Artist Tools Used to Blend & Smudge Pastels & Charcoals

Written by anya marcot
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Using your finger to blend charcoal and pastel is not only messy, but the natural oils in your fingers will distort colour, limit the erasability of charcoal and decrease the longevity of the art. Investing in a wide range of blending and smudging tools is essential for the serious artist working with these media.

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Blending Stumps

A rougher, more textured paper is the ideal surface for using blending stumps. Although it may be used for blending both pastel and charcoal, it is not recommended on smooth vellum paper because it may cause visible lines or streaks. Blending stumps may be sharpened with sandpaper; rougher sandpaper will make the stump better for blending areas you may want to change later, while using a smooth sandpaper will make the stump texture harder, giving the smudge more permanency.

Kneaded Erasers

A high-quality kneaded eraser should have the consistency of play-doh; it should be malleable enough to shape into a point. After a minute of rubbing it on a concentrated area of dark charcoal, the tip of a kneaded eraser will become shiny and dark, which is the ideal characteristic for blending other smaller areas. It can be 'cleaned' simply by kneading it, hence its name. You can also use it to pull up pigment or charcoal. When blending pastels, a clean-tipped kneaded eraser should be used for each colour separately so that the colours don't blend and become messy.

Cotton Swabs

Firm, high-quality cotton swabs are very effective for blending smaller to medium areas of either charcoal or pastel, but be aware that the cotton tip softens up very easily, so you may need several to blend intense areas of colour. Once the tip is very soft, the tool becomes ideal for blending larger areas, but be careful that the stick does not come through, as this can create an indented mark on the area you were trying to keep uniform. Cotton swabs are very cost-effective to replace, making them an ideal tool.

Paint Brushes

Large, soft brushes for painting watercolours can also be used to blend large areas of loose charcoal dust. These brushes can also be used for larger areas that require gentle blending. Holbein is a well-known manufacturer of quality brushes specifically used to blend oil pastels and is highly regarded by the art community. It will take some trial and error to figure out which brushes you are comfortable with so it is best to experiment with a variety of pastel brushes if you can.

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