View Full Version : When to blend?

03-13-2010, 05:27 PM
OK, you pastel gurus now have to weigh in on blending vs. not blending, especially after so many of us newbies have now seen the Arnold Lowrey videos linked here. So many pastelists and books say to avoid blending so as not to crush the crystal forms of the pastel. However, I have admired Arnold's works via the web for so long, and didn't realize how much he blended until seeing the videos. The blending certainly doesn't seem to diminish the beautiful works he creates (and I don't see a difference, at least not when viewing works via a computer monitor).
I also realize many will say it's a matter of personal likes and that rules are made to be broken. While I agree, that's a difficult reponse to swallow from the point of view of someone just starting out.
So, what's a newbie to do?
Thank you.

03-13-2010, 06:03 PM
No hard and fast rule. It's a personal thing. You actually can blend all you want with underpaintings, spray a fixative and then get down with some beautiful strokes for a glorious finish. You can do the same thing without blending. And without spraying.

If you are a little on the wild side, like slinging paint around, and want your pastel strokes to talk, show directional enery and movement, I would not blend.

If you are a little on the anal retentive side and like things neat, clean, and smooth, blending might be a good thing for you.

If you are a little of both. do a little of both.

Blending with fingers on sanded papers is more difficult than blending on a smooth surface. You'll get blood on the sanded surface, and that red is fugative. On the smooth (like Canson MiTients), maybe a little oil from your fingers will be incorporated. In either case you can use a stump or the sponges for make up, or a paper towel, or a chamois to do the blending.

Sometimes it's a matter of how much to blend, or how much not to. When in doubt, leave it.

Blending complements will most likely get you some shade of mud
Blending cools with warms will most likely get something similar
Blending analagous colors enable you to come up with hues you may not have
Blending either all warm or all cool might do something similar.

If you have an electric blender, you can always combine lime juice, triple sec and tequila, which will make a nice light green mix that you can sip while you are deciding whether to blend or not to blend.

I hope this helps you in your blending quest.:D :D http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/13-Mar-2010/111873-44092-eating__drinking.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/13-Mar-2010/111873-3-12_Karen_life_nude_with_pans_007.jpg

this li'l quickie was done with unblended Pan Pastels, which blend naturally, and charcoal

03-13-2010, 07:40 PM
If you have an electric blender, you can always combine lime juice, triple sec and tequila, which will make a nice light green mix that you can sip while you are deciding whether to blend or not to blend.
Now yer talkin'!! Best advice ever posted. :D


03-13-2010, 10:08 PM
Sonni has said it all! Including the liquid refreshments!! I couldn't agree with her more - I don't hold to "no blending" as a hard and fast rule. Sometimes things require blending. Sometimes they don't. Besides, rules were made to be broken :-)


03-13-2010, 10:30 PM
There is no rule when it comes to blending - only personal preference! What is important is to know and learn what blending does and doesn't do.

Blending a stroke does reduce the brilliance of the color as opposed to leaving it "pure". So if you like to blend, then you might put down a color that is more intense than you need. Same with darks - blending them will lighten them. In the Arnold Lowery demo that I saw, he used a very dark color in the sky. But by blending it, it lightened and fit right in.

Many folks blend the underpainting or initial layers because they know they will be covered with additional layers. Those layers may be left unblended.

Blending with a finger is often the best way to soften an edge. One can also blend with a harder pastel - pushing the softer pastel dust around on the paper.

If you work on portraits and figures where the colors are often very muted, you might blend more (I blend virtually every stroke), but on a landscape where you might have more intense colors, you might not blend. It really doesn't matter how you do it - what counts is how it looks in the end.

The key is to do what works for you and the results you want. There are so many different ways to apply pastel, that there is no "correct" way.


I don't know if this example really explains anything, but except for the 4 trees around the barn, part of the roof, the bush in front, the patch of grass on the right side, and final layer of the sky, everything else is blended. In some cases, especially the first row of trees in the background, the blending often consists of just lightly touching the pastel dust to slightly blur the area. This is true in many places where one wants to just slightly soften the edges. The grass is blended with about 7 or 8 different colors, but I wouldn't say that it has turned to mud. Just use a light touch!


03-13-2010, 10:57 PM
Don's example showed one more cool thing about Blending Vs. Not Blending.

If you blend the background areas and mute them slightly, the scumbled textures and bright strokes on the focal point will draw the eye to the focal point. The distant trees are not as detailed or intense as the ones around the barn or the bright barn roof. So blending a bit or a lot can soften edges and soften the whole element on the "supporting cast" in a landscape.

The Sofft sponges that come with Pan Pastels are great for blending without leaving skin oils on the sanded paper or smooth papers. A fan brush can be used for blending lightly too.

Colour Shapers, which are like rubber tipped paint brushes, can be used to move color around and blend it with less of the crystal-crushing effect than finger painting. Using a harder pastel stick or a pastel pencil to blend works very well and doesn't crush the crystals at all, if you need a smooth passage in the focal point.

I blended all the time for a couple of decades, I was selling portraits in New Orleans and all the soft edges were finger blended. I just kept a wet towel handy like Arnold Lowry to take it off my hands. The results are fast and lovely in their own way, they make very smooth transitions in facial shading that look very natural.

Then after I took Deborah Secor's "Snow" ESP class here and Charlie (Colorix) did the "Colourful Still Life" ESP, I took the plunge and stopped finger blending entirely, mostly to learn how to blend in these other ways. Currently I don't blend, but I'm starting to see the places where Assorted Fingers are still the best tool for the effects I want.

I do blend the underlayers to leave more tooth for early layers when I use Charlie's method on paintings.

"Mud" is not always bad. Sometimes it's exactly the hue that you want, greenish muddy or orangy muddy or grayish muddy. If you mix complements, your grays will be livelier than just using a gray stick.

03-14-2010, 12:01 PM
Thank you everyone. I guess it's just a matter of plunging in with experimentation.

Deborah Secor
03-14-2010, 04:59 PM
As far as I'm concerned, finger blended pastels are slightly duller and not as brilliant, so I reserve it for places I want to mute brilliance, dull the color slightly and put things behind others. Classic example: the sky. It's behind everything else. The dulling is not easily perceived on a computer monitor as it is minute, but clearly perceptible in person. FINGER blending, which adds a slight bit of oil to the mix, will result in a very different look than using a Colour Shaper or Sofft sponge to blend. Experiment to see this difference.

IMHO, Arnold blends the areas that will be duller (such as waves, reflections, skies) but re-covers areas with fresh layers of pastel, restoring the brilliance of unblended pastel strokes in passages where it's most effective. His technique of using a razor blade on the Canson M-T in essence stabilizes the pastel on that paper without blending. Take a look at these four paintings and analyze where the fresh color resides and where he has blended. http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showpost.php?p=7252534&postcount=1

In the example below I did no blending at all, other than the blending that occurred as a result of layering and layering and layering pastels.



03-14-2010, 06:57 PM
If I remember correctly, Arnold blended in the first layers, and only blended lightly after that.

Agree with all above speakers, it is a question of style, what things should look like.

I rub and blend in the first layer heavily, may blend second and first layers, and after that I blend with the sticks, unless extra blending is needed, for example what Arnold did by unifying ground and side of house.

The origin of the 'rule' is probably to stop newbies from blending a painting to 'death' -- i.e. it is *advice*. (I have my share of overblended stinkers.)

Experiment, and you'll find what works for you to get the result you want.


03-15-2010, 04:08 PM
Both Gil Dellinger and Lorenzo Chavez stick out their pinkies and blend. Look 'em up.

03-15-2010, 04:46 PM
I've used a cotton swab to smerdge (smudge+merge) two colors in a sky. I guess the best bet would be to create a test sheet or three to see the effects of blending with different tools, papers, etc.


Arnold Lowrey
03-16-2010, 02:39 AM
Charlie, I think you have me nailed!

03-17-2010, 11:40 PM
Blending is both a techincal and style preference. Wende Caporale stated, "...you don't have to find your style, it will find you." In other words, enjoy pasteling and these issues will work themselves out.

I allow the pastel stick to do the blending. There is a "window of opportunity" where it occurs after multiple layering. It requires much patience, but the finished product is worth the wait. The only exception to my "no blending" policy, is water reflections..... one downward swipe (with the fatty medial side of the palm) followed by one horizontal swipe. ( learned this from an Arnold Lowery demo.)