Paper blending stumps

Although paper blending stumps are probably used more for charcoal, graphite or pastel painting, they are equally as useful for coloured pencil techniques.

So what is a paper blending stump? Simply a piece of soft paper, which has been tightly rolled from one corner, to produce a firm, cylindrical tool that is smooth and pointed at both ends. They can be purchased in different sizes from art material suppliers or online, and are inexpensive.

Often they are confused by beginners with a tortillon (shown at the bottom of the photo above). These are rolled in a different manner resulting in single pointed tools, that are less robust but useful for getting into tiny areas of a drawing.

It is easy to make your own tortillons at home, if you are so inclined, but you can buy a whole box of them for very little expense.

What are blending stumps used for?

They are used to pick up and transfer the medium you are using, in our case, coloured pencil pigment. This can help you to smudge the pigment and smooth it out, as has been done on the left hand side of the photograph below. Soft core pencils work best with stumps and tortillons.

The mistake that many make is to use a heavy pressure when using a stump. This is not necessary. In fact you get a better result when you use a light hand to spread the colour gently. This prevents you from destroying the tooth of the paper, while still moving the pigment. It also makes it easier to erase any colour that ends up in the wrong place.

Heavy pressure when using a tortillon can cause the tip to push inside the tool. However, this can be rectified by using a thin piece of wire, such as an opened up paper clip, to push it out again. In the photo at the top of the page, the tip of the lowest tortillon has been pushed in.

If you use one of these tools on rough, sanded papers you can damage them, making them unsuitable for achieving the smooth effect you are aiming for. But if this happens don't throw them out, they could prove perfect when trying to render textured areas in your artwork, so put them to one side.

Ideally you will have plenty of paper stumps and/or tortillons at hand. Keep some for lighter colours and others for the darker values. That way you won't end up with bright blue pigment in the middle of the face that you are drawing! I keep mine separated in two small boxes, to prevent accidental pigment transfer. If you also use them for graphite or charcoal ensure they are kept in another box, to avoid mistakes.

An alternative way to use paper blending stumps

The most common way of using these tools is to first put your pigment on the paper and then blend it in place.

However, you can also use a spare piece of paper as a "palette" by scribbling your pencil, on it with firm pressure. Then you can gently rub the tip of your stump on the palette and transfer the colour across to your drawing.

In the photograph above, first the blue pigment was picked up on the paper stump and then laid into the top half of the shape. Then the yellow/brown colour was scribbled beside the blue, and both colours picked up together to create a greenish hue in the bottom of the shape.

Blending with a paper stump in this manner can create a smooth base layer. You can then work over this with your coloured pencils to build up the values and colour depth. 

Cleaning your paper blending stumps

With use, your stumps will end up with coloured tips. On occasion you may find the need to clean them.

This can be done by gently rubbing the tips on fine sandpaper sheets to grind off the impregnated paper. Place the sandpaper on your work surface and move the paper blending stumps, rather than the other way around.

Again, use a different piece of sandpaper for stumps that you have used to blend charcoal or graphite, from those you have used with your coloured pencils to prevent cross contamination.

After cleaning in this manner, you might need to remove any rough areas on your stump with a sharp craft knife, before finishing with a very fine glass paper to ensure the surface is smooth. Fine emery boards can also be utilised in this way.

The stump in the photo above is the same one I used for the two colour blending further up the page. It cleaned up nicely!

Please do not be tempted to repoint your stumps or tortillons by using a pencil sharpener!