Learn the Value and Technique of Blending in Painting and Drawing

Create Subtle Gradations and Soften Lines

Blending blue paint colors

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Blending is a term used often in art, particularly in painting and drawing. It is the technique of gently intermingling two or more colors or values to create a gradual transition or to soften lines.

As an artist, it's important to practice blending in any medium you choose to work with. It adds to the subtlety of the work and can give your art a more polished, finished look.

Blending Paints

When painting, we typically use the technique of blending to combine two different colors of paint. There are many ways to approach this. Artists often learn multiple techniques and use the best one to achieve the desired results for a particular painting.

Blending can be done with any type of paint, though we often think of it when working with either oils or acrylics. It's a great way to create a gradual transition from one color to another and is very useful in creating the finer details and making your paintings look more realistic.

You can blend by adding more paint or working with the paint that is already on the canvas or paper. To blend without adding more paint, put aside the brush you have been working with. Instead, use a dry, clean, soft brush to go over the paint before it's completely dry. Don't press too hard, it's more like a rapid flick across the surface.

One of the most common blending methods occurs as you're applying the paint, not after. For this technique, you will apply a small swatch of each color to the painting, then use your brush to create the desired gradation. It's a great way to create a very subtle transition.

Another approach is called double-loading. This is one in which you will load a flat brush with two separate colors of paint at the same time. The effect blends as each brushstroke is made and you can further refine it with the dry brush technique mentioned above.

Blending in Drawing

When working with pencil or charcoal, artists often turn to a blending stump to soften the lines they've drawn. Sure, you can use your finger, a cotton swab, or an old rag, but this tool is designed specifically for the purpose. It eliminates any potential debris from sticking to the drawing and keeps your hands clean so you don't accidentally smudge your work.

The blending stump, also called a tortillon, is a long stick of tightly twisted paper. You can either buy one or make it yourself and some artists choose both in order to have options in their toolkit. The big advantage of using one is that it has a fine tip that gives you precise control to blend even the smallest of details.

Practice Blending

No matter which medium you're working in, it's wise to practice various blending techniques. It is a useful skill that you will most likely need at some point in the future. Blending does not come naturally to many people, so you'll want to hone these skills.

To practice, grab a scrap piece of your favorite support, such as an old canvas or board, a piece of drawing paper, etc. Draw or paint with no other purpose than to blend.

For painting, experiment with the various techniques and get used to how the brush feels in your hand and how much pressure to apply. Get a feel for blending with the different brushes you have and with any mediums you're fond of working with, as these will change the consistency of the paint.

For drawing, make a few lines and blend them together. Try doing it with cross-hatching as well, so you get a feel for making great shadows. Try creating your own tortillon and experiment with how it works with both hard and soft pencils as well as different papers.

With a little time, blending will become as natural as any other part of creating your art. Be patient and practice until you're comfortable with the techniques and tools.