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” 



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