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8 Simple Ways to Blend Colored Pencils

Hey, fellow art enthusiasts! Recently, I have been transitioning from graphite to colored pencils, and one of my biggest struggles so far has been blending colors. It isn’t as straightforward as blending graphite with a stump because with colored pencils, you’re not just looking to achieve a smooth gradient of values with blending, but potentially also mixing two or more colors to create a new palette.

Since last week, I have been trying out different ways to blend colored pencils, and in this post, I share 8 methods that I have found to be useful along with example cards to demonstrate the techniques.

8. Layering

I applied the layering technique to layer Magenta on top of Pthalo Blue to create a deep Purple.

Layering involves the process of gently shading multiple coats of different colors on top of one another. It is a simple way to increase the color range while working with the colored pencils you already have.

With the layering technique, you’re basically looking to apply the minimum pressure required to shade in a coat of color. The first layer requires the least amount of pressure, and each subsequent layer will require slightly more pressure. As long as you don’t disrupt the texture of the paper, you can pretty much add in as many layers as you need to create rich tones.

7. Hatching

I did parallel hatching with Dark Brown and Orange colored pencils to create a Brownish-Orange.

Hatching involves drawing a set of parallel lines. In colored drawing, you can hatch lines of varying colors, weights, and spacing to blend different colors and smooth out the value transitions.

Compared to other coloring techniques, hatching is a more vivid style of blending, and I love that you can trace the movement of pencil strokes from the drawing, something that often gets lost in other styles of blending.

6. Burnishing

I colored a bright layer of Cadmium Yellow first and burnished a Scarlet Red over it to create the Orange.

Burnishing involves pressing the colored pencil really hard with the intent of flattening out the paper texture or ‘tooth’. This leads to a vibrant blend of colors and does a great job of hiding the remnants of white stuck between shades of colors.

Once the paper has been burnished, it is not possible to layer another color on top of it, so this technique is best reserved for last, once you’ve already layered the lighter colors first.

5. Oiling

I burnished Emerald Green over a layer of Cadmium Yellow and applied a thin layer of Paraffin Oil with a brush.

If you use oil-based colors like the Faber Castell Polychromos that I use, then you can use paraffin oil (also known as mineral oil) with any beaten-up paintbrush to create a soft and painterly blending effect.

A word of caution: You’ll have to use it on paper suitable for wet media and be careful not to overapply it because it can bleed through the other side of the paper or stain parts of the drawing.

If you use wax-based colored pencils like Prismacolor, many artists suggest it is better to blend with a very thin application of rubbing alcohol instead of mineral oil, although I haven’t tried it myself.

4. White color

I blended the Orange and Brown shading with a dash of white. I also tried to blur out some of the hard edges by going over those with a white pencil.

The white pencil usually found in most colored pencil sets can be a godsend for blending colors with lower intensity and is also a great way to create soft edges that fade into the background.

Some artists prefer to blend with a colorless pencil over the stock white pencil because it is reportedly less chalky and easier to work with so you might also give that a try.

3. Color dusting

I rubbed some Blue powder with a brush to create a soft base tone.

If you want to lay in a smooth and consistent tone of color for the background of your drawing, then you might chisel a colored pencil’s tip with a sharpener and use an old brush to spread the color dust on the paper.

The advantage of using this over shading directly with a colored pencil is that the color dust can easily reach the microscopic bumps in the paper and really settle in. It is perfect for when you want a light-colored background with minimal patches of white, which is otherwise difficult to achieve if you shade lightly with a pencil.

2. Smudging

I smudged the Scarlet Red over the Blue and this created a nice misty mix.

Although it is frowned upon by the purists, smudging with your finger is an easy way to blend the harsh color transitions.

Personally, I try to keep smudging restricted to the background or when I know I’ll go over the smudged area with another layer of shading to bring back some of the vibrancy.

1. Just vary the pressure!

I shaded the Green progressively harder as I moved down to control the transition of value.

If mixing two colors is not the objective and you simply wish to create a smooth transition of value in the same color, then a quick way to do that would be to vary how much pressure you apply.

Similar to drawing with graphite, the more pressure you apply and the more perpendicular you hold the pencil against the paper, the darker the value, and vice versa.

In the next few weeks, I plan to do lots of colored drawing practice, so I’ll be updating this post to reflect what I have learned. If you would like to share your tips and process for blending colored pencils, please let me know in the comments below. Happy drawing! ✏️