Today, I want to share some of the colored pencil blending tools I use most often.
If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you may have read about some of these in different posts. But a recent reader question prompts me now to talk about them in a single post.
That reader asked about my favorite blending tools. Yes, of all the colored pencil blending tools available and all those I’ve used, I do have a few that I reach for repeatedly.
So I’ll tell what they are and why I like them so much.
Colored Pencil Blending Tools
As I describe in The Only Blending Methods You’ll Ever Need for Colored Pencil, there are really only three main categories of blending:
Pencil blending is what you do when you layer one color over another.
Dry blending is any method of blending that happens after you’ve layered color, and that doesn’t involve solvent.
Colorless blenders, blending stumps, and scraps of paper fall into this category.
Solvent blending is any blending method that requires a solvent. The solvent could be odorless mineral spirits, turpentine*, rubbing alcohol*, or rubber cement thinner*. Anything that dissolves the binder in colored pencil can be put into the solvent blending category.
I’ll list at least one in each of these three categories, and tell you not only why I like it, but how and when I use it.
The Colored Pencil Blending Tools I Reach For Most Often
The pencils themselves are my blending tool of choice. I use them every time I draw.
I love layering color and that’s the easiest—and most easily used—method of blending colored pencils on the market today. You don’t need smelly solvents (or any other kind.) You don’t need special tools or materials. Just pencils and paper.
Whenever I draw, I’m blending, whether I’m adding more layers of the same color to make darker values, or adding other colors to make new colors, it’s all blending.
Colored pencils are also great for burnishing, which is a form of blending in which you press down as hard as you can on the paper.
But the best part is that they require no additional storage containers or special treatment!
A good, stiff bristle brush is also an excellent tool for blending colored pencils. Whenever you blend with solvent, you need a brush, and I get the best results with bristle brushes because I can use a little more pressure.
Well-worn bristle brushes are my absolute favorite. These two are just a couple from a jar full of worn out oil painting brushes I’ve kept on a shelf for years.
TIP: If you happen to have old oil painting brushes lying around, don’t throw them away. Wash and rinse them thoroughly, let them dry, then put them in your colored pencil toolbox!
Yes, bristle brushes are perfect for blending with solvent, but that’s not my favorite way of using them.
When you draw sanded pastel paper (which I highly recommend you try at least once,) you create a lot of pigment dust. You can sweep that dust into the trash if you want, but there’s a much better option.
Blend it into the tooth of the paper with a bristle brush. The results can be quite pleasing.
Granted, this method of blending works best on sanded papers.
For regular drawing paper, my favorite dry blending tool is what’s known as colorless blenders or blending pencils. Prismacolor colorless blenders are shown below, but many other brands also have blending pencils.
Colorless blenders are pencils without the pigment. Prismacolor colorless blenders are a wax-binder core. Lyra’s Splender Blender is an oil-based blending pencil.
But in both cases, you can blend with them without putting additional color on the paper.
You can use any brand of blender on any brand of pencils. Lyra’s Splender Blender is oil-based and I used it on Prismacolor pencils until I used it up. It worked fine.
But in most cases, the blenders do work best on the pencils for which they were designed.
I don’t really have a single favorite tool for blending with solvents other than my trusty bristle brush and a sable or two, so let me share my favorite solvent.
As I write this, I have Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits on my drawing table. I also have a small jar of rubbing alcohol. Both blend colored pencils quite well, though the Gamsol does produce a more thorough blend.
It’s difficult to say which I like better, since they’re suited for different types of blending.
Gamsol, for example, works on Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes, watercolor paper (but not with watercolor pencils,) and sanded art paper.
Rubbing alcohol doesn’t have much of an impact on sanded art paper, and even on smoother papers, it’s better for smoothing out surface color, then deep blending multiple layers. What I refer to as “gentle blending.”
So those are my favorite colored pencil blending tools.
Do I use other tools to blend colored pencils? Absolutely!
Paper towel and bath tissue are great for soft blends on smooth papers like Bristol or Stonehenge. Sable brushes work quite well with solvents when I can blend an area without exerting a lot of pressure.
Don’t tell anybody, but I even sometimes use a finger tip, which is not recommended because of skin oils.
And there are many blending tools I’ve never tried.
But that, my friend, is an topic of another day!