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Blending with Graphite

Drawing is a very individual thing by picking up information, experience, and your own new discoveries all combined with our own unique personality. No one style of art or a drawing technique can be considered right or wrong, just different.

Some styles and subject matter denote themselves to impressionistic, bold statements and applications, the information here will concentrate on a gradual, smoothly blended appearance. I feel this particular style of drawing best demonstrates a smooth appearances with a more realistic look. And with a little practice there is no limit to how real you can make a drawing appear.

The key to this style, put in a nutshell is : “gradual blending.” This means a smooth application of tones, from very dark to extremely light, with a very gradual blend in between. It should be done very gradually that you cannot see where one tone/shade ends and another begins.

We will be focusing on three major concepts throughout, concepts that will apply to everything you draw; shapes (including people), lights, and darks. Training your eye to see these things correctly will take time, so approach each one single and slowly. Once you can see things stating to happen for you, your accuracy will automatically improve.

But the most important thing to achieve is blending. Blending will make any shape you draw appear realistic if applied accurately. The questions of where and how shading should be placed and blended will be explained, and the mystery behind drawing will be more clearly revealed to you.

Learning to Blend With Graphite

The only trick to this technique, which is hardly a trick at all is the gentle blending of tone from dark to light. There should be no choppiness or interruption of tone. (Look at the images below tutorial) You should not be able to see where one tone/shade ends and another begins.

The smoothness is achieved by applying your pencil lines softly, and always in the same direction. Build your tones slowly and evenly. Lighten your touch gradually, as you make the transition into your lighter areas. Smoothing everything out with a blending tortillon, moving in the same direction you used to place your pencil tone, beginning with the darks and blending out to light.

Always use the tortillon at an angle. Using the tip will cause the end to push in and become blunt. If this should happen, you can mend it by sticking the end of a straitened paper clip, or thin nail inside of it and pushing the tip back out.

Do no throw your tortillons away as they become dirty. Save them, and divide them into groups according to how much graphite they have on them. A very black tortillon will be just what you need to blend out a dark area later, like a dark a background, or a dark head of hair.

Always us a fresh tortillon for the light areas, and don’t be tempted to use the same ones over and over again to conserve. They are not very expensive; I buy them by in bulk so I never have to look for a clean one when I need it.

Below are some images of incorrect blending, correct blending and the tortillon

this is the incorrect way to blend
This is the incorrect way to blend

Notice the obvious pencil lines that weren’t blended out. The tones are choppy and rough, and not even and gradual.

This is the correct way to blend
This is the correct way to blend

This example is smooth and even. It was achieved by applying the pencil lines very close together.

This is an image of a tortillon, they come in various sizes
This is an image of a tortillon, they come in various sizes

Always hold the tortillon at an angle to keep from flattening out he tip, but the choice is yours, using the tip will where them out more quickly.

There are several materials you will need on a regular basis to draw effectively, as well as to be organized.

Click on the follow post links to view them (MATERIALS NEEDED FOR SMOOTH BLENDING)

The Five Elements of Shading

(Look at the bottom of this subject “The Five Elements of Shading” for images to help you understand the tutorial).

To denote something realistically, the artist must fully understand the lighting on the subject and the five elements of shading. The form of any object is created by the correct placement of lights and darks: the five elements of shading and the gentle blending of the tones together.

Every tone of the object you are drawing should be compared to black or white. But how do you know how dark to draw something: Using a simple five-box scale of values can help you decide on the depth of tone. Each one of the tones on the scale represents one of the five elements of shading For example, tone number three on the value scale –(medium gray)- corresponds to shading element number three on the sphere – the half tone (halfway between white and black).

  1. Cast Shadow. This is your darkest dark, and should be made as close to black as possible, as seen in box number one on your scale. This is the shadow that the object you are drawing is “casting” on the surface on which it lies. The shadow is the darkest where the object and the surface touch, and then it lightens gradually as it gets farther away from the object.
  2. Shadow Edge. This is the dark gray, and corresponds with number two on your scale. This is not the edge of the object, it is where the object is receding from the light, and is on the opposite side of the light source.
  3. Halftone. This is the medium gray, or number three on your scale. This is the true color of the object, without the effects of direct light or shadow. IT is neither light nor dark so it is called a halftone.
  4. Reflected Light. This is the small light edge seen around the object, particularly between the cast shadow and the shadow edge. This is really the light bouncing back from the surrounding surfaces. It is the light that makes the object appear round and solid, and tells us that there is a backside to it. Reflected light is never bright white. It is closer to a halftone, like box number four on the scale.
  5. Full Light. This is where the light hits the object full strength. Full light should be represented by the white of the paper. The gray areas should be blended into this area very carefully, so no hard edges are created.
Black to White Values
“Five-Box Value Scale”

Practice these 5 Prime Shade Values, going from dark to light, then blending them to a smooth finish.

“The Sphere” click on image iIfound to make larger so you can view all that is indicated on the “Sphere”

Merely a round object
Merely a round object

Correct Blending Techniques

Before you begin drawing actual object you should get comfortable with your tools and materials. I recommend that you first draw some blended-tone swatches, as shown above, to help you learn to control your blending. Start with your darkest tone on one side and gradually lighten the tone as your continue to the other side. Do as many as you need to, until you feel proficient at it.

Once you begin to draw simple objects, such as the cylinder shown below, us the following steps to help you.

1.Soft edge: This is where the object gently curves and creates a shadow edge. It is not harsh, but a gradual change of tone.

2.Hard edge: This is where two surface touch or overlap, creating a harder edged, more defined appearance. I do not mean draw a line. Let the difference in tones create the edge.

3.Application of tone: _Always apply your tones, whether you use your pencil or tortillon (yes, you can draw with the tortillon), with the contours of the object. Follow the curves of the object, with the shading parallel to the edges, so you can blend into the edge, and out toward the light. It is impossible to control blending if you are cross blending and not following the natural edges and curves.

4.Contrast: Don’t be afraid of good solid contrast of tone. I will repeat that; don’t be afraid of good solid contrast of tone. Always compare everything to black or white. Use your five-box value scale (shown above), to see where the gray tones fit in. Squinting your eyes while looking at your subject helps you see the contrast better. The sphere, and cylinder both important shapes, and so is the egg, as you will see shortly, to understand if you want to draw effectively.

Uneven tones can be corrected by forming a point with your kneaded eraser, then drawing in reverse. Use a light touch and gently remove any areas that stand out darker than others. Light spots can be filled in with your pencil (do this lightly). Areas that need to be even darker can be sprayed with your fixative spray (which I’ve listed as one of the supplies needed for drawing) and the darks built up in layers. Be sure to erase what you need to, before spraying or it will be permanently on your work. Use your typewriter eraser to crisp up edges and remove any over blending.

“The Cylinder”

click on image to make larger

The Cylinder
The Cylinder

Take note to the Soft Edge, Hard Edge, Contrast, and Tone. Click on the above image to see where these four are indicated.

Three Basic Steps of Transition

All transition requires three basic steps. First is and accurate line drawing, or outline of your subject. An outline is the outside shape, whereas a line drawing includes the interior details. It is the foundation of your drawing and acts as a guide for placing tones. Second is the identification and placement of lights and darks and placing them in as puzzle pieces. Third is the blending of all your tones together, smoothly and gradually. As you study and practice the shapes below, refer back to the “Five Elements of Shading.”

Draw these shapes several time each, with the light source coming from different directions each time (north, east, south and west). This may seem very boring, but practice is essential for effective drawing.

Below are some examples I found for you to follow.

click on image to make larger

Accurate line drawing, Placement of tones, and Blending
Accurate line drawing, Placement of tones, and Blending

Remember, blending is the secret to getting an image to look realistic, so keep practicing this till you get very good with it. You will find you need this example in almost all that you draw.

Resource: Life Like Portraits, by artist Lee Hammond

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1 Comment

  1. Hey,

    Wonderful post! I like this stuff.


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