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Blending Blending Demonstration Tortillons

Said Hamlet to Ophelia,
I'll draw a sketch of thee,
What kind of pencil shall I use?
2B or not 2B?

Spike Milligan

For successful shading and blending, I've used an ordinary 0.5mm or 0.7mm mechanical pencil loaded with 2B since I started drawing... this gives me a fine line at all times without the need to constantly sharpen. These pencils are usually sold with HB leads, so be sure to purchase a pack of 2B to replace them. Unlike the wooden pencil, you can't use the side of the lead to shade large areas, instead, the shading is kept very tight and the varying tones are achieved by gradation and layering, with the pencil strokes always following the shape of your object (unlike cross hatching). I find that smooth, dark areas are best achieved by alternate layering and blending rather than extra pressure. I may apply 5 - 6 (or more) layers of pencil to an area of dark shadow or hair.

Bristol 2ply heavyweight board is ideal... It's actually a stiff paper with either a plate or a vellum finish that stands up extremely well to the rigors of blending and erasing that this method entails. A slightly cheaper alternative is a good quality, heavy cartridge paper although for practicing the technique, I'm sure any fairly decent paper would do.
I do all of my drawings on A3 (11.5" x 16.5"). The vellum (regular)finish, with it's extra 'tooth', makes the darks easier to achieve .

These are spirals of wound paper that are used to blend the pencil shading. They are very simple to make and will last a long time if looked after. It is important to keep these tortillons clean when using in light areas but a selection can be kept in varying stages of cleanliness using the blackest for large dark areas ( hair) or even for drawing in shapes. Most art shops carry these items.

To achieve smooth gradated skin tones on the larger areas of cheeks, jaw, forehead and clothing, try a piece of soft kitchen roll or toilet tissue folded over the end of your finger. This spreads the graphite much more evenly than the tortillon and is especially suited to the smoother skin of younger subjects. Tissue paper is also handy for resting the heel of your hand on as you draw, protecting the paper from grease and moistness. Try experimenting with tissues, felt, cotton materials, chamois and other materials to discover the various, subtle effects that can be achieved.

This is simply a small piece of stiff card (mounting board is ideal) approx. 4" square, on which I either glue or double tape a sheet of medium emery/sandpaper. This is then used to clean and shape the tips of my paper tortillons.

Rather than wiping away eraser debris with the back of your hand and spreading the graphite dust over your pristine white paper, use a large, soft watercolour wash brush to gently brush it away. Even blowing away these bits is fraught with danger as the slightest bit of moister can alter the surface properties of your paper leaving small, dark, dust ingrained stains that are almost impossible to remove.


use a variety of erasers for different effects. The most versatile is the putty rubber... this can be pulled and squeezed into many useful shapes and the dirty bits are simply pinched off, try dabbing as well as stroking, the tacky properties of this eraser will gently lighten selected areas. A lovely tip I picked up at Mike Sibley's 'Studio' page, is the use of ordinary 'Blu Tack' ... I've tried it and it works perfectly!!!

Blu Tack

One of my favourite erasers is a large, round, white one that sits in the palm of the hand, rather like a bar of soap... this is ideal for lifting out the larger areas on the forehead and cheekbones and by reducing pressure at the end of each stroke, a very soft gradation can be achieved. This eraser cleans up by rubbing the thumb across the dirtied part.


You can purchase a perspex template with circles of varying sizes for drawing the pupils of the eyes... Actually trying to draw 2 perfect circles of identical size, freehand, is very difficult... and as the eyes are without doubt the most important feature of the face, it's vital to draw them correctly. I tend to make a point of placing a single highlight in each eye, overlapping the pupil and the iris... if there are several highlights in each eye, often caused by studio spots, I still only draw the one.

I tried the commercial fixatives when I first started to draw and found that they spluttered and clogged up constantly. Then a friend, who teaches at a local Art College, suggested ordinary hairspray which they use as a cheaper and more user friendly alternative. It can also be used on pastel drawings. Fixing, apart from protecting the pencil on your paper, also reduces the shine that results from the darker, burnished areas, giving a soft matt finish. Always spray the whole sheet from corner to corner, top to bottom... do not spray just the drawing in the centre, as this creates buckling of the paper. Also be sure that you have erased all unwanted pencil marks prior to spraying. I usually spray 3 layers, allowing to dry on a flat (unvarnished) surface between coats.

Have you found, after you're already well into your drawing, that it isn't sitting where you originally intended...? Somehow it's drifted left, right, up or down! This can put me off terribly and I quite often abandon it and start again. It also makes mounting more difficult and usually involves trimming.
I eventually got around this by reserving my drawing area beforehand, exactly where I wanted it. I work on A3 (11.5" x 16.5") bristol board but my actual drawing area is A4 (11.5" x 8.5"). So, I position a sheet of A4 horizontally central and slightly above vertical center and lightly draw around it.
I then work within my reserved drawing area.
When the drawing is complete, I erase the surrounding pencil border along with any other unwanted pencil marks or graphite dust. I now have a nicely positioned drawing that will require very little work to mount correctly.
If you intend to frame your finished drawing, do use mounting board. Humidity changes can cause your paper to expand and cockle slightly if secured all around, so "hang" your paper from the top only... this allows it to expand and contract without those unattractive undulations. The mounting board, apart from creating an attractive frame around your work, also prevents contact between the paper and the glass.
Graphite will act very much like fingerprint powder and adhere to areas of paper where natural oils from the fingers have been deposited. To achieve smooth, silky blends, try to keep skin contact with the paper to an absolute minimum. Try resting the heel of the hand on a piece of tissue or paper to prevent unnecessary contact. 'NEVER' try to blend graphite with the fingertips!!!

You can work with a basic palette of only 5 shades.
Tone1 1. This is the lightest part of an object where the light falls directly on to it. This is the actual paper and must not be drawn on, lighter greys should be blended gently towards it using a clean tortillon.
Tone2 2. This is our reflected light and is seen around the edge of an object as light reflects from surrounding surfaces such as clothing. It makes an object appear solid as it informs us that there is another, darker side to it.
Tone3 3. Mid grey, the tone that represents the actual colour of the object without the effects of either direct light or shadow. Remember, although this is a basic five tone system, the gentle gradation between shades will actually be producing millions.
Tone4 4. This represents the shadowed side of an object as it recedes from the light. For example, if light is from the right... the left side of the object would be this shade. It would lighten gently towards the light and darken as it moved away.
Tone5 5. The darkest tone is as near to black as you can get, this is your darkest shade and represents the cast shadows. This shadow is darkest where objects meet surfaces and lightens as it moves away from the object. Don't try to achieve this tone in one application, build it up in layers.

To change a totally flat circle into a solid looking sphere using our blending method I start by lightly drawing in the outline and the highlight, which I need to reserve as white paper. Remember, try not to get pencil in the highlight, as once blended into the paper, it's almost impossible to remove completely.
Ball2 I've drawn in the shadow below the circle to represent the cast shadow. Where the object meets the surface is going to be our darkest tone and as it moves away it gradually gets lighter. Placing one of your darkest tones quite early also helps to establish the required tonal values.
Ball3 Following the shape of the object, I've shaded in a fairly narrow section to represent the darker side of our sphere. This will be the first of a number of layers which I will build up to the required tone.Using the tortillon, I'm now going to blend and pull the colour. By the way, If the tortillon squeaks, or drags on the paper, apply more pencil...
Ball4 This is the shaded area after blending and spreading the pencil with the paper tortillon. I pull the colour towards the lighter area but stop short of the reserved highlight, I use a clean tortillon to blend the lightest grey towards the white. I then apply another layer of pencil, & repeat.
Ball5 And this is the finished sphere after three layers of shading and blending, using all five shades: 1. The Highlight, where the light strikes the object. 2. The reflected light at the bottom of the object. 3. The actual colour of the object. 4. The dark side of the object. 5. The cast shadow directly below the object, our darkest tone.

This is exactly the same method I use when drawing my portraits... light falling onto the forehead, the cheek, the nose and the chin are all rounded surfaces that reflect light and require the same technique.