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5 Easy Ways to Blend a Pencil Drawing

Hey there, fellow artists! As you probably already know, blending can be a great tool to make your drawings look more interesting and polished by smoothing out the transition of values in a more gradual and subtle way.

In this post, I’ll be diving into five of my favorite blending techniques that you can use in your pencil drawings to add that extra touch of charm to your artwork. I also explain what I particularly like and dislike about each method, and share some tips for improving your blending skills.

So grab your pencils, and let’s blend away!

1. Finger smudging: Lazy, But Feels So Natural!

Ah, my trusty fingertips- the unsung heroes of my blending arsenal. Finger smudging is like DIY blending for the “artistically lazy” (yup, that’s me!). It’s convenient, natural, and surprisingly easy to pick up.

The only downside? Erasing smudged parts can be a real challenge. Those sneaky finger oils leave their mark, even after a good erasing session. But hey, who needs pristine perfection anyway? I love finger smudging for blending large sections of my drawings quickly.

2. Blending stump: A Sophisticated Affair.

A slightly more sophisticated way to level up your blending game is to use a blending stump (also known as tortillon) which is basically just a rolled-up paper that you can hold like an ordinary pencil.

To be honest, I haven’t been a particular fan of using blending stumps in the past, but after using them for a while, they seem to be growing on me. It’s less messy and gives you better control over blending than your finger ever will. It is also easier to erase blended sections for creating highlights because the oils from your fingers don’t transfer onto the drawing surface.

From my experience though, blending with a blending stump is less smooth compared to finger smudging which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But one problem I encounter especially when using a new stump is that the blended area tends to be streaky so I avoid using it where I want a softer transition of values.

Blending stumps are fairly cheap and last you a long time but you can also create your own fairly easily by rolling up any ordinary paper after applying a thin layer of glue to hold it together and sharpening its end with a pencil sharpener once the glue has dried firmly.

Avoid using tissue papers for creating blending stumps though because they deform too quickly and leave bits of residue on the drawing surface.

3. Kneaded eraser: Not Just for Erasing Mistakes!

Who knew kneaded erasers could moonlight as blending tools? Certainly not me, until I realized they are really useful in blending some of the most intricate details in the final stages of a drawing such as the eyes in a portrait.

To use kneaded erasers for blending, gently dab the messy side to keep things smooth and avoid lifting too much graphite. You can mold these erasers to a pointy end for blending tiny details or shape them big to tone down the large values.

4. Blending with a Paintbrush: Silky Smooth and Fancy.

Using a paintbrush to spread the graphite powder across the drawing surface gives a really smooth and silky blending that is perfect for softer transitions and laying in a uniform tonal background.

You can try a bunch of different cheap synthetic paintbrushes to see what works best for you. But remember, don’t splurge on your expensive Sable brush for pencil blending because it is likely to ruin it for painting.

One drawback of using a paintbrush for blending is that it is more difficult to confine the blending area compared to other methods, and is therefore more suited to a loose drawing style.

Pro tip: Collect that graphite residue after each sharpening session and stash it away in a small container to practice this blending technique.

5. Pencil hatching: the Mount Everest of blending techniques.

Hatching lines of varying lengths, weights, spaces, and directions is how the old masters used to smoothen out the value shifts in their drawings and is something I aspire to achieve in my drawings one day.

Without a doubt, this takes a lot of time, planning, patience, practice, and confidence to pull it off convincingly (did I mention patience).

But I love the raw, energetic, and brute quality that overlapping hatched lines bring to a drawing which I feel is sometimes lost when we smudge the graphite using other blending techniques.

3 Tips for improving your blending skills

  1. Soft hatching for smooth blending: If you’re going for smooth blending, be gentle with your hatch lines. You’re not drawing a tiger in the jungle; it’s all about that subtle touch.
  2. Embrace the unblended: Don’t go crazy with blending every inch of your drawing. Leave some parts unblended to add a bit of contrast and emphasize the focal points.
  3. Soften the edges to add depth: Want to create depth? Blend those background edges softly! In conjunction with hard edges in the foreground, It’ll give your artwork that extra three-dimensionality.

And there you have it, fellow artists – blending techniques for days! Whether you choose to smudge with your finger or dance with a blending stump, embrace the quirks, and enjoy the artistic journey. Remember, even Leonardo da Vinci had his off days!

Happy drawing, my friends, and keep those pencils moving!