Monday, June 29, 2015

Graying Out The Background

Still working on the mockingbird at the feeder


Once the blue back ground on my mocking bird drawing was dry I realized it was much too vivid. What you saw when looking at it, was the background, not the gray mockingbird.


The blue did not compliment, or complete the drawing, it competed or distracted from the subject. So it had to go.


But not completely. It needed to be grayed out. Rather than putting a wash of gray or black watercolor over it, or even a thin layer of orange (blue’s complement) I decided to use gray colored pencil, then blend it with the blue watercolor to mute but not eliminate the blue background.


While it will take hours to complete, it will be well worth the effort. The temptation to press down, to cover this large area quickly is great, but you have to resist it. A soft touch is also necessary. You will want to press down, using pressure to get the most complete coverage in one pass. This is not the best way. Slow and steady. Soft, even strokes will give the best coverage, most workable coverage.


For this background I did switch to Derwent’s color soft pencils, the Dove Gray. This is a medium toned warm gray. I like the color softs by Derwent because they are English pencils, a little thicker than my American or German made pencils. As such the cores are also a little thicker and not as subject to breaking as the thinner American and German pencils.


The background of gray went on fairly well. Watercolor does make a nice, medium toothed surface that takes the colored pencil much better than blank watercolor paper.
I am much happier with the overall effect, even though I have not yet finished blending in the background. You see the bird first here, which is what is important.

I am going to use a liquid medium to blend the gray over the blue for a smoother, more uniform look.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Colored Pencil Blending Media

Blending Color Pencil:  Spirits And Beyond


There are many things I have tried and heard of when using colored pencil.

sample squares

Previously, I used the wax blending pencil that is commonly sold to blend colored pencil, showing how well it works. There are drawbacks to this. One, it is hard work. You can only blend a small area at once, and it does add wax to the artwork, which contributes to wax bloom. None of this is insurmountable, and at times is an advantage. The wax bloom is easily removed with a soft cloth or the burnishing pencil. You can seal a finished work with reworkable drawing fixative, which is reduce future wax bloom. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing wax bloom on a work that you mounted and framed a month ago.


But Back To Blending.


Alcohol, in many forms can be used. Recently, while out of town, I wanted a blending medium that I could safely use outside the home. I have used Rubbing Alcohol at home, so I tried using alcohol wipes. The kind you get in the little foil wrappers. This does work, but you can to be careful not to rub too hard. The alcohol will remove the colored pencil. Something to remember if you do have to lift any pencil. But blotting with the wipe, then using a soft brush or cotton swab does blend pretty well. It might be a good option when traveling. Motoring down the highway with open cans of mineral spirits might not be a good idea.


blending pen or marker
Another option is using the blending pen or marker now sold by prismacolor. It comes in a double pointed pen, just like their fine art markers, and does work with wet marker to blend. This is portable, dries quickly and works pretty well. So it is a good option when traveling. It can have a bit of an odor, a problem for anyone sensitive to the smell of markers, but it did not both me at all. I like the results and can be used over the entire drawing without leaving any rings or residue. Work from light to dark, and wipe off the marker between colors on a soft cloth or paper towel. 


If The Spirit Is Willing


To see just what works and how well some of the other things I have heard of to blend color pencil works, I am going to do an experiment. There are many different substances recommended for this and talked about in books and on the internet, but you have to wonder just which are best.


Taking a sheet of Strathmore Mixed media paper, 140 lb, vellum, I drew a loose grid. There were 4 squares across the top, and 5 rows down for 5 different blending media.


The media tested were:
Media used

  1. Blending marker
  2. Sansodor painting media
  3. Denatured alcohol
  4. Vodka
  5. Baby oil


I used two types of colored pencils, studio and professional grade. The studio pencils were from Derwent the professional pencils from prismacolor. No real reason to choose these, other than I already had them.


I colored in the blocks with 2 layers of the studio grade pencils and a single layer of the professional pencils. All squares are equal.


To be consistent, I used the same method to blend the pencil, a dry brush with a soft sable watercolor brush.


Blending Pen
sample with blending pen


For this, I was not able to use the dry-brush method. The pen comes with duo tips, one large flat and one small pointed, just like a fine art marker. Actually it worked quite good. Does a good job, with no staining. I have used it also to blend multiple layers of different pencils together and it did work well. You do need to go over every speck of the drawing. This can be good or bad, depending on how you work, but the pen blends quickly and dries quickly. It is very clean and easy to use, blends many brands equally well. It is not the cheapest to use, and I have not had it long enough to tell how quickly it dries out, but if you work in colored pencil a lot, it may or may not be an issue.


After the blending pen, the next mediums were all liquid and applied with a brush.




Sansodor pro samples
Sansodor studio pencils
This is a painting medium designed for oil painting and for that it works wonderfully. Which is why I have several bottles of this. I did find it a bit “oily” with colored pencil. It took a bit more work to get it to blend smoothly, but it did a good job. Any drawbacks were much more noticeable with the harder, studio grade pencils than the professional ones. With the studio, there was a little staining that did dry out the next day. But remember, this medium was not designed for colored pencil. It did dissolve the wax to allow you to work the pigment,  and it is very low odor.


Denatured Alcohol


This is a very pure liquid, which makes it good for many fine art applications. It does a really good job blending. It dries really fast, so you have to work quickly if you are blending many layers and colors together. The denatured alcohol is stronger, more filtered than regular rubbing alcohol. This make it better to use with graphite, charcoal and colored pencil. It also works well with the polychromes.
top row Denatured alcohol
middle row vodka 




Actually you can also use gin, which I imagine would work similarly, but since I did not have any gin and did have vodka, I used that.


What makes it work is of course the alcohol in it. It is the alcohol that dissolves the wax. Surprisingly, I found the vodka did the best job of blending on the studio grade pencils. It also work on my stash of the cheaper brands as well as the prismacolor Very thins. Just a side note.


The fact that it works well might come in handy traveling when you can get a shot of vodka easily, but not other substances. It did not leave any residue or odor.  Who knew?

Baby Oil


Finally, I tried baby oil. Now this would never have occurred to me. Baby oil does not dissolve wax so using it to blend is not something I would have come up with. But I have had conversations with people on the internet about using baby oil to blend colored pencil and I wanted to see if it does work.

Baby oil studio pencils

It does blend it. Why it works I am not totally sure, but it does. Works ok with the studio grade, and very well with the professional ones. It is oily, of course, and leaves a bit of a residue at first. When I first tried it, I though, this is not good. But the next day the staining and residue were gone. This might be a good solution to anyone bothered by the smell of any other method. It does smell good. My concerns are more about long-term effects on the artwork.


Will It Take More Pigment?
pigment added to the alcohol pro pencils


One concern, especially with the baby oil, is would the artwork take additional layers? I have used both the wax pencils and mineral spirits for years with no adverse effects. Using the liquid medium for blending actually helps the artwork take additional layers. But I had not used any of these other mediums enough to see if they would take more layers, and I have heard that the baby oil would not. Once you use it, you are done.
Baby oil after more studio pencil added


Rather than rely on other people’s talk, I decided to see for myself.


The next day, after all samples had had time to dry out. I tried adding more colored pencil.


All samples, including the baby oil readily took additional pencil. I do think you have to let the baby oil set up over night to take more pencil. I also find that the sansodor needs more time to set up than the alcohol methods, but all samples worked just fine.


You can work wet on wet with mineral spirits, but it will effect your pencils. And I would be seriously concerned about my pencils working on the baby oil while still “wet” 



Monday, June 15, 2015

Blending Colored Pencil with Mineral Spirits

 While there are many methods handy to blend colored pencils, most of us have our favorites.
Just some of the brushes I use with CP
I do use stumps, and blending pencils, and even burnishing pencils. I have several stiff brushes I keep just for blending. And soft cloths and chamois leathers. But I have to admit I use mineral spirits the most when working with colored pencil. I like the way I can work multiple layers into smooth, graduated color. Since I like to work on thicker papers or even boards, the liquid mineral spirits are not a problem.

First off some basic information:
  • Use artist quality mineral spirits, not hardware stuff. You want something pure that will not leave a line or residue on your artwork. I have made the mistake of using hardware store mineral spirits and lived to regret it.

  • You do need to be careful you do not over saturate the paper when using mineral spirits. this is not a real problem on boards, but on thinner paper, it can wrinkle.

There are several techniques to using mineral spirits, and a number of different ways to apply it. I have used a lint-free cloth, a cotton swap and various brushes from very soft watercolor to rather stiff rounds. Each gives a different effect. Which method or technique you use will depend on the results you wish. Experiment.


I favor the dry brush method. For me, this gives the greatest control. It also allows me to blend the various layers as I would an old painting. You can also blend adjacent colors smoothly.
Some soft brushes I use with Mineral Spirits
Just what is dry brush with a liquid? It is when you dip your brush into the liquid, then wipe off the excess. so the brush is just damp, not wet. This gives you the most control. You want to make sure you only blend what you want, not the entire picture.
For this method I use a range of fine watercolor brushes. I favor natural brushes, but what you are looking for is a smooth, fine brush that gives you both the coverage you need as well as fine control. Something with a little spring in it.
  • I do use a range of brushes with colored pencils, for a number of different tasks. These do include blending.
  • Usually you will let the paper dry before you resume using colored pencil. But not always. Sometimes when the paper does not seem to be accepting any more colored pencil, a light wipe with mineral spirits, and it will take more. This is very true when you do not seem to be able to get the bright highlights you want.
So, now for the examples. I will show you just how using mineral spirits on my Horse, Dog and Rider drawing.

Here, you can see the flank of the horse, with the various colors of the coat in, but rather messy. I have not blended them at all. I want all those colors. You can see the grainy ness of the pencil, the unevenness of it.

The same area of the drawing after the application of dry-brushed mineral spirits. Here, the use of the soft, flat watercolor brush plays a large role in how much this now looks like an oil painting.

You can also see how using the mineral spirit has changed the entire painting.

Horse, Dog and Rider before blending
Horse, Dog and Rider after blending

Neither of these photos is retouched or color/exposure corrected.  You can see just how much more vivid the colored pencil is after the use of mineral spirits to blend.

What can happen over time with colored pencil is a wax "bloom" which dulls the drawing. The mineral spirits do help to eliminate this

For the leather I layered browns and French grays, then used mineral spirits to "blend" them into the rough, worn look of leather.

I also used several different reds on the sweater, then used a soft round to blend the edges of the colors to look more like fabric.

Brushing the neck of the horse, I was able to add back the whites that create a difference between the neck and the mane. I brushed mineral spirits onto the drawing, and then while it was still damp, used both white and cream to develop the mane.




Monday, June 8, 2015

Blending Colored Pencil 2: Using a Stump or Paper Blender


Blending is a necessary step when using colored pencil. In this, it is much like painting. One method to use is the blending stump. This is a piece of formed newsprint paper. It can have either two pointed ends, the stump, or simply be a rolled piece of blank newsprint known as a tortillon. This has only one pointed end and is hollow. This is softer than the stump. Both have their good points and bad points. 

Now, using this stump will work. I know many artist who use these tools with many soft drawing medium. They can be quite effective, but also quite distinctive. It also has the danger of crushing the paper fibers, making erasure just about impossible. The tendency is to really bear down on the stump, and this is what will cause the fibers to crush.  

I am not saying don’t do this. I use this method a lot, but know what you are getting. It can be a very effective way to blend layers of colored pencil.

Note: What I show here are store bought, but you can make your own with clean newsprint. They are simply readily available and cheap enough not to be worth it to me.

I do try to keep my pressure lighter and use the friction of fast movement to blend the colored pencil. The binder is wax and there will be some heat from the friction.
A few pictures will show you the effects of using these paper blending tools. First is a picture of sparrow I drew in colored pencil. It is unblended and simply the layers of colored pencil on paper.
In this close-up you can see the unblended tail and wood of the feeder. You can see how grainy the surface is, and how unfinished it looks.
There is a small start to the blending in the right corner near the tail, but over all, does not look that good. OK, just not great
Clearly this is not a finished drawing.
You can see in this next photo, the beginning of blending, and how dirty the paper blender is getting! It is quite possible to move the pigment around simply with the blending tool.
Care needs to be taken not to over blend, or to contaminant adjoining colors. Usually, I do start with the lightest area to blend. For this, I started with the darkest to show you the effect better. But normally, start with the lights and work to the darks.
You can and should keep this tool clean. It is easy to do with a sandpaper pad. It will also keep the point on the tool sharper, and thus more effective.
You can see the previously dirty stump has been cleaned off by simply sanding away the dirt.
Note: You can also see that I will touch up the points of my colored pencils with the sandpaper pad.
Here, the right half has been blended with the paper blender.
It does a good job, but the effect is rather distinctive. You can usually tell when this tool is used.
Not bad, and the effect is good, if this is what you want.
Practice with them and you will learn how much and when to use this tool.
This last photo is with the blending of the picture complete.  Blending the pigments does increase the saturation. You will notice that the wood is much darker after blending. No more pencil was added, simply the use of the blender. I also used the blender on the bird itself, to saturate the pigment of the feathers.
This is just one way to do this. there are still several more ways to blend colored pencil.
You can use various solvents and a color blending marker.
I will show you how to do this another time. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Blending Colored Pencil - One


Blending can make a drawing look more saturated. It can also help achieve the color/shading you want. Even with the wide range of colored pencils available, there are so many more colors in nature, that it would be impossible for any company to truly make all the colors. One way to achieve the color you  want is to layer, then blend the pigments together.

There are many ways to do this.

Word of warning: there are always downsides to any blending method.
The one you choose will depend on the desired results,
the tools you have available and the support and pencils you are using.

Another reason for blending is to eliminate those little tiny white flecks that seem to appear and will not disappear even layer after layer. These are small flecks of the paper showing through the colored pencil. 

Because no paper is absolutely smooth, all papers/surfaces will have some texture, some amount of ups and downs. The rougher the paper, the deeper the valleys and higher the hills. The very texture that gives the paper the “tooth” you might want will also be the cause of some of this flecking or other undesired textures.  

Part of this can be controlled by making sure your pencil is always sharp and turning it as you draw. Also the length and pressure of the strokes will effect the coverage. Long straight strokes are more likely to be uneven and leave distinct flecking. While you might be tempted to really grind it in, I cannot recommend a heavy pressure. This will result in crushing the fibers of the paper, making permanently indenting the pigment in the paper. Any adjustments will be very difficult. also, it will be really eliminate the flecking. I do recommend a firm but light touch when using this medium, as this will give you the best control.

Blending pencil
Note: it will pick up some pigment.
Clean it with a sandpaper pad.
You can use a stump to blend, and I will talk about this in another post (not my most recommended method) but today we will work with a blending pencil. Many manufacturer of colored pencils will also supply a blending pencil. This is a pencil that is simply the clear, wax medium. You can use it to rub across the layers of already applied pigments, blending the layers together. Depending on the pressure, and the speed (friction from fast passes will blend more than slow passes) several layers can be blended into much smoother, polished color. This is what the pencil is for. Practice will help you know when and how much to apply.

If you press really hard, you will, of course crush the fibers. Sometimes this will actually work to you advantage, and is more effective on thicker paper. I can’t recommend it. I usually do not find it necessary. But I have seen it used very effectively on large dark backgrounds.  

Blending pencils can be use throughout the drawing process. It can be used to blend layers together and then more layers can be applied over it. Any wax bloom ( and there usually is) can be buffed away with a soft cloth. There is also a burnishing pencil, a bit harder than the blender and this can be very effective in the end to bring out a shine to the artwork. I usually hold back the burnisher until the work is done, as a finishing touch.
Here I show you a wood block, part of a new drawing of a bird at a bird feeder. The weathered block is wood, but the surface is worn and very smooth. 

 In this first picture, you can see the color has deepened and the background flecking has been eliminated on the right side of the picture using only the clear blending pencil. On the left the pigments are more uneven and in places the white paper shows though.

 In this last photo, the entire platform has been blended with the wax pencil into worn wood. Notice how much richer the colors are, although no new color has been added. Simply a layer of clear wax rubbed in.