Mar 4, 2011

Let's Talk Coloring!

You may have seen this on Dustin Pike's blog. If you've wandered over from there, welcome! If not, go check him out!

There are so many different media choices available to paper crafters these days. Copics are one, but frankly, I'm not a fan. I like my pencils and I like to think I get pretty decent results with them. During a recent DT discussion, one of my DT Peeps complained about his choice of coloring medium:

“I have Prisma watercolor pencils and I use OMS. For some reason, the edges of the images always have more of an outline look to them (does that make sense?) Not a nice blend like the Copics. ”

It is the number one complaint I've heard about the wet blending technique with colored pencils, also known as Gamsol Technique on Splitcoast Stampers. I tried it when I was first looking at pencils and decided I didn't care for the way the final image looked either, so I went back to early art classes and mixed what I knew worked from watercoloring with the OMS techniques I found online. Now I love the final results. You can love your results too. Getting from here to there is as easy as one, two, three! Check out these monsters.


The first is colored straight, no blending. The second is blended and the shadows scribbled in, the third is ready to cut and make into a card. I missed a spot when I blended out the last monster. See it? I caught it before I made it into a card, though. The totally cute Monster is from Dustin's December Membership offering. He's a Members Only image. Membership totally has its privileges! Check out the membership information here.

When broken down to three simple steps it looks pretty easy, right? Think about it this way. I treat my pencils something like...well...copics. :) I lay down a light even layer of color in each section, blend that smooth, then go back with a darker tone and scribble a bit into the lighter areas, blend that out. Repeat if I'm using a third, darker tone. I find that this style of coloring and blending gives me something that falls about half way between watercoloring and copics. Easy as 1, 2, 3! Let's take a closer look at each monster.

PhotobucketMonster 1 here was colored over the entire surface. Nothing fancy. Just go back to your grade school coloring roots and dig in. It doesn't have to be smooth and perfect. The blending will take care of any rough patches. You do want to make sure that you have an all over color.

Photobucket Monster 2 has this layer blended out. Notice how smooth and even the color looks when compared to the first one. I've picked out a pencil tone that is darker than my original color. Working just in the areas where I want shadows, I just add a couple of quick lines or a scribble.

PhotobucketStep up to Monster 3. All the scribbles and lines from Monster 2 have been blended out and smoothed into the first layer of color. In this case, complete and ready to make into a card. I will say that I was not at all pleased with how the balloon came out. The colors I chose for it were simply to light next to the vibrant colors of the monster. You'll notice in the final card that I covered them up with heart shaped chocolates.

Before I tackle some of the questions that I've gotten, with the help of the rest of the design team, let me show you the difference just a bit of shading makes. The monsters, colored and blended before I went through and added the shading came out pretty cute. In fact, I left one unshaded just to show you that if you aren't comfortable tackling that part of this technique, you can still get good results without it.


The Monsterlicious Valentine on the left was blended and shaded as I mentioned here, while the monster on the right didn't get any shading at all. The one of the left has that pesky leg still not blended out. Good thing I took pictures or I wouldn't have seen it until I was packing them up! Personally, I like the extra bit of pop that shading gives to an image, but it's up to you on how far you want to go. The design still looks good without it.

Okay, how about some common questions and answers:

1. Do you “pull” the dark color into the lighter color? Or do you just swirl your blending stub in the area?
The answer is "yes". Sometimes I swirl the dark into the light, other times I pull it in. It depends on the area and what I'm blending. With hair I almost always pull in varying length strokes to give that sort of texture to the final piece. For faces, I nearly always swirl. For the rest, it's more of a combination of the two, following the line of the image from where I want the darkest part of the shadow to the lightest part. It's one of those things that takes practice to see how the final product is going to look.

Doing the color on color style of color/blending, you'll want to use a lighter touch on the paper stumps. If you're using a good OMS and a good paper, you shouldn't need to forcefully push the color around.

2. What do you recommend for blending stubs?
These are the pencils and stumps I used on the monsters. I just got a pile of the more grey toned stumps that are stamped China instead of Taiwan. I've read people saying one is far better than the other, but to be honest, I can't tell a bit of difference. I'm pretty sure that if you browse through my blog of images, you can't tell the difference either. They feel the same to me and the results are identical.


3. I’d like to buy the stumps in bulk, but it seems my Michaels just has three or four in a package.
Up until a Valentine's extravaganza from the hubs, I bought my stumps like you. They arrived in bits and dribbles whenever I was in Hobby Lobby or Micheal's. For the white, Taiwan made ones, that is the only way I've seen them sold. If you want to try the grey ones, they're available in bulk from Blick Art Store.

The only thing I've noticed with them is that because they are a different, cheaper paper than the white ones, they soak up the OMS faster. Not a problem, just a note. On the up side, the small ones from them are smaller even than the collection of Tortillions I have and they work far better for blending in those tiny little spots that seem to crop up in just about any image.

4. What do you use to clean the stumps? I’ve been using a nail file (sanding block type thing).
Nail file. :) I have a collection of 4 I bought at Sally's Beauty Supply nearly 2 years ago. They're wide, 1 1/2 inches or so, made for filing acrylic nails, so they have a coarser grit on one side than you'll get on a regular file. After 2 years of hard use, I'm just now getting to the point of having to replace them. When they get clogged with paper fibers, I rub them on a piece of denim. A scrap of jeans my oldest monster put a bunch of holes in before she managed to out grow them. There's something about the surface of denim that grabs the paper out of the sand paper, leaving you with a clean surface on your files without wearing down the file.

5. What do you use to blend? I've tried OMS but it gives me a headache. (I've also heard that some people say it has a faint, unpleasant smell)
There are lots of alternatives to OMS for blending. You can use baby oil, mineral oil, I've even tried olive oil. What I prefer and use is a product called Zest-It made of orange oil. It's eco-friendly, which OMS is not. The same goes for little monster friendly. You shouldn't go and drink it, but I'm far less worried about the occasional finger dip than I would be with OMS.

I buy it out of England. They don't sell it in the US. I bought this one 2 years ago:

Expect it to take around 2 weeks to arrive on their standard shipping offering. Shipping isn't cheap, but as I said, that's lasted me 2 years and I still have quite a bit in the bottle. Also, expect your post people to be grumpy about receiving it unless they've updated their MSDS labeling in their shipping documentation. It is worth the wait and the displeased post carrier. There's no chemical smell, only a faint orange scent and it is the very best thing I've used to blend out my pencils.

I store it in this adorable container:

Which is manly enough for even my DT pal Ted while still being cute enough for me. Add a strip of paper and up the cute factor. Not to mention the fact that it's easily $10 shorter than most glass pumps on the market.

To use, just push down the top. The Zest-It puddles up in the top for dipping your stumps. The Zest-It will gradually drain back down into the container. No muss, no fuss. I had a wooden basket I bought on after Easter clearance a few years ago. I took the flimy metal wire handle off, gave it a coat of paint and added in some paper and a cute dragon. Not a Dudley, but one of the oldest stamps in my collection. That little guy is at least 15 years old!


The box neatly holds all of my blending supplies. The solvent pump, stumps and files. The stumps are tucked into a baby food jar too keep them from wandering all over the box. It's a tidy solution to keeping everything together and the little monsters know not to play with the stuff in Mama's Toybox. Here's a top view with the solvent pump open.


6. I've heard the new Prismacolor pencils made in Mexico don't blend. What other pencils should I try.
Okay, I've heard this and frankly, I've had a very hard time believing it. I've tried quite a few brands and types of pencils and I have yet to find a pencils that would not blend. That includes watercolor pencils and your standard #2 graphite writing pencil my monster uses for school. I don't have any pencils manufactured in Mexico so I can't say for sure what the problem is with the people who have reported it. I know it has scared a few people. If you're concerned, try Derwent pencils. They're very proudly made in England and I've had great results with them.

That being said, I do have a couple of pencils that do not blend as nicely or as smoothly as others. One in question is Mahogany. The purple tone on the monsters at the top. It blends, but often reluctantly. To get the results I want, I find myself using more Zest-It and a lighter touch. If you're hearing a rubbing/squeaking sound of the stumps on your paper, you're rubbing too hard. Go back, get a bit more blending agent and try rubbing not quite so hard. You might be surprised with the results.

7. What paper should I use? I don't want to invest a whole lot of money.
The paper you use will make all the difference in your results, particularly when you're starting out and unsure of how to get the results you want. That being said, I've colored and blended on everything from good Gina K cardstock to watercolor paper. The smoother the cardstock, the easier it is to blend.

Best bang for the buck is Georgia Pacific cardstock available at Wal-mart. It's a decent paper with a good surface. While it's not my go to paper, when I'm doing something like 22 Valentines for the oldest monster, it's worked out fine. For my day to day and go to paper, however, you just can't beat Gina K's Pure Luxury Base Weight cardstock. It's smoother and I really like how the color seems to float on the paper when I add Zest-it. Remember that mahogany pencil I mentioned above? I have far less problems when I'm using Pure Lux stock than when I'm using anything else.

8. What about printers for digital images?
Okay, here I'm going to stop. I use a laser printer so I print and go. I don't have any experience with ink jet printers. Some inks may need to dry over night and be heat set before blending. If heat setting doesn't work for you, take your sheet of printed images to a copy shop and make a copy. Copy machines, like laser printers fuse toner to paper at around 600 degrees as part of the printing process. This pretty much takes care of your heat setting. Even with my laser printer, I occasionally run into problems if there are lots of lines in an area I'm trying to blend. You're blending with a solvent. If you have problems, try staying away from the lines as best you can and if the image still gives you fits, try a spray fixative over the image or a quick burst of hair spray to seal it off.

I hope this addresses any questions you may have with wet blending colored pencils. If you want to know something I haven't covered here, post a comment and I'll do what I can to get you an answer. My best piece of advice is to try it and play around with it. Most of all, have fun. If you don't enjoy it, then it's probably not for you.