Paper Blending Stumps: A Colored Pencil Artist's Secret Weapon

Discover the secret weapon many colored pencil artists swear by: paper blending stumps. However, others overlook them, thinking they are only used for graphite or charcoal drawings.

Blending stumps are wonderful for achieving smooth transitions between different colors in your artwork. They are particularly useful when shading shiny objects, as blending prevents abrupt transitions that can detract from the overall realism of your drawings.

By skillfully blending different colors and shades, you can bring your artwork to life, by blurring the edges of areas making them appear three-dimensional.

In this article, we will explore what paper blending stumps are, how to use them effectively, and even how to clean them for long-lasting use.

Say goodbye to those pesky white specks of paper and hello to a smooth and professional finish. Get ready to take your colored pencil art to the next level with this invaluable tool.

Understanding paper blending stumps?

Blending stumps, those cylindrical wonders crafted from tightly rolled paper, possess a remarkable versatility when it comes to blending larger areas of a drawing. On the other hand, tortillons, with their single-pointed nature, excel in the delicate art of tending to the tiniest corners and crevices on the drawing.

A selection of paper blending stumps and tortillons

Creating your own tortillons from scratch is easy, should you have the inclination. However, you can buy a whole box of them for very little expense so your time may be better spent drawing.

One thing to keep in mind is that soft core pencils, such as prismacolor or Holbein, work best with stumps and tortillons.

How to use paper blending stumps

Blending stumps are a valuable tool for artists, allowing you to gently move the pencil pigment into the color next to it, softening the edges and creating smooth transitions.

A common misconception is that heavy pressure is necessary when doing this. However, a lighter touch yields better results, preserving the tooth of the paper while still effectively spreading the pigment.

In fact, if you are using a tortillon, heavy pressure can cause the tip to push inside the tool. You will need 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.

Take a look at the left-hand side of the photograph below to see the results of a soft touch on the stump.

An example of pigment softly pushed into the paper with a blending stump

Alternative way of using 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.

Alternatively, you can transform a spare piece of paper into a vibrant "palette" by vigorously scribbling your pencil across its surface. With each stroke, apply firm pressure to create a rich and bold color. Once your palette is ready, delicately glide the tip of your stump over the pigment and spread it onto your artwork.

Blending two colors together with a blending stump

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.

Tips and precautions for using blending stumps

Here's a pro tip: keep a separate blending stump for each color family to avoid any unwanted mixing. Trust me, it makes a world of difference!

For similar reasons it's important to keep your graphite or charcoal stumps separate from your colored pencil ones.

Let me give you a friendly word of caution. These tools are like magic wands, capable of creating that perfect, velvety smooth finish you've been dreaming of. However, one careless stroke on a sanded paper and that all goes out the window. Your smooth stump will now be ragged and rough, completely ruining your desired effect.

If this happens, don't throw it out just yet! It could actually be perfect for creating textured areas in your artwork. So, instead, set it aside and keep it handy just in case.

Cleaning and maintenance of blending stumps

A blending stump with a sandpaper sharpener

Over time, your stumps will acquire vibrant, dyed tips. Occasionally, you may feel compelled to give them a thorough cleansing.

To effectively clean paper blending stumps, simply rub the tips gently on fine sandpaper sheets. This will help to remove any impregnated paper and keep your stumps in top condition.

To avoid mixing charcoal/graphite and colored pencil residue, opt for distinct types of sandpaper for each medium. This will ensure that your artistic tools remain untainted by any unwanted color transfer.

Once you've completed the cleaning process, it may be necessary to eliminate any rough patches on your stump using a razor-sharp craft knife. Afterwards, give it a flawless finish by gently sanding the surface with a very fine glass paper. Alternatively, you can achieve the same result by employing fine emery boards.

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!

Lastly, don’t use a pencil sharpener to repoint your stumps or tortillons.

Summing up

Now it's time to take action. Incorporate these tools into your artistic process and see the difference they can make in your colored pencil work.

Remember, practice makes perfect. Keep honing your skills and pushing the boundaries of your artwork.

Now that you have the secret weapon of paper blending stumps, go forth and create art

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