6 Ways for How to Blend Colored Pencils – You Can Learn Today!

I’d be lost without my colored pencils. They have been coloring my world since 2001! They are such a wonderfully responsive medium that is relatively easy to learn, is inexpensive, very portable and produces great art!

But did you know how blendable they really are? And how important it is to be able to blend them in your art? This article will uncover 6 ways for how to blend colored pencils so that you may create stunningly beautiful pieces!

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1. Blending for Color Magic

This type of blending is for creating new colors or to enrich, tint, dull or shade another color. In Basic Colored Pencil Techniques, I discussed that colored pencils cannot be mixed in the way we mix paint on a palette. Instead, they are layered in order to mix colors right on the art paper. In this way, layering is in fact blending those colors to create new colors.

2. Chill out on the Pressure

Whenever you wish to have a color fade to form a gradient type of blending or simply have a color end without forming a hard line of demarcation, my motto is, blend it where you end it. To do this, you will want to let up gradually on your pressure to form a seamless transition from one color to another or to simply fade out a color.

3. Erasers – Not Just for Boo-Boos

For more than just mistakes, to a certain extent erasers can be used as blending tools. The vinyl erasers are best and can be used gently to help fade a color or soften a hard edge. This would be most effectively done in early layers – not when color is heavily built up.  Just gently pull with the eraser over the boundary you wish to have fade.

I really love the White Pearl erasers made by Papermate.. They are 100% free of latex and resist smudging.

4. Rub a Dub Dub

Sometimes, your subject requires a gentle look – similar to a soft focus portrait. One of those subjects are flowers, particularly close-ups of petals. I will often use a cotton q-tip or cotton ball to gently rub the application. I do this especially on the first layers – this will virtually eliminate the look of the strokes and push the color into the valleys, gently toning the paper with the color. You can also use facial or bathroom tissue, blending stumps/tortillions, although not my first choice for this purpose as they are really more appropriate to use to blend and soften the look of graphite.

5. Burnish With a Flourish

If you desire to have a painted look to your colored pencil art, you will want to virtually eliminate the “tooth” of the paper. Your art paper should have “tooth” (remember that’s the teeny, tiny hills and valleys in the paper’s surface) in order that you may successfully layer and blend colors.

After many layers, your paper may still be showing a “grainy” look or tiny specs. In this case you have three choices – you may leave it grainy (some people like to be able to tell it’s colored pencil), burnish the tooth away using heavy pressure or simply use a type of solvent.

Burnishing is using very heavy pressure to completely eliminate the tooth of the paper. That is, colors are blended into the paper mechanically. The process is that the heavy pressure creates friction, thereby creating heat that will slightly soften the wax and pigment. This softened pigment will glide right into the remaining valleys of the paper.

Although burnishing can be done with color or white, I recommend using the colorless blender pencil. Just using the color in an area may affect the integrity of the color mix you have achieved with layering. Using white may slightly lighten the color causing you to have to refresh the color after the white layer.The Colorless blender pencil is just the binder, no pigment. Through burnishing, it will beautifully blend the remaining grain away and slightly intensify your color.

6. Gentle Solvents – Is There Such a Thing?

Another way to blend colors for a painterly look is to use solvents. The Colorless Blender Marker (pictured here) is just as the name indicates. It’s a marker (many brands on the market but I use Prismacolor) that has no color. You simply apply as a final layer (although you can layer over it) to any area you wish to blend. The gentle solvent will dissolve the wax and pigment and enable it to be moved around, eliminating the remaining specs in your application.

The Marker is a bit “fume-y” but not as bad as a sharpie, in my opinion.

Baby Oil is another gentle solvent (and smells a lot nicer!) that will beautifully blend your application. I will usually apply a tiny amount with a q-tip. It’s easy to overdo, so I recommend practicing on scrap first as to how much to get on the q-tip and how to apply.

Rubbing Alcohol is another solvent that works similarly to the marker. I also use this with a q-tip or tiny piece of cotton. However, just like baby oil, it can be overdone and lift off or dull your color that you worked so hard to get.

Not-So-Gentle Solvents

I did not include this section as a way for how to blend colored pencils because I do not use them. Why? Well, simply put, they’re too toxic for me.

Turpentine speaks for itself. It emits highly toxic vapors and fumes. Odorless mineral spirits – don’t be fooled- you can’t smell them but they nonetheless emits toxic vapors.

What about the safer alternative mineral spirits? Well some may say they are a safe alternative because they are less toxic so it reduces your exposure. Well, they may not be as toxic but still are. Why take that risk when there is really no need to use them?

Honestly, I just don’t think the medium of colored pencils requires the use of harsh chemicals when there are so many other products and techniques to blend them.

Blending Rules!

There’s no getting around it. To create quality colored pencil artwork, learning to blend them is imperative. Blending is really part and parcel in using this medium. Do try some (or all!) of the 6 ways to blend colored pencils outlined in this article for very cool effects and a lot of fun. I think you will be amazed!

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

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May 13, 2019 at 1:20 am

I really appreciate your website because I am a Graphic Designer. I love the way you go into detail to explain each color and what it’s used for.

May 16, 2019 at 8:57 pm

Thanks, Peggy. Glad you liked it.

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