There are some who don’t consider colored pencil works to be art, but I know an entire Facebook group that would heartily disagree with you. In fact, colored pencil artists have some of the most technical hands around because their medium is rooted in realism and depends on complete accuracy–there is very little opportunity for reworking in colored pencil.
You’ve probably seen some of these hyper-realistic works for yourself and wondered how they got their colors to blend so smoothly. Well, this week, I’m here to show you!
There are a few options for blending colored pencils: mineral spirits/turpentine, rubbing alcohol, colorless blender pencils, or other colors themselves.
And I did all of my tests on a BRAND NEW Strathmore 400 Series Colored Pencil Pad.
This paper is so perfect for colored pencils because it’s bright white, guaranteed to make your colors POP, and has a very fine tooth to make blending much easier.
I started with the most interesting concept to me…mineral spirits.
When I heard about this technique, I was pretty surprised. But it makes sense if you think about it! The mineral spirits break down the binder, just like it would most other binders, and makes the pigment move more fluidly across your drawing surface. Simple science!
For my first Mineral Spirits test, I began by coloring in a thick, (mostly) solid layer of my lightest color, Violet Lake.
Through a series of pre-tests, I found that blending methods are more effective if you put down a heavy layer of color than if you lightly color in a section. It’s also a lot easier to get even coverage if it’s all the same value.
I dipped a blending stump directly into my bottle of Odorless Turpenoid and let it soak up a good bit.
And through medium-pressure rubbing, I was able to blend my entire circle!
Next, I colored in some uneven shades of my next-darkest color, Imperial Violet.
And blended it just the same.
I was so impressed by the coverage and the way the mineral spirits broke down the binder to distribute the pigments so evenly.
I followed suit with my darkest color, Violet, just coloring in the darkest parts of my sphere.
And blended that as well.
I’d have to say that’s a pretty effective blending technique. A nice, seamless transition of colors.
Compare it to a non-blended sphere, like the one below:
This sphere is actually part of my second Mineral Spirits test.
For this one, I laid down all of my colors at once and blended them together, instead of in layers.
And here’s what I got. A bit of washed out color in the middle, but I was able to go back in and darken it with a second application and blend of Imperial Violet:
Not bad. Not quite as saturated as the first Mineral Spirits test, but still an effective blend of colors.
Next, I moved onto rubbing alcohol.
Again, I colored in all of my layers of colors, then dipped my blending stump into a bottle of just regular Isopropyl Alcohol, and used a bit more pressure to rub the colors together.
Not quite as smooth as the Mineral Spirits, but still a better blend than how it started off.
I decided to try a layered technique, like with the first Mineral Spirits test, and colored in and blended a solid layer of Violet Lake.
Still not rendering a seamless blend, but it’s smoother.
When I tried to add a layer of Imperial Violet, there was some resistance in certain places. It was like the alcohol had created some type of protective coat on the layer of Violet Lake, and it wasn’t accepting any additional pigment/binder.
This became even more clear when I tried to blend the Imperial Violet:
Hardly any of it stayed; most of the color just came off onto my blending stump and would not adhere to the paper.
So it would appear that layering alcohol blends would not be the way to go…
My next test was using a colorless blending pencil.
The science behind colorless blending pencils is that they’re 100% binder and zero pigment. And because it’s just binder, it basically works your existing colors into the paper and fills in the little sections of tooth with a clear-dull binder, so the pure white of your paper doesn’t show through.
Since you want as much pigment as possible to be on the paper before you blend, you need to get out ALL of your layers of colors first. Once you put that blender over it, there will be very little tooth left in the paper to hold onto additional pigments.
Hey, that’s not bad at all! I was extremely impressed with the colorless blender because it did exactly as its name entails!
In a later test of this test, I found that you could either do heavy layers of color or lighter layers, and they still blended pretty effectively. Though the heavy layer is clearly the brighter, more saturated result.
Finally, I tried the technique of using your lightest color as a blender–basically the same principle of using a colorless blender, only it’s not colorless.
Once again, I laid down all layers of color.
And then I used Violet Lake to blend them all together:
Pretty comparable to the colorless blender, but with a hint more of Violet Lake (which isn’t a terrible thing, since that was my base layer to begin with.)
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of all of my blending techniques. (You can click to enlarge!)
I think the colorless blender is probably my favorite because it retained the pigment best.
While I think the Mineral Spirits 1 test gave a smoother blend, it also lost a lot of color in the process.
In the comments below, let me know of any more blending techniques you guys have heard of and which of these you like the best!