how to blend charcoal pencils

How to blend charcoal pencils

Trying to learn how to blend charcoal pencils can be a difficult task for many beginners, as there is a lot of skill and practice required. Many people don’t know where to start when trying to use them, so we have compiled a list of tips and tricks, as well as tools you can use, to learn how to blend charcoal pencils. When you know the basic technique, it is a lot simpler than it looks and you will be blending charcoal like a pro in no time.

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Paint brush

Using a paintbrush is a very effective way of blending charcoal pencils because of how easy and intuitive they are to use. A simple grip and gentle strokes can get the job done in no time. Any soft brush will suffice, and it removes any graininess when shading and blending, creating a smooth texture that is perfect for skin tones. Just make sure that the brush hasn’t been used in an actual painting, and reserve that brush for charcoal-only pieces. Brushes also pick up a lot of charcoal, so it can be used to lighten and soften specific areas.

Blending stumps/tortillons

Blending stumps are a fantastic and cheap way to blend pencil marks and charcoal. If you are wondering what tortillons are and how to blend charcoal pencils with them, they are essentially sticks of tightly rolled paper tapered at the end. They are slightly different to blending stumps, as blending stumps consist of even more tightly rolled paper than tortillons, and they are sanded to a point. Both are great ways to blend charcoal, and are easy to use, as you hold and use them just like a pencil. By using the tip, you can gently blend smaller areas. And by using the tapered edge of the stump and angling it down, you can blend larger areas.

Chamois cloth

Chamois cloth is a popular tool used by artists to blend charcoal. It is essentially a porous animal skin that is absorbent and flexible. You simply take a piece of cloth and rub it on the area you want to blend. It is ideal for blending larger areas such as a background. It allows you to create a softened look while keeping your art oil-free, unlike when you use your fingers. It is a cheap option to have and something that you should consider using if you are learning how to blend charcoal pencils.

Tissue

So far, the items in this list may require you to go out and buy some tools and materials. However, this tool can be found right in your own home. It is a very cheap, yet effective tool used to blend certain areas of your charcoal piece. The best thing is that it can be adapted to fit the areas needed to blend. To blend a larger area, simply flatten the tissue with your hand and rub it like a cloth. To blend a smaller area, wrap the tissue around your finger, and use that to blend specific areas of your art. 

Finger

When learning how to blend charcoal pencils, your good old-fashioned finger can do the trick. You can very easily control how much pressure to put when blending, but there are some downsides. Firstly, there is a limited amount of precision that you can use, as you cannot change the size of your finger! Also, a lot of the time your finger contains natural oils that can be transferred onto paper when blending. These oil marks can create uneven layers of pigment, and will likely increase chances of charcoal streaks appearing where you don’t want them to.

Are charcoal pencils erasable?

Charcoal pencils are easily erasable, and you can create different effects and highlights while doing so. There are different types of erasers that you can use to do this. Firstly, you have your traditional eraser that works perfectly well for erasing charcoal. However, you need to note that a lot of the pigment may transfer onto the eraser, and you may accidentally transfer some of that pigment back onto your artwork. To fix this, rub the eraser on your hand or on a scrap piece of paper where the pigment resides. This should take off the pigment and leave a fresh layer on your eraser ready to use again.

Another type of eraser you can use is a kneaded eraser, which is very useful for charcoal sketches. One of the characteristic features of this eraser is that you can mould it into any required shape that you want. This allows you to erase larger areas with the whole eraser, or mould a precise tip to erase smaller areas. It is not abrasive and won’t damage the paper while effectively erasing the charcoal.

Lastly, you have the electric eraser. This eraser has a small, cylindrical shaped tip that rapidly spins around to erase lines very effectively. You hold it like a pencil and you can use it to erase very thin lines, or to create very precise highlights. It also has the power to erase some charcoal marks that other erasers can’t rub out. We have written an in-depth review on the Sakura Cordless Electric Eraser, which you can check out here. It will help you to buy a good electric eraser for learning how to blend charcoal pencils.

Do charcoal pencils smudge?

This depends on the type of charcoal that you use. If you use vine charcoal, it is much more likely to smudge, as it is quite soft and powdery. On the other hand, compressed charcoal, which is commonly found in charcoal pencils, is harder than vine charcoal and holds its shape together better. This means that it is harder to smudge, but is also harder to erase. Both types of charcoal are suited to different uses, as they have different properties. Most charcoal artists use a combination of both, as vine charcoal creates a softer tone, but compressed charcoal is perfect for fine lines and hard edges.

Because most charcoal artists use both, there is a chance that their artwork will smudge. To fix this smudging problem and to keep your art looking pristine, you should use a fixative after you have completed your work. Fixative spray is extremely useful and will prevent your charcoal art from smudging. Put on 1-2 layers and it should be perfectly preserved. See the product links below to buy some fixative spray if you haven’t already, as it is essential when learning how to blend charcoal pencils.

Product links

General's Grande Charcoal pencils
Staedtler Mars Lumograph Charcoal pencils
Winsor & Newton Studio Collection Charcoal pencils
Sennelier Delacroix Spray Fixative

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