which is what I usually do.
TIP: Don’t scrub the paper or you risk damaging the surface. Stonehenge is quite sturdy and can take a lot of punishment, but it can still be damaged.
Work over all of the area you’re blending.
After you’ve finished blending, damp dry your brush on a piece of paper towel. If no pigment comes off on the paper towel, the brush is ready for the next use.
If pigment does appear on the paper towel, wash the brush with ordinary soap and water, press it dry with paper towel, then lay it horizontally to dry.
You must also allow the paper to dry completely before drawing again.
Tips for Blending with Rubbing Alcohol
Rubbing alcohol blends are usually not smooth and seamless, especially if you’re blending a larger area, such as with this drawing. This illustration shows in greater detail the streaking that can happen when you blend a darker color over a lighter color. Unless that’s the look you want, it’s best to blend each color separately.
Here’s another detail. In this area, the streaking is simply the result of brushing. The colors are all close enough that they can be blended together without causing problems, but the blending itself can produce this hazy appearance and some streaking.
This is how the entire drawing looked. Not bad, but not ideal, either.
There are easy fixes for this kind of streaking.
First is coloring over the blended background. The advantage to using rubbing alcohol to blend is that you can easily draw over it again with colored pencil, and cover those areas of streaking. Use light pressure and even strokes to smooth out the color.
You can also blend again without adding more color if you wish. I will eventually add more color to the background, but didn’t want to do that until I’d worked on the horse, so I blended the background a second time without adding more color.
This time, I stroked vertically over all of the background. On the top, I started at the top of the paper and stroked to the horse. On the bottom, I started at the horse and stroked to the bottom of the paper.
The end result was much more satisfactory and will be easier to adjust when the time comes. For now, however, I’m considering it finished.
I don’t do solvent blends very often, because I prefer the look of drawings blended without solvent.
When I do use solvent, I most often reach for odorless mineral spirits for the simple reason that OMS is a tested and proven art product.
However, When I have used rubbing alcohol with good results, and the artwork has not been damaged or discolored in anyway. So if rubbing alcohol is all you have on hand when you need to do a solvent blend, then use it with confidence.
This method works with odorless paint thinner, turpentine, or rubber cement thinner. In all cases, make sure to use proper precautions and work in a well-ventilated areas.
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Thank you very informative as always.
You’re welcome, Jane!
Might have to try this. In other words, “don’t sniff the glue!” Right? It will probably make one feel hazy and that might affect one’s drawing or make it “hazy”—right? Thanks for tutorial.
Definitely not a good thing to inhale the fumes, though rubbing alcohol is less dangerous than other solvents in this regard.
Thanks! Excellent description, though I would like to know how you got the circles “back” on the right side. Was it accomplished just by blending vertically as you stated?
The second blend did clear up some of the murkiness left from the first blend, so I guess you could say that that helped bring the circles “back”.
I’m thinking now that it might have been better to use a larger brush for the second blend, so there would have been fewer strokes. I’ll have to try that on another drawing and see if it makes a difference.
Thank you so much for sharing this great tip!
You’re welcome, Toni!
I gonna doit it to see what hapend God bless.
Best wishes with your work!
Hi – is this method for wax or oil pencils?
The sample I used in the illustration was with wax-based pencils. I’ve been using it with my wax-based Prismacolor pencils for quite some time.
I have yet to try it with oil-based pencils, but I have a brand new set of Faber-Castell Polychromos so will be trying rubbing alcohol on them. I’ll let you know how that turns out.
I never thought of blending alcohol with colored pencils. Are you using wax-based colored pencils or water-soluble ones? How does alcohol blending compare to using water- to blend pencils?
I use wax-based pencils most of the time. When I do use water soluble pencils, I blend them with water.
Rubbing alcohol dissolves the wax binder in colored pencils, so it should work with any colored pencil with a wax binder. At least in theory!
Hi, Carrie. I love the bokeh effect! I find rubbing alcohol fumes more bearable than the other products you mentioned so I’m glad Pinterest directed me to your post. I prefer polychromos and you say you plan to try this blending method with the oil-based pencils. Did you? If yes, please direct me to the post. I read the earlier comments and may have missed this or the answer is obvious to everyone but me: Do you layer colors and then expose the lower layer of lighter shades as you apply rubbing alcohol?
Thank you! I’m always happy to hear I’ve helped someone.
I have yet to try rubbing alcohol with Polychromos pencils, and had forgotten all about that, so thank you for the reminder.
When I blend with rubbing alcohol (which I don’t do very often,) I put down all the colors first. Then I blend the areas I want to blend. It’s not so much a case of exposing colors underneath as dissolving them and letting them sink into the paper.
One thing you want to do is start with the lightest colors first when you use rubbing alcohol. Use a new cotton swab or cotton ball when changing colors, or rinse your brush. Otherwise, dissolved color will influence each subsequent color you blend.
Thanks again for you comment!
Have you tried oil pastels with alcohol? I’m going to try that tonight. I am interested in making marble effects so I can lay down a black ink impression. Got my fingers crossed
I tried oil pastels as a teenager and never took to them. So I don’t know how well they would blend with rubbing alcohol.