This week’s question comes from Denise, who wants to know my favorite colored pencil blending methods. Here’s Denise’s question.
Carrie, what product/techniques do YOU use to blend? My Prismacolor blending markers dry up within a few months. I have been tempted to soak the dry ones in 90% isoprophyl alcohol overnight.
Thank you for your question, Denise. Every colored pencil artist wants to learn more about blending methods!
But you’ve also opened the door to discussing the subject from a slightly different point of view.
Before I share my favorite blending methods let me address the question of blending markers.
Just How Good are Blending Markers?
I tried a Prismacolor blending marker years ago. The marker had a wide, wedge-shaped tip on one end, and a narrow, pen-shaped tip on the other.
In all fairness, I have to say the marker did blend the colored pencil. The marker dissolved the wax binder enough to move the color around and made blending easier.
But I seem to recall the blended color dried streaky. It’s entirely possible I should have added more color after the paper was dry, but this happened in the early days, before I knew I could layer over blended color. I used the marker on a few drawings then stopped.
Another reason I stopped blending with the marker was that I had trouble remembering to clean the tips after every use. Color-stained tips made the marker useless for blending after a while.
I haven’t used a blending marker since. (Maybe it’s time to change that.)
In researching this article, I discovered that the only places the Prismacolor blender markers are still available is sites like Amazon and eBay. The official Prismacolor website makes no mention of colorless blending markers for colored pencils.
I also learned Prismacolor designed blender markers specifically for use with Prismacolor pencils, so the markers perform poorly with oil-based colored pencils.
Are other colorless markers available?
Yes. Blick, Chartpak, Copic, Tombow, Touch Twin, and Winsor & Newton all include a colorless marker in their line of art markers. Even Prismacolor has a colorless art marker.
Can you blend colored pencils with them?
I don’t know.
TIP: If you decide to soak dried out blending markers with rubbing alcohol, check the markers first, and see what medium they’re using as the solvent. Make sure it’s compatible with regular rubbing alcohol.
So What are My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Methods?
My favorite blending methods fall into three basic categories: Visual blending, dry blending, and solvent blending.
Visual blending is the most organic and automatic of all the blending methods available.
And you do visual blending without thinking about it. How? Just by the way you put color on the paper.
I generally draw with light pressure and build up color through several layers and different colors.
Light passes through all the layers, strikes the paper, and bounces back. My eye sees the colors and blends them visually. But when I’m careful in layering colors, I don’t need to blend in any other way.
Dry blending doesn’t have fumes and I don’t need to wait for the paper to dry.
But I’m not always careful. I become tired or rush things, and end up drawing uneven color layers. When that happens, I need to blend using a different method.
My preference is dry blending, because I can dry blend while drawing, and I don’t have to wait for the paper to dry.
If I need a light blend or just want to smooth out the color a little, I blend with a piece of paper towel or bath tissue. This method doesn’t do well with multiple layers, but if you just need to smooth one layer before adding the next, it’s ideal.
Another method of dry blending is burnishing. When I burnish, I press very hard on the paper, and grind the color deep into the tooth of the paper. You can use a colorless blender for this if you don’t want to change the colors you’ve already used.
But you can also burnish with other colored pencils. Lighter colors tint whatever is already on the paper. Darker colors make it darker, but may also nearly completely hide it.
Since burnishing presses down the tooth of the paper as well as “grinding the colors together,” it’s best not to burnish until near the end of the drawing.
For deep blending, my favorite blending method is painting mediums.
When nothing else works or when it’s not practical to blend with the methods I’ve already described, I blend with a solvent.
Any kind of odorless mineral spirits can be used for blending colored pencils, if it’s tested for art uses. All solvents may perform the same, but may not be archival, and that’s especially important if you’re doing fine art that you want to sell to buyers.
I use turpentine right now, because that’s what I have, but I have to blend outside and leave drawings outside to air before continuing work. So I’ll be getting an odorless solvent for indoor use.
WARNING: Just because a solvent is odorless does NOT mean it has no fumes. You still need to use it wisely. Keep it capped when you’re not blending, and work in a well-ventilated area.
I have used rubbing alcohol in the past, because it breaks down the wax binder in colored pencils, so you can blend with it. It doesn’t blend as completely as odorless mineral spirits, but it can be effective.
However, it is not recommended because it’s untested for permanence in fine art applications. I haven’t tested it, either, so I no longer recommend it wholeheartedly.
Those are not only my favorite colored pencil blending methods; they’re the only blending methods I use right now.
And I generally use them in the order listed above.
My goal with every drawing is to blend by layering colors as much as possible, and dry blend when necessary. I use solvents when I need to speed up the process, or when I’ve made a mistake nothing else will fix.
What about you? What’s your favorite blending method and how do you use it?