Is blending colored pencil with turpentine a good idea? Is it even possible?
If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know I don’t often blend colored pencils with solvents of any kind. I much prefer the look of a drawing when the blending has been accomplished by layering or dry blending.
But there are times when blending with a solvent of some kind is the prudent thing to do. Maybe I’m short of time or the effect I want can be accomplished no other way.
Since I began my artistic career as an oil painter, it was natural to try my painting solvents for blending colored pencil work. Do you know what? They really do work!
Why I Once Used Turpentine
When I first started using colored pencils, I used turpentine because after years of using it with oil painting, I knew how it behaved. I knew what to expect and was comfortable with it.
It was also capable of producing very richly saturated color if I had plenty of color on the paper. Turpentine breaks down the binder so well that colors become almost liquefied and blend together much like paint does. I really liked the way it looked because the effect was so painterly. Being an oil painter at the time, that was a huge bonus.
You can see how well it blended the background in the sample below. The first image shows the initial color layer blended with turps. I didn’t have enough color on the mat board, so I layered more over it (middle.) I wasn’t particularly careful in how I blended, as you can see. But when I blended again with turps, the color smoothed out and flowed together beautifully.
Why I No Longer Use Turpentine
I don’t use turpentine any more for two reasons.
First, I’m no longer doing large colored pencil works. The above sample was 11 x 14 inches. I used turps mostly on larger pieces.
Second, it’s pretty potent. Turpentine must be used in a well-ventilated area. When blending colored pencils with turps, I always worked outside. The odors are very strong and it can quickly give you a headache.
For those reasons alone, I no longer recommend turpentine as a solvent for colored pencils.
So what do I use instead of turpentine? Odorless mineral spirits.
Odorless mineral spirits behave in much the same way as turpentine, but they are not as strong. They don’t liquefy colored pencil pigment to the same extent as turps, but they do a good job. I still often use them outside because of our cats, but they are somewhat safer to use indoors. You still need good ventilation.
Odorless mineral spirits are the same as odorless paint thinner. Don’t be fooled, though. Just because a solvent is odorless doesn’t mean it’s non-toxic. Keep containers closed and sealed when not in use.
In fact, a little painting solvent goes a long way, so consider buying small bottles.
Blending Colored Pencil with Turpentine: Should You or Shouldn’t You?
Whether or not you blend colored pencil with turpentine is an entirely personal decision. As I showed you above, it does blend and it blends extremely well.
But it also has a very strong odor and is very potent. If you have any doubts at all about using it, then don’t. Especially if you are not an oil painter.
If, however, you are or have been an oil painter in the past and still have turpentine in stock, you can use it with your colored pencils. You will want to make sure the paper you draw on can withstand moisture and that you have plenty of color on the paper before blending.
Use the same caution for this that you use when you mix turps with oils, and you’ll do fine. Remember that when it comes to any type of solvent, caution is better than cure! Be careful!
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