9 Ways to Blend Graphite Pencils

by Wendi OBrien

There are many so many ways to blend graphite making it a very versatile medium to work in.  Each blending method has its advantages and disadvantages and creates its’ own unique finish.  So careful consideration should be taken when deciding on which method or combination of methods you are going to use.

Layering

The first way to blend graphite pencil is just by simply layering.  This requires a bit of time and understanding of the graphite scale on your pencils. You start with a mid to high H pencil, I used a 3 H.  This will fill in all those little groves of paper.  You then layer on top with a mid range pencil.  

I used an HB then a 2B and for the darkest I used a 4B for this demonstration.  It is important to use a light touch and overlap the different pencils to form a smooth gradient blend.

When layering in this manner you preserve the tooth of the paper add many layers and details over the top.  It does take a bit more time to make smooth and easy transitions without additional tools.

Burnishing

The 2nd way to blend would be burnishing.  This is when you lay down your pencil in layers and then use firm pressure to create a smooth blend.  You can typically skip the harder pencils and just jump in with an HB or softer if you choose.  

You can get very dark and saturated values with this method using say a 4B as I did here instead of needed to go to an 8B.  It does flatten the tooth of the paper and will create more shine.  

You may not be able to do any further layering so burnishing should be close to the last if not the last thing you should do

Stumps/Tortillons

Method #3 is using blending stumps or tortillons.  Blending stumps are compressed paper and tortillons are rolled.  They both do the same job.  They come in various sizes so make sure to choose a size appropriate for the area you are blending.

I personally prefer blending stumps.  After laying down enough graphite on the paper you can then rub the stump over the area to blend it out.  I like to use it at an angle unless I need to get into a small area where I will use the tip.  

Make sure to use in a circular motion or  single directional strokes.  This will help avoid start and stop points and leaves a very smooth  well blended finish.  This is probably my favorite tool to use with graphite.  

I also like to use these to draw and shade lighter areas with residual graphite left on the stump.  

Unfortunately, it can flatten the tooth of the paper so care should be taken to not apply too much pressure.  It can also create a shine depending upon the amount of graphite in the area making adding additional layers difficult.

Cotton Buds/Swabs/Q-Tips

The 4th way to blend graphite is with a q-tip also known as cotton buds and cotton swabs or you can use a cotton ball depending upon the size of the area.  

You lightly blend the graphite with the q-tip using circular or single sweeping motions.  This will leave a smooth area behind.  

Using q-tips are very cost effective and you can throw them away when you are done.  They are great for tight areas like eyes and it doesn’t damage the tooth of the paper.

Paint/Make-up Brush

The 5th method is using a paint brush or make up brush.  You can use round, filbert or shader.  I typically use a shader or filbert for this.  

Just work in circular motions to blend the graphite out.  You can also apply graphite to your piece by using graphite powder or picking up graphite scribbled on a palette.  

This method doesn’t leave as smooth as a finish as others and if you aren’t careful it can look a bit blotchy if you are applying the graphite to the piece with the brush.

Tissue/Kleenex

The next method is #6 using a tissue.  When using a tissue you want to make sure it is smooth and doesn’t have any texture to it.  You also want to make sure it is plain tissue and not infused with aloe or lotion. 

I wrap the tissue around my finger and work in circular motions blending out the graphite.  

This is a great technique for skin and any subject you need the smoothest of blends.  

It is difficult to use this in small areas and keep a very crisp edge.  You will also more than likely need a few layers to build up color as this does remove quite a bit of graphite.

Chamois/Cloth

Number 7 is using a cloth or chamois.  You can find chamois in your local art store.  Much like the tissue you don’t want a lot of texture and old soft t-shirts work great for this.  

You use this in much the same manner as the tissue…wrapping it around your finger and blending in circular or single directional motion until you get the blend you desire.  

The outcome is not as smooth as the tissue and it is difficult to keep that crisp edge.

Sofft Tools

Method #8 is using sofft tools.  These tools come in many shapes and are typically used for pan pastels.  

You can layer your pencils as usual and blend out using these tools in a circular or single directional motion.  

I love using these tools with my graphite powder, as I can get a lot of coverage very quickly.  

This is especially good for creating skies and backgrounds.  This also gives you one of the smoothest finishes.  

You do need to be careful around the edges but with so many shapes and careful navigation it is easy to do.

Use Your Finger

The 9th and final method is something we all have and that is using your finger.  Not the best tool to use as you can transfer the oils and sweat from your finger to your piece. 

The results are probably the roughest of all of the methods as it really doesn’t push the graphite into those peaks and valleys of the paper.  Though it is always handy. 

I usually use this just to tap an area back a bit but not for overall blending…besides your fingers get really dirty too.

What’s Your Favorite?

 

What is your favorite way to blend graphite?  Leave a comment and let me know what your favorite is and if you have any other tools/ways to blend graphite. 

Until next time, keep on arting…bye!

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