Burnishing Colored Pencil: Achieve a Smooth and Polished Finish

Burnishing colored pencil gives a smooth, polished finish to your artwork, by moving the wax that you have put down on the paper.

Burnishing colored pencil is one of the basic colored pencil techniques to learn, after you have mastered layering. However, it is not essential to use it on every piece of art.

It is especially useful if you are depicting something that would be smooth and glossy in real life, such as a vase or glass within a still life drawing

Let's look at burnishing colored pencil in more detail below.  

What do you need for burnishing colored pencil?

Your burnishing tool of choice could be one of these...

The first of these, the burnishing pencil, contains a similar wax material (without color) which picks up the pigment and spreads it out to remove any individual lines made by the colored pencils. 

While the burnishing pencil is an effective tool for removing those individual lines, there is another approach that can achieve a similar outcome.

Instead of using a burnishing pencil, you can opt for a lighter or white colored pencil. However, it's important to note that this method comes with a risk of lightening the color that you have built up previously. Additionally, due to the slick surface created by the burnishing process, adding further layers to bring back the depth of color can be challenging.

How to burnish colored pencil

This is a method of using firm pencil pressure to blend the colors on the paper. In effect, we are pressing the pigment and wax layers together and producing a smooth polished effect. This will rely first, on the amount of pigment already on the paper. Burnishing works best if there is a good amount of earlier color to work with.

To provide a simple illustration, I show below four images giving the stages of...

  1. the initial lightly layered color  
  2. the first additions of stronger color,
  3. the burnished result after a lighter color has been laid down on top under pressure and
  4. the addition of further layers of deeper color over the earlier burnish

For the illustration I have used cartridge paper (ideal for wax type colored pencils used entirely dry) and a selection of colours from the Caran d’Ache Luminance range. 

We can carry out this technique out with most coloued pencil types, but the softer wax based brands work best for burnishing colored pencil. These can also include Prismacolor Premiere, Derwent Coloursoft.

The initial layers laid down lightly on the paper establish shape and form, with areas of shadow and highlight. The pencil is stroking the paper so lightly that the grain of the cartridge paper shows in the granular covering of the brown pigment.

The initial layers of a drawing of an orange

As you can see, we have added some further color to develop the three-dimensional shape of the ball.

These lightly laid down layers of color still show the grain of the paper, but we are getting an excellent base of wax based pigment on the paper to work with. Burnishing colored pencil depends on a blending process, and we must have something to blend with.

I have used some new colors but have gone back over with more layers of some of the earlier ones as well.

Adding a second layer to the orange drawing

Here you can see that we have introduced a stronger yellow/orange over the whole shape and then burnished with heavy pressure.

You don’t need a sharp point on the pencil for this - the pencil is merely a tool to add a thin covering of color and work it in to the existing wax and pigment. You can see how the grain of the paper has disappeared from much of the image and the color has become much stronger, while the transparent orange of the recent layer has not totally obscured the shape and shading that existed before.

Burnishing colored pencil

I have now been able to work back over the burnished surface to define deeper colored areas.

In common with any other artwork, the temptation is to fiddle.

I could continue to work on this image with burnishing the top right highlight with cream to lighten it.

I believe I have done enough, though, to explain the process.

The completed burnished drawing of an orange

You can see from the above example that burnishing with a colored pencil will influence the overall color of the area worked. In addition, it deepens the intensity through losing the grain of the paper. 

After discussing the effect of burnishing with a colored pencil on the overall color and intensity, it is important to explore the different tools available for this technique.

Apart from using colored pencils, pencil manufacturers have created specific products designed to serve as blenders or burnishers.

Derwent offers a twin pack of blender and burnisher pencils, while Lyra has their 'Splender Blender' and Caran d'Ache offers a solid wax stick called a 'Full Blender Bright.'

These specialized tools provide alternative options for achieving the desired burnishing effect and can enhance the overall quality of your artwork. They rely on a stick of colourless material to soften and move the underlying pigment.

They can be very effective, though they do tend to seal in the earlier layers of pigment and make any further working of the image difficult - or impossible.

Lyra Splender Blender, Derwent Blender and Burnisher Pencils

The Lyra Splender, a tool for burnishing colored pencil, has been on sale in Europe for several years. It is not so easy to find but is available from Mail Order and Internet sources.

The Derwent Blender and Burnisher Pencils are a more recent arrival on the scene. They come in single pencils and also as part of a blister pack containing an eraser and a simple sharpener.

The prices are low so an individual mail order for one pencil is hardly economic, but if ordered with other items, they make sense and should be considered.

What do they actually do?

The names give a clue, but as the Derwent Burnisher is more closely likened to the Lyra Blender, and the Derwent Blender is a different animal altogether, they need to be examined and compared in more detail.

The Lyra Blender and the Derwent Burnisher will both act as a resist in putting down a layer of transparent wax that protects the paper surface from later layers of color. The Lyra Splender is softer than the Burnisher.

The Derwent Blender appears to apply a layer of very soft wax from the core, which acts more as a solvent to earlier layers of pigment. Let me say here that I see little difference in performance on top of either oil based or wax based pencils, even though Lyra comes from an oil based pencil manufacturer and Derwent a wax based one.

In a nutshell, I think the test sheet shown below shows up the differences.

Samples illustrating the use of blender pencils

I used Hot Pressed watercolor paper, two Faber Castell Polychromos and two Derwent Artist pencils for this burnishing colored pencil test. 

The green bars show the Derwent Burnisher (top) and Lyra Splender (bottom) used underneath a single layer of Faber Castell colored pencils as a resist. The hard points apply transparent wax and indent the soft paper surface, allowing the words below to show.

To the right of these bars are two tests using the Faber Castell pencils once again. The first block of four squares shows the Derwent option and the second the Lyra. The Derwent seemed somewhat softer and mushed the pencils into the surface more, giving a smoother result here. 

The second row of squares used Derwent Artist pencils. Again the Derwent Burnisher on the right side of the left group, and the Lyra on the right side of the right group.

Just to show the difference, the two odd squares furthest right show the effect of using a white pencil over the top for burnishing colored pencil. The finished color is much lighter and less intense.

I tried to use the same pressure as the colored pencils and the tools in the above tests. 

Caran d'Ache Full Blender

Photo of caran d'ache full blender pencil

The Full Blender from Caran d'Ache is a solid stick of high quality transparent wax - 100% solid material and 100% usable. 

It can be sharpened and works well with all the Caran d'Ache colored pencil products and other oil based and wax based brands. 

The wax is soft - I am told it is the same as the wax used in the core of the Luminance pencils, so we will naturally expect it to work well with Luminance colours. 

The test samples below show that the CDA blender works very well with the Luminance even on a low rate of color coverage. The lowest sample shows how the brown is picked up and carried over the white wax in all the samples.  

With Prismacolor, the white is also carried back over the brown and this shows up well.The wax pencil samples all work well and the only exception appears to be the light sample of Polychromos - an oil based pencil.

If you look at the right hand ( heavier weight) samples, all three tested brands - including the Polychromos - worked well.

The blender has a very soft wax content and really comes into its own when used purely as a blender on a combination of layers.

The new blender is shown to be very good at doing what it is intended for.

Samples of using the caran d'Ache blender

Which should you buy for burnishing colored pencil?

If you want to indent to resist color while burnishing colored pencil, you can use either a white (or light) pencil from your box, or use the Burnisher from Derwent. The Lyra is less effective for this purpose.  

If you want to blend color and bed it into the paper, both the Lyra and also the Derwent Blender are very effective.

The Caran d’Ache Full Blender is also good and would be worth while adding to your armoury of bits and pieces.

However, when burnishing colored pencil, the Caran d’Ache blender will be too soft to use for indenting a line and might be too difficult to use for a resist.

You may find it easier to buy the Derwent pair of pencils in the UK, though both the Derwent and Lyra brands are available by Mail Order and over the Internet. 

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