A question most artists out there have asked, what is the best way to blend differing tones of graphite pencils together? I remember from a young age, trying to blend with my thumb and rubbers all creating a bold smudge effect, quite often ruining my drawing.
WHAT ACTUALLY IS A BLENDING STUMP / TORTILLION
Blending stumps are basically tightly rolled up paper sticks, that are sharpened at each end and come in a variety of different sizes.
Tortillions are made exactly the same, but are just sharpened at on end and rolled tighter than blending stumps. Both blending stumps and Tortillions have two distinct uses, blending stumps are for larger areas of your drawing you want to blend, such as the cheeks on a face or clouds on a landscape. Tortillions are much harder and dont blend as easily as blending stumps, they are used more effectivly when blending smaller areas, such as eyes on a portrait and areas of tiny detail.
USING A BLENDING STUMP
Its not too disimilar to using a pencil, in the same way you lower your pencil to get broader strokes, doing this with your smudge stick will blend wider areas. Give it a try on a spare sheet of paper, change the position of your hand, vary the angles you hold the blending stump, the more upright you hold it the more precise your blending will be. NOTE: do remember when doing delicate faint blending in light areas of your drawing, clean your blending stump regularly, so as not to transfer the residue graphite off your blending stump.
The effects you can achieve with blending stumps can be amazing. As blending stumps soften and blend the majority of pencil stroke lines, this can create a photo realistic finish to artwork especially when doing pencil portraits. They can also help achieve a great depth of field in your drawing, by blending backgrouds making them softer and creating a direct contrast to focal sharper points on a drawing.
HOW TO CLEAN A BLENDING STUMP
This is really easy and after trying many different ways to do this I have found the best most effective way. Theres numerous way people say to do this, nail clippers, craft knife, even a nail file. The best way I would recommend to do this is using a sandpaper sharpener or even just a small piece of sandpaper. Rub the tip of your blending stump across the sandpaper, you can remove the graphite residue really easily, you can even shape and sharpen your blending stump.
ALTERNATIVE TOOLS TO USE INSTEAD OF BLENDING STUMPS /TORTILLIONS
Over the years I have discovered some weird and wonderful ways of blending my artwork, below are a few of these, that you may even have knocking about at home.
#1 Makeup Brush
Makeup brushes are primarily designed for blending makeup so designed perfectly for this job. I have a few brushes for blending my drawings, from blusher brushes to eye shadow brushes and used accordingly depending on the size of the areas I need to blend. They have a really delicate touch and blend very well indeed, with a smooth consistent flow. This is particularly important on pencil portraits as they can have very delicate tones on skin. The smaller firmer brushes are also very good but the firmer the bristles of the brush the harder it will blend. I use these type of brushes for blending larger areas of my artwork, I still revert to by blending stump/totillion for the finer detail areas that need blending.
#2 Artist Brushes
As with makeup brushes these blend very well, but a lot of artist brushes, particularly horse hair brushes have a very course feel and can blend quite aggressively if not done with care. If using an artist brush I would use a sable haired brush or one that has a softer feel.
#3 Cotton buds
Cotton buds have their good qualities also, but dont have too much precision due to the shape of the cotton bud tip. They work very well when trying to achieve a haphazard pattern or create broad shapes within your blending for areas such as clouds.
Blending with your finger can achieve ok results, dependent on the medium used, I personally like to use my fingers when
blending charcoal. When using graphite pencils, using you finger to blend can work, but mainly only on larger undetailed areas. You do feel more control as you can adjust the pressure through your touch. If you do use your fingers, give them a quick wipe with tissue or a cloth as too much of the natural oils on skin can make your blended pencil marks impossible to erase.