The Best Way to Blend Colored Pencils

The Best Way to Blend Colored Pencils

Today’s reader question comes from a reader who wants to know the best way to blend colored pencils. Here’s the question.

Please tell me which is the best way for blending colored pencils and what you are thinking about solvents?
Thank you, best wishes!

The Best Way to Blend Colored Pencils

My Favorite Blending Method

The most basic way to blend is by layering as you draw. Each time you layer one color over another, you’re also blending. The two colors blend visually, creating a new color. That happens because colored pencils are translucent in nature. The light passes through each color, bounces off the paper, and back through the layers of color. Your eye doesn’t see the individual colors. It sees a color that combines all those colors.

That is my favorite way of blending because it happens automatically as I draw.

The Best Way to Blend Colored Pencils
This is a sample of blending by layering. The color isn’t as smooth as it could be because I didn’t do very many layers. The more layers you add, the smoother the color becomes.
Other Blending Methods

There are other ways of blending colored pencils, of course. You can use a colorless blender (a colored pencil without color) to smooth colors and blend them together.

You can also use paper towel to smooth color. Fold a piece of paper towel into a small square and rub it on the area you want to blend. The paper towel smooths out the color somewhat and softens pencil strokes.

And you can burnish.

To burnish, you use either a colorless blender or a colored pencil with heavy pressure to “grind” the layers of color together. If you need to tint the color, use a colored pencil for burnishing. Light colors work best.

The Best Way to Blend Colored Pencils
Burnishing with a colorless blender “grinds” colors together. It also flattens the tooth of the paper, so burnish when an area is nearly finished.

My Thoughts on Solvents

Solvents are also an acceptable way to blend.

A solvent is any liquid that breaks down the binder in colored pencils and allows the pigment to be moved around. Rubbing alcohol, odorless mineral spirits, and turpentine are all solvents. Each of those solvents blends to a different degree.

Use solvents with caution and in well-ventilated areas, since they all produce fumes that are harmful.

Solvents make blending faster and allow you to work more quickly, and many artists use them for that reason alone.

I don’t use solvents often because I prefer the look of colored pencil blended without solvent. But if I need to finish something quickly, or if there’s no other way to get the result I want, I use solvents.

My preferred solvent is Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits, but any artist-grade odorless mineral spirit works the same.

For more information on blending, I’ve published a tutorial called Blending Colored Pencils without Solvents. You can read more about that here.

So Which Way to Blend Colored Pencils is Best?

That differs from one artist to the next. As I mentioned above, I prefer not to blend with solvents. But other artists couldn’t use colored pencils if it weren’t for solvents because solvent blending takes a lot of pressure off the hands.

If you’re new to colored pencils, learn everything you can about the ways to blend.

Then try the blending methods that appeal most to you. Experiment a little bit. It probably won’t take long to discover the method or methods that work best for you.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

5 Comments

  1. Gail Jones

    Hi Carrie, was wondering if you could tell me the best way to make an object glow with light like a lamp or a firefly etc. Just curious how this would be done in colored pencil.

    1. Gail,

      What an interesting question!

      Sometime ago, I tried drawing one of the trademark lamps in Thomas Kinkade’s cottage paintings. I’d been looking at them often enough while putting Kinkade jigsaw puzzles together, and finally decided to try drawing a lamp like his lamps. It was just a study, but I did learn a few things.

      You need to make sure a couple of things are taking place in your drawing in order to draw “glowing light.”

      First, the light source itself should be the brightest/lightest value at the center. The values and brightness should then very gradually decrease as you move away from the light source.

      Second, the darker the area around the light, the brighter the light will appear. The dark doesn’t have to be real dark. Some of his paintings showed evening scenes, so there was still atmospheric light. But the darker the surroundings, the brighter the light will glow.

      Third, the edge between the light and the dark should be soft and blurry, and somewhat transparent.

      I hope that helps, Gail. There is, of course, more to it than this, but these were the things I learned by doing my little study.

  2. Gail Jones

    Hi Carrie, funny you mention Thomas Kincade. He is one of my favorite painters and he was the one I was thinking of when I wrote my question. I love how his pictures just glow with light. Would love to be able to get that effect in scenery. Thank you for the tips.

  3. Patricia Wilson

    Interesting and just got out my colored pencils to make a thank you card. I really don’t like solvents and I like the method about adding layers. That’s how I did mine. Thanks for your input.

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