View Full Version : Smoothing and blending

01-23-2015, 08:33 AM
I would love to start a discussion about smoothing and blending...I admit I smooth pastels way too much! I've started every painting out saying I wount smooth and blend so much but I do it anyway! I like to use the very soft pastels and smooth and blend with my fingers while wearing gloves. I know that crushes the crystals or something and is frowned upon but I'm a surgeon and love using my hands so much. I'm much better with my gloved hands than I am with a pastel in my fingers hey I have a doctors handwriting😉. Anyway I would love to here everyone's opinions on this and some suggestions on how to stop doing it so much! If you look at my last painting I smothed everything out except the bathing suit! Are there things when smoothing is called for or actually suggested maybe I should stick to that sort of subject then?

01-23-2015, 09:24 AM
If you are happy with the results of your paintings, then there is no reason to stop doing it so much! Smoothing and blending are perfectly fine to do. If, on the other hand, you find that your paintings seem duller and have lost their more intense color (and sparkle) after you smooth and blend, then you might want to try and limit the amount you blend.

As all things about pastel, the brands of pastel and the types of paper will make some difference. Personally, on smoother papers I will blend more and on rougher sanded papers I would tend to blend less.

On every painting I do, I smooth and blend. My initial lay-in of pastel will always be smoothed so that it covers the paper with as thin a layer of pastel as possible. Many times - to maintain the more intense color and sparkle - i won't blend much or at all for the final layers. Many folks use pastels to do the blending, often using a harder pastel to blend the transitions between colors already laid down.

There are times that blending is necessary as when softening edges. In those cases sometimes just a light touch is all that's needed. When I do portraits and figures, I will blend almost every stroke as I don't want many hard edges and do want very smooth color transitions. For landscapes I may blend much less. But that's just me and each artist approaches blending in their own way. Absolutely no rules about smoothing and blending!

I would suggest doing a few small experiments where you blend in your usual fashion and then do the same or similar painting with limited or no blending. See if you can tell the difference and which you may prefer!


01-23-2015, 09:45 AM
Drbear, I'm surprised to hear that you use gloves. I love pastel because I can do it directly with my fingers with no brushes...I would like to hear what other people think about this

Don, you said almopst everything there's to say about smoothing and blending. usually, my art teacher say blend the colors underneath, then put another layer withouth blending. I think there are zones which need blending such as skies.
about the edges, the teacher says : those of the focal points aren't blended, those arround it are slightly smoothed and those far from from it are much blended.
now it also depends on the artist and his style.

01-23-2015, 02:36 PM
Lumiere I had to start using gloves once I found sanded papers! My fingers were raw! I really love Uart sanded papers. As I was discussing this post with my nurses this morning I realised that I like really big paintings and use 27x40 mostly and never smaller than the 21x27. That maybe why I use my fingers and smooth out my pastels more than most I use my fingers to spread it out and cover the paper. I love the input so far and Don I know you are right if I like it that's what really counts...I have always cared way too much about what other people think. But I have added to my bucket list to make it into the pastel society of America and it seems the judges frown upon my smoothing so I was trying to learn not to. (Long story short...I have brain cancer and I started a bucket list and it has changed my life and my family's for the better!)

01-23-2015, 04:39 PM
On sanded papers I don't usually blend with my fingers at all, because I can get enough layers that blending with another stick gets it just as smooth a soft edge without losing the bright freshness of unblended pastel.

In non sanded papers especially, I sometimes smooth and blend to make some elements become less important, push backgrounds back so that important foreground areas and textures pop out. I like a combination texture and the longer I paint, the more different textures I enjoy using, often all in the same painting.

In sketching I'll blend out to get fast soft gradients without layering. This is fast and effective. It just depends on what I want to do.

Over the years I learned other methods of getting different textures. I stopped being afraid of broken color and scumbled more on purpose, got rough broken color over smoothed color sometimes. I stopped just using the tip of the pastel and went to using the sides more too.

Play with it, explore with it. There's more than one way of smoothing and blending. Using a Colour Shaper doesn't break it down as much as finger blending, but finger blending is so direct and satisfying it's hard not to do it. I never completely gave it up. I just like going over it again to freshen it afterward depending on where it is in the painting.

01-23-2015, 05:03 PM
I wear thin gloves. I can't stand to have my hands dirty. The gloves fir nicely and are no problem at all. I sometimes use a sponge brush from the Harvard store to blend early pastel into the paper.

Equus Art
01-23-2015, 05:39 PM
You will find that those foam packing peanuts aka "ghost poop" in my terms, are fabulous for blending and you don't have to wear the fingerprints off of your fingers when blending on sanded papers. I only blend now as a dry underpainting to set my back grounds off, otherwise I will blend with the sticks. It helps my work be looser and more suggestive with my strokes rather than being a photo realist painter.


01-23-2015, 09:34 PM
I use nitrile gloves exclusively when blending with my hands. I find they work better than latex for whatever reason, and tend to be more comfortable with less of that awful latex smell. I really do not like the idea of rubbing pigment into my skin, not to mention, I question whether the natural oils in my skin may also be of detriment to the material. Aside from that, I use a color shaper for fine detail, and a sofft tool sponges for large areas (on occasion).

01-23-2015, 10:34 PM
You will find that those foam packing peanuts aka "ghost poop" in my terms, are fabulous for blending Cat

Since I tend to have a lot of "ghost poop" around I'm glad to learn they can serve a useful purpose. Thank you for the tip.:thumbsup:

01-23-2015, 11:08 PM
Some artists also like to use pieces of pipe insulation as a blender, they get cut to size and it's cheap to get a whole lot of it from any hardware store. Packing peanuts are free though. Other blenders include tortillons and stumps.

Those last are very good for tiny details if you're using pastel pencils like charcoal and want a lighter version by blending of one of your colors, but need it in a tiny spot, like a light blue catch light on an eye reflecting the sky instead of a white one. They pick up and deposit color well. The stumps, two ended ones, can be sharpened in a pencil sharpener.

I found my progression in learning was finger blending then tortillons and various blenders and Colour Shapers to blending with the sticks thanks to Deborah Secor and Colorix. Also scumbling, visible loose strokes and a host of other techniques. I like to use them all in the same painting and always like blending in the under layer to work over it, even on sanded paper. That fills in any white areas. If it's black or colored paper I sometimes don't but always do on the first layer on white paper.

Another fun technique is liquid wash of the first layer, rubbing alcohol or water can soak the first layer into the paper and make it very solid and toothy to paint over. But that's not the same as blended soft passages.

01-24-2015, 10:26 AM
Perhaps you'd be happier with an applicator applied pastel like Pan Pastel; or oil pastel/Caran d'Ache. It doesn't bother me to wear my medium LOL. I quit over blending when I discovered it didn't sell or win at shows; and all the painters I admired didn't do it - as a finish anyway, underpaintings are another subject. I see you are in my neighborhood - PM me & maybe I can put you in touch with some people you can work with.

01-24-2015, 05:59 PM
You will find that those foam packing peanuts aka "ghost poop"

HA HA! Up here they are called snowman poop!
nice to know they are good for something!

02-21-2015, 07:49 AM
If you smooth and blend because you LOVE the finished look, that is a good reason for doing it.

If you smooth and blend because you cannot think how else to work with your pastels, then you might be missing out on a technique which will please you just as much. You can blend together with other techniques, I do. I use blending SELECTIVELY, to soften edges, rather than as an overall technique. I often blend quite a lot of my initial layers, but rarely blend as I work to a conclusion, because I enjoy a "broken colour" look.

My techniques are based on the pastel paintings I enjoy to look at....the works of Degas, Toulouse Lautrec, and modern painters like Albert Handell, Richard McKinley, Doug Dawson. I think this is a good way forwards......look thro books like "The Best of Pastel" and others, find out which paintings you respond to the most, and then you will quickly discover ifyou need to change the way you work, or add to the way you work.

02-21-2015, 07:13 PM
:) Maybe you would be interested in Zaria Forman's work


02-22-2015, 02:15 AM
Maybe you would be interested in Zaria Forman's work
it's neat to see how many sticks of color she goes through on those massive paintings, unisons, i think she helped make a new color or two for them...

i like to blend a bit in my lower layers, and i blend more on portraits than landscapes, because of this i've been having the most success with less tooth for portraits as of late...

i own a bunch of colour shapers, but i don't use them much, except for detailed area's, they just don't come in a shape that i find useful for the most part... i have been having really good luck making my own blending and smudging tools, it's pretty easy, i buy a pack of cheep brushes, heat the metal tube part with a candle to remove it from the wooden shaft of the brush, then i use a dremel tool with a cut-off disc to make a new metal sleeve about the same diameter as the original, by cutting apart those old collapsible antennas into short lengths(it's almost impossible to remove the bristles from the original sleeves). i find them at the hardware store, with a magnet on the end, meant for picking up screws in hard to reach places, usually less than $2.

once you have the wood shaft and a new metal sleeve you can insert just about anything into it for your own custom colour shapers! bits of pool noodles, leather, random chunks of rubber...my favorite shaper tip for blending is ear plugs, those kind that you can squeeze up like memory foam, they work better than anything I've ever tried, and for detail work and color shaping I've been injecting silicon caulk into the metal sleeve so that it protrudes from the end a bit and letting it dry, it took a bit of trial and error, but with that method i can make very rounded tips, that behave much like true colour shapers, but with a much more useful shape, in my opinion...i have about $100 dollars worth of the real ones and barely use then, because their sharp angles tend to clash with the work i want to do, while my $1.50 homemade rounded silicon tips shape the pastel way more effectively, without leaving the harsh lines that the name brand colour shapers do. they also look quite nice and fit the hand well, which was a problem that i had with using chunks of pipe insulation.

i find blending useful in portraits to get the values just the way i want them, especially if i don't have the exact color i need on hand, then with my final layer i use the blended lower layers as a guide to apply the top layers with a more vibrant, textured look. I let a good bit of the lower layers show through, wherever i feel it looks nice, and find the effect quite pleasing. i feel that this approach spares you that overly worked look of a completely blended picture, but still retains some of the precise value control that blending gives you.

ural jones
02-22-2015, 11:11 AM
Although I cannot give any Pastel technical advice,....(newbie)
I did find something real neat at the cosmetic counter! I went with my wife one day as she purchased some make up. I looked down on the counter and Viola there were little sponges in triangular form. They were free, so I got one and they are good for using on pastels. (for me anyway) Anyone else do this?:thumbsup:

02-22-2015, 12:14 PM
I have found my fingers with gloves are the best for blending or smoothing. I do however love the colour shaper set by West Design sold by Dakota Pastels. They don't seem to take the pastels off the paper like the other brands. And they seem to be made out of the same material as the triangular cosmetic sponges. And they come in five different shapes!

ural jones
02-22-2015, 12:20 PM
But, they cost $$$ right? LOL

02-22-2015, 01:43 PM
Many great ideas here and much useful information.

Thank you for starting this thread, and I am so sorry to hear of your health problems, Drbear! Here's hoping you receive the best medical care available--just as I'm sure you provide so lovingly to your little patients! Hugs! :cat:

02-22-2015, 08:50 PM
Calley, good luck with your treatment and progress...that goes without saying really. As for blending and smoothing...recently, because I bought a few panpastels, I've been using their Sofft tools to lay down and blend pastels, not just panpastels, I've also discovered I can use them with good effect on Terry Ludwig, and Schminke pastels...presumably because they are also very soft, fine pastels! I also use pastel shapers, and I resort to gloves when using sanded paper as I prefer not to leave my dna all over the paper!:evil: :lol:

02-22-2015, 09:42 PM
Sofft tools from Pan Pastels work very well as blenders for regular soft pastels. Yes! They also last longer and are more effective than makeup applicators. You can use them to pat color on as well as blend it out.

I forgot to add something about Finger Blending.

The baby technique everyone does to start has a certain beauty of its own. In combination with areas stick blended it will make them soften and go back in space. It's really great for things like the back line of trees or softening the contours of distant hills.

It is a wonderful technique. There's nothing wrong with it. When the sky is not the main focus or you don't want it tumultuous, when you need that effect as itself nothing else will do. Learn as many different ways to blend as you can because every one of them has its own uses. Finger blending is soft and subtle. You do dim and soften everything with it but when you do that around the element you want to sparkle, it will sparkle even more.

Also I almost always finger blend the first layer, sometimes several layers on unsanded paper to preserve tooth and keep the last layers bright. When I'm using hard pastels on plain paper it's really great to be able to do these soft translucent blended layers.

You might enjoy Pan Pastels too. There's a big long thread on them. They mix like paint so the minimum you need for a palette is the 5 or 10 Painters Colors. 5 Painters is three good primaries, black and white, and the price on sets vs. individual pans mean you get the black and most of the white free.

03-04-2015, 05:42 PM
i'm jumping past all the comments ...

pastel is very tactile and immediate ,
allmost finger painting , in a way , when finger blending , but ,
what's the objective for your painting ,
and what's the visual result at this stage ... ?

a consideration is that the sticks are pre-mixed , ( even the ' simple ' sets )
and finger-blending would appear to be a shortcut to making the ' right ' colour , but ,
gently using sticks of a similar density over each other will blend
with less crush on the pigment crystals so there is a continuity .

i've prepped a white paper by laying on blocks of colour/shape
and setting in with finger , cotton ball , foam brush , whatever ,
and keep the tooth/grab fresh to build the painting .


03-05-2015, 07:47 AM
Very good points Ed thank you! I'm still working on this...it is because I enjoy the tactile feel and using my fingers!

Moqui Steps
03-22-2015, 03:28 AM
I am just learning and trying all kinds of stuff as I go. So far I have worked on Fisher 400, Ampersand boards, Wallis pro, some kind of cheap sanded paper with no markings on the back (about 340 grit), and my own masonite panels with a gesso and grit ground on them ranging from 180 to 320 grit aluminum oxide or silicon carbide. I know from the past (35 years ago) I have no interest right now in working on unsanded grounds like papers, maybe later.

My favorites so far are the Fisher 400 and my home made 320 grit aluminum oxide panels.

The sanded grounds will draw blood very quickly, especially the 180 grit so I have to use something besides bare fingers other than for an occasional swipe.

Works for me:
Fingercots - I got some heavy duty orange ones off Amazon that last and last yet they are not too thick to feel what is going on. I don't like the feel of a full glove. I usually just put a fingercot on the index and middle finger of both hands. They have textured grip dots on them so I turn them inside out to blend. The dots were doing weird stuff to the pastels.
Pipe insulation foam cut to the desired shapeDoesn't work for me:
Foam packing peanuts - fall apart too fast on the coarse grounds
Tortillions - no matter how lightly I use them they tend to scrape the pastel off the surface rather than blending. Maybe I need some softer ones?
Paintbrushes - just removes the colorWant to try:
Some kind of foam that is slightly more dense with a finer texture than the pipe insulation but that holds together well on coarser sanded grounds, unlike the packing foam I have tried.
PanPastel tools
Some kind of blender that is between foam and flexible rubber, not sure what that would be.These are the fingercots from Amazon. I have yet to wear through one of them in a single days use. I often re-use them a dozen times or more before throwing them away.


03-22-2015, 12:55 PM
Drbear--I am so sorry about your cancer and good for you for having these goals. I have really liked the paintings you have taken on and shared here. My prayers are with you and I ditto what Blayne said!