Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How Doth I Burnish, Let Me Count The Ways

Lyra's Splender Blender
A colorless pencil used to burnish/blend colored pencils on paper.

Help my aching arm!

I had been trying all kinds of solvents in a colored pencil class I was teaching, just so students had an arsenal of everything and anything as a way to burnish/blend. For me, I love the look of burnishing as it makes a colored pencil 'drawing' look more like a painting. FYI – The CP (that would be Colored Pencil) world refer to work as paintings. They look like them and take as much time, I guess that's why!

Why Burnish?

Colored pencil artists are a sneaky bunch. We like to fool people with making our little colors on paper look like oil paintings on canvas! Part of this wonderful illusion is getting rid of specs of white that are left when a pencil glides across paper and only touch the's the surface ridges of the paper.

with the ridges of the paper showing how colored pencil only hits the top of it leaving white areas exposed.
The ridges of the paper show how colored pencil only hits the top of it leaving white areas exposed.

Burnishing, using a white pencil or colorless blender, I can force the color into the divots of the paper. This is also a great way to get tennis elbow! It is not a good idea to do this on large surfaces, or for long periods of time!!! I had been laid up due to this. Not worth the pain, but, there is a better way. Do this only for little things.
We have options such as brushes and solvents as well!

What's a Solvent?

Solvents are, a water-like substance that can dissolve a solid. So, basically, anything that dissolves a solid is a "solvent." This is heaven when you find the perfect one for you. I can't tell you which one is the right one. You have to find one you like. I think I am going to give you the most comprehensive unbiased list on the web! I really haven't found the holy grail of lists, but this might be it!

My Bias

Personally, I want one that doesn't smell, blends decently and fills in white 'holes' of my paper. All I want is for the colored pencils to be allowed to do their job of being a transparent/translucent medium with visual blending over those base 'fill' layers.

Denatured Alcohol

91% alcohol. It's cheap, available and works.

I haven't used the now common and cheap 50%. I assume the rest is 50% water. I don't want anything but the solvent on my paper so the paper doesn't buckle too much. Especially if the paper is fairly thin. Stick to 91% alcohol or switch to another solvent. I don't use what is called 'Rubbing Alcohol' either. They add an oil and I'm not sure what that adds to the paper.
I apply this with a Q-Tip, blending stomp, or brush. Note: It does eventually eat away at your brushes. Buy cheap ones if you use them.

Micro Brushes!

I found these itty, bitty brushes made for train models, but I see they use these for eyelash extensions, so check out beauty stores to get a ton of them for cheap!
It's a cross between a Q-tip and a brush. They last pretty long and I have been able to dip it in solvents and brush across a painting using very tiny motions of blending. It can get into the tiniest crevices. I wouldn't use it on large areas as it's hard to control the smoothness of a finish. It's a wonderful find, and I will need to get more of these.

Prisma Colorless Markers

Same thing as alcohol, but more precise than a Q-Tip, needs a little more pressure than a paintbrush. These markers have two tips, one broad, one narrow. The Prismacolor markers can be expensive, but if you are smart you can buy in bulk at some of the art supply stores online or use your weekly free coupons from Hobby Lobby or Michaels! I use these the most as they are very portable and I will have to see, but I believe I can refill it with a little alcohol. Just a bit of advice, if you use this, make sure to have a scrap of paper or paper towel so you wipe off your dark color before working on a light area, or it will add color you can't remove!

Odorless Mineral Spirits (OMS)

A favorite of most CP artists, very cheap, and is also a very easy one to get. This is now one I think I favor outside of the marker due to it's "no smell" factor. I might load this up in one of my water brushes and see what it does. Not sure I want it eating away at my brushes though! Do invest in these brushes though! They are worth having for other techniques (see watercolor color pencils/InkTense.)


A natural substance from trees. I can't and won't use this. The smell quite literally makes me sick, thanks to using it extensively in college! This is an option and acts like OMS.

Rubber Cement Thinner

There is another option of rubber cement thinner if you really want to stink up the place! I remember how much it smells, I won't go there unless I need to. I might just because of Gary Greene.

The CP artist Gary Greene uses that all the time in his demos. That's harsh stuff, and dissolves... well... rubber. I may just get some to see how quickly it works. He swears by it's smoothness in melting wax-based pencils like the Prismacolors. It might be worth the trouble. I am wary of using this, but I will so I can say I did!

UPDATE: I went there. Had gotten some because a place went out of business and I got some very cheap. It dissolves wax like no ones business and I think I'm going to use this for a while. It smells horrible and should be used with serious ventillation. I haven't played with it enough to know it's true powers and I will have to do a real painting to see what it can do. I don't think I will have to put any effort into dissolving any of the pencil where I do with alcohol. 

Blending/Burnishing Pencils

White Pencils – with good-ole elbow grease, a great way to get tendonitis! This again is great if:

  1. You have nothing else
  2. You want to do small areas

The white can't be beat or even a light blue for the illusion of an atmospheric background perspective technique. Just be careful not to press too hard with your delicate muscles in your hands/arms. You can really mess yourself up!

Colorless Pencil Blenders

Lyra Splender Blender, Prismacolor Colorless Blender

These were invented to replace the use of white pencils to accomplish blending one color to another and getting rid of white from the paper. It's basically a pencil that has no color. Just the binder.

The Lyra Splender blender is oil based, the Prismacolor Colorless Blender is wax based, like it's colored counterparts. Great thing is, they can be used interchangeably, which is another reason colored pencils are a popular medium!

Colored Pencil on Illustration Board 10x8

Past their Prime

Colored Pencil on Illustration Board – Amy Rebella
10"x8" (I hand burnished this and had really bad tendonitis from it!)

Hand Burnishing

This is a little different since we are using objects rather than solvents or colored pencils to achieve blending here.

Hogs Hair Brushes
Especially on sanded paper has yielded beautiful results for some artists. This is good on hearty papers such as Stonehenge Rising. I have cut the brights, don't use rounds! Or better yet, if you have a brush that is used for stenciling, use that, they are pretty stiff and can take the abuse.

(Not a sham-wow) Usually a tanned deer hide with no colorant added, will also give a similar result. The chamois can be a bit labor intensive, depends on the effect you want. It's great for very large areas.

Blending Stomp/Stump
Is a good alternative to these two, gets right in the tiny little crevices and you could dip it into a solvent.

Tissue | Kleenex
This also works in a pinch, except it can leave residue. Use something that has no chemicals in it and isn't too scratchy or the paper surface you are burnishing can have it's fibers torn up a bit.

But, Wait! There's More!

We haven't even gotten into the watercolor pencil and Inktense options yet! Let's make that part 2!