Today, I want to talk about blending versus layering. Is one better than the other for creating realism in colored pencil work?
Here is the reader question.
I was reading some articles that mentioned blending was not the best method for realistic drawings. Rather than blending, layering is key. What is your take on this and do you have any tips or tricks for layering to achieve a realistic look?
Thank you for your question, JoLyn.
I’d be very interested in reading those articles, since I’ve never before heard an artist talk about blending and layering in this way.
Because layering is a form of blending.
Blending Versus Layering
Most colored pencils are translucent by nature. That means that you can see through them when they’re on the paper. Light passes through all the color layers and bounces back from the paper, so your eye sees all those colors “blended into a new color.”
It’s the same principle behind glazing transparent layers of oil paint or acrylics over an under painting.
Obviously you can’t mix colored pencil colors in the same way you can mix oil paint or acrylics on a palette and then apply it to the paper. But adding one color over another achieves the same result.
By that definition, layering is a form of blending. In my opinion, it’s the most automatic form of blending colored pencils.
So are the authors of these articles talking about blending in general, or about solvent blending?
Solvent Blending versus Layering
If the writers are comparing solvent blending and layering, then I agree with them in a limited way.
I use solvents to blend some things. For example, if I’m having trouble getting deep darks just by layering, I blend with solvent, then layer more color.
If I need a particular result that solvent blending produces, then I use solvent.
But I don’t use solvent on every piece, and I don’t very often use solvent on all of a piece even if I blend one part of it.
But it’s just a tool.
Is Layering Key to Realistic Art?
Layering is how you put color on the paper. The more carefully and accurately you add color, the more realistic your work will look.
The more carefully you observe the colors in your subject and simulate them, the more realistic your work will look.
But this is true no matter what other blending methods you use or if you do no other blending at all.
The Real Answer to the Blending versus Layering Question
I’ve seen stunningly realistic artwork created without blending (other than layering) and equally realistic art created with the use of other blending methods.
So the question JoLyn—and all of us—should be asking is what method produces the desired result.
If you get the results you want with just layering, then that’s what you should do.
And if you like the results you get when you blend with solvent (or any other form of blending,) then that’s what you should do.
Are You Looking for Layering Tips?
JoLyn also asked what tips I have for layering. I refer you to How to Decide the Order of Colors When Layering, for additional information.
Thank you for JoLyn for such a great question.
Got a question? Ask Carrie!