Colored Pencils Blending Techniques

This is a quick overview of blending techniques with colored pencils that I use in my colored pencils classes (and in my own artwork). These simple techniques can be used to create the basis of realistic and expressive artwork in colored pencils.

Blending Techniques

I use three different techniques for blending colored pencils to achieve blends of colors as well as desired textures.

Layering

Colored pencils can be blended by layering different colors on top of each other. For the most control and smoothest blend, start with light pressure, holding the pencil at the far end, and coloring with the side of the pigment rod (rather than the tip).

Add layers of pigment directly on top of previous layers, alternating between colors to achieve the desired saturation of color without burnishing the tooth of the paper (flattening the paper, which will make adding further layers of color or details more difficult).

Burnishing

Burnishing is an option for blending. This method creates heat, melting the medium (oil or wax) and allowing the pigment to mix on the paper. It also flattens the tooth of the paper to create a smooth surface.

A colorless blender is one tool for burnishing. This is a pencil with a rod of medium (wax in my example) and no pigment. Use it to layer over colored pencil, or use the tip to blend small areas.

A paper tortillon can also be used to burnish colored pencil for blending. Make sure your tortillon does not have any other pigment on it from previous use to prevent smearing and mudding color.

Blending with Solvent

Using a solvent to blend colored pencils may be preferable to burnishing if you want to add further layers of color and details ontop of a blended layer. An important thing to remember with using a solvent is to have enough pigment on the paper before applying solvent — if there isn’t enough pigment, the solvent will soak into the paper and create a grease spot.

Solvent is typically odorless mineral spirits, the same that would be used with oil painting. This is a flammable material and should be used and stored with care.

To blend with solvent, layer colored pencil on paper. Layer with more than one color if desired. Use a small paint brush to dip into the solvent, and a towel or tissue to blot the brush and remove any excess (less is better, more can be added, but too much will make grease spots!). Brush gently over the colored pencil you wish to blend.

Allow blended areas with solvent to dry completely before continuing to color or draw over them. The solvent can soften the paper and make it easy to tear, or get onto your colored pencil and make it muddy or soft. I allow my solvent blended areas to dry for 30 – 60 minutes before continuing to work on them. When the area is dry, you can add more color in layers or in details.


Those are the basics for blending colored pencils! From here, we can create so many cool, colorful images, with details and different blends of color! In the next few posts, I’ll focus on techniques for lighting, shading, texture and shaping.

Color Pencils & Tools Overview

For my colored pencils classes and my own work, I like to use a combination of wax- and oil-based pencils, plus some handy tools I always have nearby. Here’s an overview of a basic collection of colored pencils and tool.

Types of colored pencils

Colored pencils are pigments suspended in a medium, pressed into a rod and encased in wood (usually). There’s a lot of variation in types of medium, and form (color sticks, for instance are basically colored pencils!).

Wax-based pencils like Prismacolor are usually less expensive while still offering high-quality pigments. Their soft core means smooth texture which can easily blend through layering. Their tips are also easier to break, meaning these can be used up rather quickly.

One thing to note about wax pencils, when layering color, a waxy “bloom” can appear on work, creating a large shiny area.

Faber-Castell colored pencils are pigments encased in an oil & wax medium. Their pigment rods are harder than wax-only pencils, keeping their sharp tips longer and offering the ability to layer colors well without having to add too much pigment.

These pencils tend to be more expensive, but last longer with good care. These work very well with the solvent blending method.

Papers & Equipment

Paper is a matter of personal preference. I’ll typically use my beloved cheap watercolor paper in colored pencils classes, and for illustration studies. I like this kind of paper because it offers a sturdy surface and tooth that can grip the pigment in colored pencils really well, and also hold up to burnishing and solvent blending methods. I also typically like to use colored pencils with watercolor in mixed media pieces, for which this paper is ideal

I also typically use a lot of carbon transfer paper to layout designs I’ll use in my colored pencils illustrations. In classes, I don’t focus on drawing very much, and so this is a handy shortcut for getting designs onto your preferred paper and ready to color without first having to sketch or draw. I do also use carbon transfer paper in my own finished work, which allows me to sketch an illustration or deisgn on a separate sheet of paper that I can erase and make changes to, and then to transfer the illustration to a sheet of paper for the final work.

Tools-wise, I’ll most commonly use (in the image, left to right): a horse hair drafting brush to brush away pigment dust, low-tack washi tape, paper tortillions for burnishing, odorless mineral spirits for solvent blending, kneaded eraser, x-acto knife, embossing tool, paint brushes (for solvent), drafting pencil. I also value a high quality pencil sharpener – one that can anchor to the table or otherwise create stability is preferred. I use a Derwent pencil sharpener.

That’s the super quick overview of a colored pencils tools set up that I use. In the next post, we’ll get into blending techniques.