A Guide To Blending With Colored Pencils For Beginners
Realistic colored pencil drawing of hair - Image by Mima's Artwork
Blending with colored pencils can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it can also be a little daunting for beginners. How do you get those smooth, seamless transitions between colors?
There are a few different ways that you can blend with colored pencils. One method is to use a colorless blender pencil, which contains a waxy substance that helps mix colors seamlessly. Another way is by using your finger or a blending brush.
In this guide, we will walk you through the basics of blending colored pencils so that you can easily create beautiful pieces of art. We will also discuss various techniques, supplies, and dos and don'ts.
Colored Pencil Blending Tools & Supplies
A solvent smoothens and evens out your colored pencil drawings. Though there are other solvents you can use for blending colored pencils, artists commonly use odorless mineral spirits or OMS.
Starting with a small amount is important when using any of these solvents. Wipe off excess with a paper towel before applying it to your drawing to prevent the color from becoming muddy, making it difficult to achieve the desired effect.
Pencil blenders help create smooth transitions between hues when using colored pencils. They have a waxy core similar to a pencil and are usually colorless. This composition allows the pencil to incorporate the colors without affecting the overall shade.
Powder blenders are advanced blending supplies that allow you to merge colors and cover more areas. They help create a professional look by providing an even color application.
In addition, powder blenders help prolong the life of your colored pencils by preventing them from drying out.
A colorless alcohol blender can help smooth out your colored pencil drawing and give it a finished look. The alcohol dissolves the pigments in the colored pencils, creating a more even layer of color. It also helps blend colors, giving your artwork a more cohesive appearance without the mess.
Blending brushes are similar to pencils in lightness and ease of use. The short bristles of these brushes allow you to blend your colored pencil drawings in what artists call dry blending.
You can also use these brushes with water for water-soluble colored pencils and solvents. To do this, use natural or soft nylon bristle brushes or ones with short bristles for better control.
A blending stump is versatile tool artists use to dry blending colored pencils, graphite, charcoal, pastels, and other art supplies. You can use it to create various effects, such as smooth transitions between colors, create shadows, and highlights, or create a softer look.
Blending stumps are bigger and made with softer paper. On the other hand, tortillions are much smaller and use scratchier paper. If you're using textured paper, it is best to work with blending stumps to prevent scratching its surface.
Additionally, it is important to keep the stump clean and free of material buildup with a sandpaper sharpener. With proper care, a blending stump is a valuable tool in any artist's arsenal.
Household Items You Can Use for Blending
Colored pencil drawing of a bejeweled ring - Image by Kirsty Partridge
If you’re a newbie, you may be shocked to discover that some supplies around the house can make you a better colored pencil artist.
You can use household oils like baby oil, vegetable oil, and other cheap oils to blend your colored pencils. Artists love them because they're easy to apply, maintain vibrant colors, and are as effective as most solvents without fumes and smells.
However, if you apply too much, oils don't leave the best result on your colored pencil drawings. The oil may mess up and ruin your drawing. If you decide to use it, apply a small amount sparingly, especially around the edges, to prevent the oil from running outside the border.
Rubbing alcohol is a good alternative to the more expensive solvents for blending colored pencils. You can also use rubbing alcohol to create interesting textured effects.
Keep your working area well-ventilated to avoid inhaling fumes, especially if using rubbing alcohol with a higher concentration.
You can also use paint thinner as a solvent when blending colored pencils. However, since it has more fumes than rubbing alcohol, be more vigilant in protecting yourself. You can utilize the thinner in the same way as artist solvents like Gamsol.
However, we don't recommend using thinner for professional work since it doesn't have the same archival quality as the regular colored pencil solvents.
Acetone works as a blending solvent for colored pencils, though some brands are not receptive to it. According to artists who have tried acetone for blending, it works best on Derwent and Faber-Castell but works poorly on Crayola colored pencils.
While it is tempting to use a non-acetone nail polish remover, it doesn't work as well as acetone because of its watery consistency.
Petroleum jelly (Vaseline) is an excellent alternative for blending colored pencils because it evenly smooths the colors. However, those who have tried it think they're too messy to apply and have a steep learning curve for beginners.
Use a Q-tip to apply and blend your colored pencil drawings with Vaseline. Use petroleum jelly sparingly since it has the same effect as oils, and the rather thick consistency may ruin your drawing.
Chapstick and other lip balm brands are another good household supply you can use to blend your colored pencils. They're easy and convenient as they fit well into your pocket or a pencil case. However, they can promote wax bloom if applied too much and is not the best option for professional projects.
Colored Pencil Blending Techniques
Blending with Solvents
How to Blend Colored Pencil with Solvents by Strathmore Artist Papers
Colored pencils are a popular option for many drawings, as they offer precise control and a wide range of colors. However, colored pencils can sometimes produce a flat, lifeless effect. One way to avoid this effect is to use a solvent.
Solvents dissolve the pigments in colored pencils, giving the drawing a softer, more painterly look. In addition, they can help mix colors and achieve subtle gradations.
Artists can use a few different solvents for blending colored pencils, including mineral spirits, denatured alcohol, and rubbing alcohol. Most artists use mineral spirits as a solvent for blending colored pencils, as they are less likely to damage the paper.
You can apply solvents using a brush or Q-tip. Dip the very tip only of the brush into the solvent, wipe off the excess solvent on a paper towel, then slowly work your way on the colored pencil drawing. You may use the solvent in several ways - over the colored pencil applied on paper, apply it on paper before coloring, or dipping the colored pencil into the solvent and then applying it directly on the paper.
Another thing to remember when blending with solvents is the amount of solvent applied. Too little solvent causes poor blending, while too much solvent will cause the solvents to run and ruin the drawing.
Blending with Colorless Blenders
How to Blend Using the Prismacolor Blending Pencil by PencilStash
A colorless blender is a binding agent that helps move the color around the paper. In addition to blending, colorless blenders help give your artwork a more polished look with a burnishing effect.
However, it's important to note that blending and burnishing apply more wax to the paper, which can cause wax blooms. While artists avoid wax blooms, you can easily fix them with a paper towel. You may also use a fixative to remove wax blooms.
How to Burnish with Colored Pencils by Brushes With Bec
Burnishing is a blending technique that produces a shiny surface of the colored pencil, mostly achieved by adding the colors with strong pressure. It is best for adding finishing touches to your colored pencil drawing.
Burnishing is best for adding a glossy finish to the artwork. It also prevents smudging and smearing of the colors. However, the shiny finish prevents any additional layering of colors.
To perform this blending technique properly, apply your colored pencils with gentle pressure until you get the right colors and details. Use a colorless blender, a blending stump, or a piece of paper towel wrapped around your finger and rub in a slightly harder pressure.
You may also burnish your drawing directly using a colored pencil. You can use the same colored pencil, a lighter shade of the color you're burnishing, or a colorless blender.
How to Blend and Layer Colored Pencils by Kendyll Hillegas
Layering is the easiest blending technique that any colored pencil artist should master. To do this, apply your colored pencils lightly in small circular motions, adding color in layers instead of coloring in one go.
Aside from blending, layering also allows you to create new colors.
Smudging is a dry blending technique you do with blending stumps, a paper towel, or Q-tip to rub over the colored pencil to blend the colors. However, it doesn't achieve the painterly effect you get from blending with solvents. The result is grainy, especially if you're using textured paper.
Unconventional Blending Techniques
A painting of a butterfly on an easel with powder blenders and fixatives - Image by Lachri Fine Art
Blending with Powder Blender
Powder blenders are best for blending wax and oil-based pencils. It serves as a dry lubricant to prevent the pigments of the colored pencils from binding with the paper, thus allowing for better blending. However, powder blenders don't respond well to absorbent or smooth-surfaced paper.
How to Apply Powder Blenders
Using Powder Blender for the First Time with Colored Pencils by thefrugalcrafter
For wax-based colored pencils:
- Do the underdrawing first with a powder blender.
- Draw or color with colored pencils, but press the colored pencil lightly, so it doesn't bind with the paper.
- Apply the powder blender with your finger (protected with a finger cot), then blend and mix the colors.
- Remove or lighten colors with a Q-tip.
- Spray a layer of textured fixative to fix the underdrawing and prevent smearing.
For oil-based colored pencils:
- You can skip the underdrawing with a powder blender.
- Draw directly with your colored pencils, then apply with the powder blender.
- Blend the powder blender with your blending brush, applicator, or finger, protected with a finger cot.
Fix Between Layers
Add more details to the colored pencil and several layers of textured fixative. Then, let it dry before completing the colored pencil drawing.
Apply the final fixative after finishing your colored pencil drawing. You may need to apply textured fixatives several times, but skip doing so until the final fixative.
Benefits of Using Powder Blenders
The good thing about powder blenders is that they soften the edge of eraser marks, so your colored pencil drawing remains pristine.
Powder blenders also let you cover a large area quicker than normal with a conventional colored pencil application. Aside from that, you can correct or remove colors if you have not applied a fixative.
Blending with a Heating Pad
Using a Heat Pad with Colored Pencils by Ruth Ballard Art
Since colored pencils have oil or wax in their composition, it responds well to heat for blending. Heated drawing pads are expensive, but a useful hack that artist Ruth Ballard used is a reptile terrarium heat pad that pet owners use. It has an adjustable thermostat so you can adjust the heat for the best results.
Simply warm the pad, then place your paper over it to use the heating pad. The heat of the heating pad will slightly melt the pigments on your colored pencil drawing, giving it a less grainy look. However, using a heating pad to blend won't give you the painterly effect of blending with solvents.
Pro Tips for Blending Colored Pencils
Various colored pencil blending techniques - Image by CherTheFire
Start with Quality Colored Pencils
The tools you use directly impact your work’s quality. When it comes to colored pencils, it's important to use high-quality pencils to make your projects look their best.
Since low-quality colored pencils don't have the same amount of pigment as artist-grade colored pencils, your drawings won't produce a remarkable painterly effect.
In addition, cheap pencils are more likely to break or warp, ruining your work in progress. For these reasons, it's always worth investing in good-quality colored pencils. You might be interested in how colored pencils are made to understand this medium better.
Test Your Supplies
If you're using a new set of colored pencils, try working on a small piece before using them on important projects. Avoid potential disasters by testing your supplies first.
Even popular colored pencil brands might have different results. Newer pencils might be too soft, resulting in much darker lines than you intended. Or they may be too hard, giving you a less saturated color.
Use the Correct Paper Type
For instance, if you're working with water-soluble colored pencils, you'll want to choose a watercolor paper specifically designed to absorb and hold liquid. On the other hand, if you're using regular colored pencils, you'll get better results on a paper with a slight tooth, which will help the colors lay down more evenly.
When it comes to hot vs. cold press paper, the hot press is the smoother of the two, ideal for detailed work. Cold press paper has a textured surface, which helps if you're looking to create interesting texture effects with your pencils.
Archival paper is the gold standard for artists who want their work to last long. It uses natural fibers that resist degradation and yellowing, so it's well worth the investment if you want to create pieces that will last for generations.
Another thing to consider about the paper is its natural whiteness. Don't go for those that use optical brighteners and chlorine, as it affects the paper's archival quality.
Use the Right Blending Tools
Blending colors with colored pencils is different from other mediums like paint or markers. You can't just wipe two colors together and expect them to blend seamlessly. Instead, you need to use the right tools and techniques to slowly build up layers of color.
When blending with colored pencils, it is important to always start with a light touch. Follow the same small circular motion when blending, and know which tools work best for you.
Control Your Pressure
If you're new to colored pencils, it's important to understand how pressure affects the final result. The harder you press, the darker the color will be. For this reason, it is important to hold the pencil near the tip when you want to create a dark shade and back when you're going for a lighter tone.
Of course, you can also achieve different results by blending two colors. But if you're just starting, it's best to experiment with pressure first. By understanding how it works, you'll be able to produce more consistent results and add more subtlety to your coloring.
Create Texture on the Paper
For hyper-realistic drawings, etching directly onto the paper is a great way to add texture. By following strands of hair, fur, or feathers with your stylus, you can create a realistic effect that adds depth and dimension to your artwork. Color over these etchings to give your drawing a 3D look.
Observe Safety Protocols
When choosing colored pencils, it's important to ensure they are safe to use. Some pencils may contain harmful chemicals, so checking the labels before purchasing them is vital. In addition, make sure to keep the pencils away from young children who might put them in their mouths.
Dos & Don’ts When Blending Colored Pencils
A colored pencil drawing of a tulip - Image by Ruth Ballard Art
Do Use a Black Pencil for Shading
If you're looking for a way to add depth and richness to your colors, use a black colored pencil to darken them and give them more dimension. Moreover, it doesn't limit the color you can use because it is neutral.
Do Color to Achieve Your Desired Effect
As an artist, it's important to know how to adjust colors in your drawings. If you want to lighten a dark shade, you can do so by adding a layer of lighter color.
Conversely, you can add a layer of darker color. You can create the look you want by experimenting with different tones and layers.
Do Use White to Blend Colors
While black darkens your colors, white is best for blending them. A white colored pencil creates a smooth transition with a muted effect on the drawing.
Another technique is to use a lighter shade of the main color you used so it won't affect its vibrance. For example, use a light green shade over a darker green to blend them.
Don't Stick With a Single Color
Don't limit yourself when working with colored pencils. Experiment with different shades and tones by adding lighter and darker values.
Instead of just red, try adding pink for the lighter values and magenta for the darker values to create more depth and interest in your coloring.
Don't Forget to Get Skin Tone Colored Pencils
Skin-tone colored pencils are essential for any artist who plans to work with portraits. A good set will include a variety of shades, from light to dark, made with high-quality pigments to accurately produce a wide range of skin tones.
With skin tone colored pencils, you can capture the subtle variations of the complexion that gives each person their unique appearance.
Don't Apply in Various Directions
If you want your colored pencils to pack a punch, it's important to apply them correctly. Many people mistake applying the pencils in various directions, which doesn't get corrected when you blend the colors.
The best way to get rich, vibrant colors is to apply the pencil in small circular motions, building up the color in layers. This technique takes more time, but it's well worth the effort.
Knowing what magic you can do with your colored pencils is important to get the best results on your drawings. Blending colors is one of the many ways to make your colored pencil drawings more realistic and beautiful. Practice is important, and colored pencil art is a medium that needs patience.
Do you have any tips for blending colored pencils? Share them in the comments below!