Blending With Colored Pencils
Updated by Brandon F. on October 16, 2019
Blending with colored pencils can be a very rewarding and fun experience, allowing you to achieve colors and depths that you might not be able to achieve from a single pencil. It can also help to smooth transitions in your work and also subdue the color in areas you want to de-intensify.
Finally, it can greatly expand a given set of colored pencils which allows you to tackle a much wider range of landscapes, portraits, and other pieces. However, there can be some challenges associated with blending in colored pencils, especially when compared to other popular artist tools like pastels and paint.
While some of the softer colored pencil lines can achieve acceptable blending by themselves, others will need a bit of assistance from outside means. In addition, some of the established blending methods will work better on one pencil line but leave another looking grainy and chalky. Because of this, it is important to try out a few different methods and see which works best for you and your particular brand of colored pencils.
To help simplify things, we will lay out many of the different approaches you can take to blending colored pencils, and also give some examples of pencils that blend pretty well by themselves. Hopefully, this will get you on the right track to improving your blending game! And, as always, we encourage you to experiment and find a specific approach that works for you.
Colorless pencil and marker blenders
Colorless blenders are pencils or markers that will contain wax and other fillers but no pigment. They are actually good for multiple tasks including fading and moving the color but in this context, they can be great for blending color as well. By introducing additional wax to the “wax stew” already on the canvas, they can help to mix the colors, resulting in a seamless transition.
These are very helpful and the fact that they come in pencil and marker form means that you can have great control over the application. However, over a large area using these might become a bit laborious. People sometimes ask us what we recommend. We are quite fond of the Prismacolor Blender Pencil.
A solvent is an additive liquid that you apply to the canvas that melts the binders, meaning that your wax becomes much more fluid and easily mixed. This can make your colored pencils almost feel like watercolors until the solvent dries, allowing for excellent color manipulation and mixing. We recommend using solvents for larger areas as you can transition color much more efficiently. However, for fine details using a solvent might get quite messy.
For many colored pencil brands using these will not do much, and might end up causing more harm than good. This is especially true on examples that use a very hard wax that doesn’t put out a thick layer of color. What will end up happening is you will simply remove color or bunch it up into clumps, resulting in an almost grainy appearance. This happens because the layer of color is too thin, and when you apply a harsh medium such as an eraser or paper stump to it, it removes nearly all of the color in the spot. However, this isn’t true for all colored pencils. The Albrecht Dürer and Polychromos lines, in particular, can handle such blending techniques.
We enjoy watercolor pencils because they really are the “best of both worlds”. A quality set of watercolor pencils will be able to be applied dry and act mostly like conventional colored pencils but, when exposed to water, turn into a great blending medium similar to a watercolor or paint. The Staedtler Watercolor line is a great example of this, and one that we recommend to anybody who is looking to get into watercolor pencils.
Blending properly takes a bit of practice and finding the right “feel” will vary from pencil brand to brand. Because of this, this isn’t a concrete approach that can be made with every pencil. Rather, we encourage you to experiment with your pencils and try a few of the different blending methods we have outlined and we which works for you and in what situations.
- Always lets your medium dry completely before adding another layer of solvent
- If you are using a blender, try putting down a layer of it first before adding color
- When adding color start with your lightest colors first since darks can be much more difficult to blend
- In areas that are near high-detailed features, burnish sparingly at first
- Avoid mixing your blending techniques in one area until you have a good understanding of each. Adding them on top of each other can create an overwhelming mess if you aren’t careful
- Try warming the tips of your colored pencils, especially if they are a harder wax. These will soften them considerably and allow them to lay down much more color which makes blending easier
- If using an eraser or paper stump, start with very little pressure as it is easy to completely remove the color from a spot. If you aren’t seeing any results to your liking, slowly add a bit more pressure
- When burnishing, vary the pressure you apply. Varying pressure points where help to create a more consistent blending effect.
These are a few tips and recommendations on how to blend your colored pencils. The most important thing we can recommend is simply jumping in and trying!