A Blending Conundrum

Soft core colored pencils are uniquely challenging when it comes to blending. Smudging and mixing are not an option, so what it is a colored pencil artist to do? It helps to understand a little bit more about these waxy, vibrant pencils and requires a shift in thinking from other mediums.

The most important thing to understand is that applying colored pencil is all about layering. The first step is familiarizing yourself with all of the colors you have. It can be very helpful to create a color swatch chart, so you can see how each pencil looks on paper at a glance. Eventually, reaching for the right color becomes second nature. I will often apply six or seven layers of pencil, because I want my finished piece to look like a painting. By applying many layers, I’m visually blending the colors and eliminating any visible pencil strokes.

Layering, or visual blending, is the primary colored pencil technique, but there are a couple of methods by which you can physically blend the pencil. With these methods, you are actually moving the wax around on the paper. In some cases, when you’ve added as many layers of pencil as possible, a colorless blending pencil (such as one made by Prismacolor) can be useful in pulling the colors together a little more. I sharpen mine in a pencil sharpener and then rub the tip on artist’s sandpaper to flatten it. Then I hold the flat tip against the paper and move it around in a circular motion. This method works well in small areas but isn’t very efficient for blending larger areas.

When I have a large area to blend, such as a background, I use odorless mineral spirits (OMS) to dissolve the wax and physically move it around. I dip a cotton swab in the OMS and apply it in a circular motion. The cotton swab should not be too saturated. You can blot it on a paper towel before putting it on the paper. It takes a minimum of 30 minutes for the OMS to dry. The great thing about this technique is that once the OMS is dry, you can continue to layer the pencil and even erase it as usual. I’ve even repeated the OMS after adding subsequent layers of pencil. It’s a lot of fun and a huge time saver.

Blending can be a little puzzling and even intimidating when you’re new to colored pencils. However, once you learn these techniques, the true beauty of the medium begins to unfold.