Today’s reader question comes from a reader who wants to know about burnishing colored pencils. Here is the question.
First I really want to thank you for creating such a wonderful opportunity to ask and learn more about coloured pencils! I sort of looked forward to it.
My question is what is burnishing? I have been hearing this term a lot ever since I started taking more interest in coloured pencil art.
Thank you so much!
What is Burnishing Colored Pencils?
Burnishing is a method of blending colored pencils by using a burnishing tool such as Prismacolor’s colorless blenders (shown here) or a colored pencil and very heavy pressure.
How Burnishing Works
Blending by burnishing is accomplished by pressing the layers of color together and pushing them into the tooth of the paper. Burnishing creates richer, darker color by filling in the paper holes.
Do You Have to Burnish?
You don’t have to burnish in order to blend colored pencils. You don’t have to burnish every drawing. If you choose to burnish, you don’t have to burnish every part of that drawing.
Some artists like the look burnishing produces and use it a lot. Some artists don’t use it at all because they think it gives their work a waxy look.
I prefer not to burnish animal drawings unless I want a very sleek look on the animal. When I do horse portraits, for example, I often burnish things like metal buckles and leather straps. Eyes are another area I may burnish.
But for drawing hair—especially long hair—I usually don’t burnish at all.
Tips for Burnishing Colored Pencils
If you decide to burnish, the following tips will help you burnish successfully.
Burnishing Works Best with Lots of Color on the Paper
You’re essentially “grinding color layers together” when you burnish, so you get the best results if you put down several layers of color first.
How many layers are enough? That depends on how heavily you usually draw. If you’re a bit heavy handed, then you can probably get good results with burnishing after three to six layers.
If, however, you tend to use lighter pressure, you need more layers before burnishing produces good results.
Burnishing Works Best Toward the End of the Drawing
Because burnishing presses down the tooth of the paper and may also leave a lot of wax on the paper, it can be difficult to add more color over a burnished area.
So you may want to wait until you’re nearly finished with a drawing (or with the part of the drawing you want to burnish) before you burnish it.
Burnish with a Dull Point
Remember, you’re using heavy pressure when you burnish. If you burnish with a sharp blender or pencil. one of two things is likely to happen.
The most likely outcome is breaking the tip off the blender or pencil. That’s not a big deal if you don’t mind that bit of lead being wasted. It is a big deal if you break a pencil tip and leave an unwanted mark on the paper. Those kind of marks are very difficult to remove or cover.
Another likely outcome is damaging the paper. Gouging or tearing paper while burnishing with a sharp blender or pencil is very likely on soft papers like Stonehenge. Sanded art papers or heavier papers are less prone to damage, but it isn’t impossible.
So play it safe and burnish with a dull blender or pencil.
That’s a Brief Explanation of Burnishing Colored Pencils
It’s not that difficult to learn to do or to figure out if you really like the look of burnishing or not. All you need to do is put some color on a piece of paper and try using a colorless blender or a pencil on it. You don’t need to experiment on a drawing-in-progress.
In fact, I recommend against experimenting on drawings in progress! That’s a certain path to frustration!
Believe me. Been there, done that!