In this article, I’m going to teach you how to use a blending stub. This is a part of my Drawing Series: Materials and Techniques. We’ll talk about the proper usage for blending stubs, and I’ll demonstrate some basic methods, as well as advanced technique in using a blending stub. Many artist will never bother picking up a blending stub because the either don’t know how to use one properly, or they believe that using blending stubs goes against a drawing code of ethics. In fact, the blending stub is easy to use and a versatile tool to add to your drawing arsenal.
Lets hit the basics.
The picture above shows us a basic blending stub. You’ll notice that most blending stubs are made out of carefully wrapped paper, like a roll, that is tapered on the end. This paper can be unwrapped, cut, or frayed just like any paper. I’ve seen first time users unwrap the blending stub like a gift before realizing that the wrapping IS the blending stub. Do it if you must, but be ready to buy a new one if you go to far. The wrapping does serve a purpose, but we’ll get to later. You’ll also note that most blending stubs will have both ends tapered. Make sure, before you do anything, you appoint one side dark, and the other light. This is very important! As you build up dry media on one end of the stub, it will become “dirty.” If we’ve learned anything from bartending school, dirty isn’t always a bad thing. You’ll want to keep one side dirty for certain uses. I usually put a piece of tape on one side, just to give me another visual cue. When working with a blending stub, you’ll want to have a dirty, dark side for darker tones and colors. You’ll want a cleaner, or light side if you are using white charcoal, for lighter colors. It also comes in handy when we need to do certain techniques.
The blending stub blends.
Yes, it’s that simple. You can use it for blending all dry media, including graphite, charcoal, pastel, and colored pencil. If you plan on working in color, it’s best to buy a separate stub for your color drawings. The residue will rub off each time you use the stub, so unless you want colors showing up in your black and whites, use a separate stub.
If you’ve got materials in front of you, draw out a few contour lines. For most of this demo I will use a 2B General’s Charcoal Pencil on standard 60lb sketch paper. Take your blending stub and start to play around with rubbing the stub across the surface, smudging the lines you created. You’ll quickly realize that the stub can create a variety of marks. If you rub along the same direction as the contour, matching vertical strokes with vertical strokes, the line-work will remain visible. If you rub the opposite direction of the strokes, then the lines will smudge more, as the groves of the paper flatten out, letting the charcoal marks spill over the plateaus.
You can also vary the weight with which you press against the paper to impact the look. Pressing harder gives you a flatter and often darker value. Pressing lightly causes less of the charcoal to smear, retaining your line-work and making a lighter value. You can also pull the charcoal around the paper in a moderate fashion, extending rendering areas, or covering over areas you’ve not touched. This is great for filling in areas with a flat color. Draw a square, and then briskly place some contour lines within the square. Now use the blending stub to gently move the charcoal around the square. Keep working it until blended fully. If
you are patient, you will get a good solid value that appears relatively flat.
How to clean your blending stub.
After you’ve used your blending stub for an entire drawing, it can get dirty. While it’s good to keep one side of your stub darker for those darker tones, there will eventually come a time when you need to clean it. There are two options. The first is to use sandpaper on the end, rubbing until clean. You will want to use a fine-grained sandpaper, to make sure you don’t tear up the end. After you rub off the dark paper, shaping the tip as you go, brush your end off and the paper will be nice a clean. Before you blend again, rub the stub on a blank area of your paper to flatten out the fibers on the stub. If you go straight into blending, it will absorb a lot of material the first time you use it. The second way to clean your stub is to peel back the paper. This is more of a specific way to clean to the edges, or “handle” of the stub. After awhile, your paper will get some moisture on it, and the edges will curl and fray. Peel back a couple of layers of paper, and tape the new seam. This will help to extend the life of your purchase. On a side note, you can also do this if you want a smaller tip on your stub.
Use your blending stub to very quickly plot a shadow over a sketch.
Let’s draw a cube to start. Draw out your lines. Now, use your blending stubs dirty side, or if you have a clean stub, throw down some marks. Press into the paper, creating tones. After some quick work, you’ll have a rendered cube. It probably looks flat and unattractive, but we’re not worried about that for a sketch. This is a quick way to get value and compositions down. Play around with making quick sketches using a blending stub. It will save you a lot of time working out values for your drawing.
Use your blending for basic rendering of a drawing.
Draw out a circle. Taking your pencil and start making marks. For now, let’s just use a standard hatching technique. Make sure to include the core shadow and the reflected light. Now take your blending stub, move along the contour of the circle, pressing harder along the core shadow, and lighter as you move away from it. You’ll start to see the shape come together. Now, look at your drawing and decide if you need darker values. Add line work on top of the already blended drawing. Bend again if you like.
Use your blending stub to add sfumato, or atmosphere to your drawing.
Let’s say you want to add a background around your character. Add some line-work and then blend, pressing harder as your get closer to the outer contour of your drawing. For those of you that don’t know, sfumato is (a word that most dictionaries still don’t recognize, because it is Italian first) what we artist use to describe smokiness or haziness in drawings. Think about cigarette smoke. It clouds a room, weaves around, and causes an image to become, well, smoky. Or, let’s say you are drawing bushes, but they are in the background and don’t need to be rendered precisely. They may seem hazy to the viewer to add
atmospheric perspective to the drawing. This technique is more advanced, and it typically requires you to work with erasers to create more accurate marks. Instead of using a pencil to make marks, take a razor or sandpaper to your pencil tip. Make some charcoal dust. Spread it sporadically if you like. –As a side note, you can create a lot of charcoal dust before rendering, dipping your stub directly into your dust and then placing it on paper. Smudge with your blending stub, being careful not to go too crazy moving the charcoal around. Now, take your eraser, kneaded is preferable, and work to subtract some of the smoke you’ve crated. Now repeat those steps until you like what you see. You can use this same technique to create a morning haze or a cloudy afternoon sky.
Master Technique: advanced rendering with a blending stub through layers.
There is a lot I could say about this. Drawing masters from around the world use techniques like the one I’ll describe to make some fantastic results. The premise is simple: by combining cross contour mark making with layered blending with a stub, you will meet a 3D look that is extremely sculptural, and hard to duplicate. For your reference, my more recent portraits all use this technique. I won’t go into details about color theory in this article, but by combining pastel pencils, charcoal pencils, and a blending stub, great things are possible. For this technique, you’ll get better results with a mid-toned paper. I prefer earth tones, like brown, light green, or red-orange. If you are using black and white, you’ll have better results with a warm or cool gray mid tone. Something with a good amount of weight is needed as well. I like the Canson brand of colored papers. They work really well with most dry media, and there is little chance of overworking too quickly. (Tip: If you are using Canson paper, use the side that has the bar code sticker. It is smoother and won’t have exaggerated, bumpy texture. That’s ok for other techniques, but with a blending stub, smoother is better.)
First draw out a circle. Now start making marks, cross contour. Make your marks move with the contour of the object you are drawing. In this case, we move around the sphere. Now using white charcoal, or white pastel (for a smoother white I prefer using pastel pencils made by Faber-Castell, or a Carbothello pastel pencil by Stabilo), draw your highlighted area. Don’t overuse white! The white is only for your light source, and should be used primarily for highlights. If you use too much white, your black charcoal will get mixed in and start looking bluish gray. We typically don’t want that. It’s best to not allow the white and black to touch in the beginning. (There are reasons you’ll want them to blend in a color drawing, but it tends too become a focal point in black and white drawings.) Now, blend carefully with the contours you made. Use the tip of your blending stub for tight areas, being careful not to push the charcoal too far. Press firmly, and don’t be shy. You want to get sheen, or a silver glisten on the paper. This means that your charcoal or pastel is pushed deep into the paper. If you did it right, you will no longer be able to pull much value off of the paper with an eraser.
Now start from the beginning and repeat the process, adding dark cross contour lines where needed and white where needed. Take your blending stub to town again. Do this whole process over and over, patiently allowing the values to build up. You’ll eventually start seeing less and less of a change to your drawing. That means that you’ve filled the paper fibers, and they are no longer going to accept more value. At this point, we’re going to shift gears. Still adding marks and then blending, now you want to barely blend with your stub. Don’t put any weight into it. Just let the smooth broad side of your bending stub tip to gloss over the marks.
You’re ready for finishing. Use your eraser to clean up the edges. Lightly add an extra layer of marks for texture. Use a very sharp hard pencil, like an H, place some tight line-work on some of the edges, boosting the contrast, and helping your image pop.
Blending stubs get a bad wrap for being sloppy or imprecise. Maybe because using a blending stub is not a cop-out for proper rendering technique! Blending stubs are tools, just like a pencil, that serve a purpose. They are used in tandem with linear rendering, layering, or touch up work. By experimenting with different dry media, and with different mark making, you can find great way to make the blending stub work for you. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to subscribe and check back in regularly. This is only one article in my compilation series, Drawing: Materials and Techniques.