There is often a bit of confusion around the blending tool. Many beginners don’t understand what they are or what they are for. It is also confusing because blending tools are called many different things, they can be known as stumps, tortillons as well as blenders.
What do Blending Tools Do?
They are made of paper rolled up into a tube or paper pulp and they can be used to move pigment around and blend pigment together for a ‘blended’ look. They can be used with graphite, pastel and paints. They are mostly used with pencil and pastel but I have seen them used with oil painting. You don’t use blenders with watercolour and less so with acrylic paint because it dries very quickly which can make blending difficult.
A Stump or Blender
These types of blenders are meant to be used with graphite and they come in different shapes and sizes. Some are very thin, others are thicker, some have a double point, one of each end of the stump or blender.
Gently rub them into the graphite (pencil) or pastel/conte crayon and they will blend the pigment into a ‘fuzzy’ area that we call blending.
Some blenders are small enough to fit into a sharpener so you can sharpen the end or use a scalpel. I like to use an emery board to sharpen the point because I can manipulate the point into any shape I like. When the blending tool gets dirty you can use a putty rubber to remove graphite by moving the blending tool into the putty and twisting. See my post on Erasers Explained if you are unsure what a putty rubber is.
Blenders are diverse tools because not only can you blend pigments with them but you can also lift off pigment. I have seen this used with graphite in a very light way, taking away some of the dense areas of graphite. The side of the point is ideal for this.
Blending tools differ in shape and size, most are made of paper pulp but some are made of rolled paper. These types of blenders are known as Tortillons. They are often a bit thicker than the paper pulp blenders. They have a harder surface so won’t be as soft on the paper as other types of blenders or stumps.
If you are doing some very delicate graphite (pencil) work make sure you choose a very soft blender as a harder surfaced one may scratch the surface. Tortillons aren’t always suitable for graphite but work well with oil paint or any thickly applied paint. They are also very good for scratching into the surface of thick paint and lifting off layers or pigment.
Are Blenders Worth Buying?
Yes I think they are, they are a versatile tool that can be used in many ways and are not very expensive. I like using them with pastel, it gives me more control over applying the pigment where I want it and work in more detail.
Also see Erasers Explained