Blending Colored Pencils with Odorless Mineral Spirits

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Blending colored pencils, I find, is key in creating the best, most vibrant artwork that has softness, yet still richness and depth.

I like to blend my colored pencils by using a couple of different methods depending on the particular look I like to achieve. One of my favorites and one I've been using today is with Odorless Mineral Sprits (for abbreviation purposes, we'll refer to it as OMS).

This is a good choice for backgrounds and large areas is to break down the waxy consistency of colored pencils (if you're using a wax based pencil like Prismacolor). It also distributes the pigment so it can flow nicely into the adjacent colors and create a soft, smooth look, similar to an oil, acrylic or even airbrushed painting.

Here is a self portrait I'm currently working on. I have a while to go so this is still very much a work in progress.

I wanted the background to have a bokeh, blurry style. To do this, I mapped out my shapes at the beginning, including where I was going to position my main subject and made light circle outlines with a colored pencil. I used a circle template (as you blend they'll become less uniform) however, you can also draw freehand. This background looks more natural if you overlap some circles and make varying sizes.

I also think its a nice idea to incorporate some of the colors used in your main subject, into the background too. As well as greens and brown, I've also used pink and cream.

Here is how some of the circles looked before and after blending...

You can see that the color is much more saturated and quite a bit darker in the second picture. There's also a nice soft 'hazy' look, which is what I'm going for here.

Here are my few tips on putting the Odorless Mineral Spirits to use.


1) Build up the majority of layers of color first.

Then, you'll have something to work with. A paper with 'tooth' should indicate clearly whether you have created many layers yet because there will be tiny 'gaps' in color. You can also often see a sheen too which indicates you're on the way to having a wax build up. Sometimes, this will also mean you're unable to layer anymore. Blending with OMS is great for that purpose because the odorless mineral spirits will not only create a more matte look, it will also take the wax away, allowing for more layers of color to be placed on top afterwards.

Related to this... If you have a heavily textured paper, you may find it a lot of work to build up those layers in the first place. To help this, make sure you try to have a sharp point on the pencil (although its actually less crucial for filling in the background), point the pencil down and into the paper vertically to fill in the 'holes', like this...

Round circular swirls create a bokeh style background

3) When using OMS, apply just a little to your brush and apply it very lightly.

Then when you have it moving the pigment around, begin to apply more pressure to 'scrub' - always making sure the paper doesn't tear.

4) The paper that you use matters quite a bit.

A lightweight paper wont be able to stand being wet - you may even make a hole in it. Here I'm working on Canson Mi-Teintes Board in Sand. which is sturdy paper with lots of texture that accepts lots of layers of color, plus its and pre mounted, making it even stronger. Using OMS will also ensure that your paper is less likely to be damaged when blending, compared to having to press hard and burnish with a white pencil or colorless blender instead.

5) The type of Odorless Mineral Spirits I like to use are 'Klean Strip Green'.

This is a creamy formula which is helpful in avoiding spillage. Other brands are available and similar types of products too. I've heard of using baby oil, paint thinner such as Bestine and alcohol to name a few. I personally haven't liked the results with other methods but you should try them out to find out your own personal preference. The Klean Strip has no odor at all, is cheap, lasts a very long time and very easy to work with.

6) I use an old, synthetic round paint brush to blend my mineral spirits.

 I find that this achieved the softest look possible compared with blending stumps or cotton buds.

Using a brush to blend odorless mineral spirits with colored pencil - I told you my paint brush was old! :)

7) Color Residue.

Speaking of which, the paintbrush will also hold onto some of the color as I've shown in the above, and in the picture below. This is residue from the colored pencils on the paper. Its important to not contaminate the colors with another lighter shade you may work on next so always wipe your brush periodically to keep it clean.

Color residue picked up from the paper

8) A little of the OMS will go a long way.

You can store what you need in a jar with a lid and then decant more when necessary (beware again of contaminating the colors though). I use a small plastic dish with just the tiniest amount I'm going to use. I can then wash out the dish when I'm done and wipe excess on the sides with the brush while I'm working.


9) Use in conjunction with other blenders.

You can use this product on both oil and wax based pencils and also in conjunction with a colorless blender pencils like this one from Prismacolor.

So, those are my tips! How do you blend colored pencils? I'd love to see photos of your work, including before and after pictures if you happen to use mineral spirits as your method too.

5 comments on "Blending Colored Pencils with Odorless Mineral Spirits"
  1. Any particular reason you use the milky oms? I use the clear stuff and recently got klean strip clear brand. Im a little worried if they all work the same or are certain brands better. I always hear about gamsol, but never heard klean strip being used until I seen your blog. I'm the type that will be bothered and always thinking if other oms work better lol.

    1. Hey Gino, sorry for the delay in responding. Since writing this post I've had the opportunity to try out Bestine and Mona Lisa Odorless Spirits and have to say that they all do the same thing and achieve the same look. However probably because the Klean Strip OMS above has a creamier consistency, I think it works better for backgrounds. It was better for me here because it filled in the tooth of the paper and gave a hazy appearance. Work with finer detail might be suited better to a clear OMS like Gamsol or Mona Lisa instead though. Hope that helps!

  2. Your sketch is breath taking! I just cant believe that it is a drawing. For a second I thought its a pic captured by a camera. Hats off to you talented lady.

  3. Hey cheers ,you really published a great Post.I loved the post very much.Hope you post more content to help people like me.I am looking for Fineart Courses In Chennai


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