UART Tip #03: Blending Colored Pencils with Ivor Harrison

For many new-colored pencil artist’s, using artist grade pencils can actually be quite a daunting process. When I purchased my first set of artist grade pencils, I thought it was a simple case of removing the pencil from the tin and laying down the required color, which was the reason my art was very flat and one dimensional. It wasn’t until I learned how to use artist grade colored pencils, that my art increased to a much higher level, and that is what I would love to share with UART customers today.

Of course it is worth noting, this tip is aimed at new comers to the art of colored pencil painting, however, it is not exclusively for new artists, others may pick up this tip and incorporate it into their art as an additional tool in their arsenal.

To start with, the paper you are using is such an important factor of any art project, and when it comes to blending colored pencil, there is no difference. If, however, you can get hold of UART’s high quality sanded paper, then you are in luck, the paper is so good that blending pencils together takes care of itself. However, the common types of paper colored pencil artists like to use are 140lb hot-pressed watercolor paper, which lends itself well to absorbing blending solvents; this type of paper is quite smooth. The other type of paper is a premium grade paper, specifically for colored pencils, which is a toothier paper, lending well to gripping lots of pigment and allowing for various blending techniques. There are many fantastic brands of both papers on the market, which can be overwhelming, but this is a subject I will be covering later.

There are actually a few methods when it comes to blending colored pencils and various tools for the job, however, in this article I will only be covering the solvent based blending technique.

Once you have selected the paper you are going to use, whether it is hot-pressed watercolor paper or a premium colored pencil paper. You have a good set of artist grade colored pencils, wax or oil based, the techniques are still the same.  Next on the list is the solvent itself; again, as with the paper and pencils, you are spoilt for choice, with excellent companies producing non-toxic solvents. Primarily all you really need to look for when selecting your solvent is that it is non-toxic. Even though you will not use much and not be sat all day breathing in the fumes, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

If you look at a professional colored pencil artist’s work, you will find it difficult to believe that the work has been done with colored pencils and perhaps convince yourself it is a painting. This is because the pigment from the pencils has been melted and blended to give the illusion of a painting. This is what the solvent will help you achieve. With a paintbrush or paper blending stump, you apply the solvent onto the pigment, which melts the pigment allowing you to move and blend the colors.

However, were a lot of new artists to the medium go wrong when they blend using this method, is they only apply one or two layers of the pigment. In order for this technique to work and give you the best possible results, many layers are needed before the solvent can be applied. The more layers that are applied, the more pigment there is to melt and therefore move about and blend. To try this technique with only one or two layers will only thin and dilute the pigment you have laid, resulting in washed out color.


Using solvents has another added benefit for the artists. When working with colored pencils, as I’ve mentioned, the paper is such an important factor. The more tooth in the paper, the more layers the artist is able lay, however, when building up the layers, the wax from the pencil will cover the tooth, making the layering process difficult the more layers applied. When the solvent is then applied in order to blend the pigment, the tooth of the paper is restored and the layering process can be reapplied to the same area. This is why it is important to layer with a light touch ensuring no damage is done to the tooth of the paper and leaving burnishing to the final layer if this is the particular effect you require.

And so, this is how to blend colored pencil using solvent, good quality paper, artist grade pencils and a paintbrush. A simple enough technique, but an incredibly effective one when done correctly. As with everything in life; simple when you know how.  I hope this tip has been helpful and beneficial to you.

Ivor Harrison

Columnist For Colored Pencil Magazine

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