Blending Stumps Vs Tortillons And Other Tools To Blend Like A Pro

By Nicole Tinkham


Whether you draw or are a makeup artist, you know that blending is essential. For drawing, you have many blending tool options from tortillons to stumps and many others. The right tools can make a huge difference in your artwork and when it comes to blending, you definitely have to think about your supplies of choice. Every artist is different and prefers a different tool. In this blog we’ll talk about the difference between a blending stump and tortillons and more tools to help you blend like a pro.
Blending Stumps

What they are: A solid “stick” made out of soft paper with a point at each end. These can be sharpened with sandpaper and also cleaned with a kneaded eraser which is super convenient! Since these are available in a variety of sizes, they’re great for many different projects.


What they are: Tightly rolled paper with a point on one end ideal for blending small areas. We recommend using it at an angle to keep that nice pointed tip in tact.

Tip: Have many of these in use at once. Once dark graphite gets on these, you won’t want to use it in a lighter area. Tortillons are inexpensive enough that you can be using several for different shades in your piece at once.

The difference

Tortillons can be a little more difficult to use since that aren’t made with the same soft paper that of blending stumps. This makes it difficult to keep a consistent tone. However, tortillons are perfect for precision! Our suggestion: Have both!

What you can achieve with BOTH options

1.    Blending: Push graphite around the page to blend tones together.

2.    Shading: Pick up graphite with your tool of choice (use scrap paper to scribble on and then rub your blending tool over the graphite to pick it up). Now you can apply that graphite to your drawing and layer it on depending on how dark you need it to be.

3.    Light values: A clean blending tool is key for blending light values!

4.    Dark values: When working on a dark area, it’s typical for tiny specs of the white paper to shine through. Using a blending tool can cover up those areas.

Other tools

Chamois: Not for detailed work but this cloth is perfect for a soft blend when using charcoal and pastels.

Makeup brush: We’ve heard from one of our artist friends that makeup brushes are excellent for blending!

Q-tip: Use for larger areas, not precise spots.

Paper towel: Fold in a triangle so you get some nice points on the ends.

Facial tissue: Wrap it around your finger to prevent the oils from your finger to get smudges on your artwork.

Cotton swab

Don’t use..

Your fingers! The oils from your finger can make the graphite impossible to erase.

If you aren’t already blending, you need to be! It can definitely transform your artwork if you do it right. Play around with it first though as it takes some practice. There’s no right or wrong answer here either. Try a few different blending tools out and see which one you like best. Every artist is different so we can’t really recommend blending stumps over tortillons or anything else.

Let us know, what’s your favorite tool to blend with and why? Please leave a comment below!

Interested In Conte Crayons But Don’t Know What They Are Or How To Use Them? Here’s Your Guide!

By Nicole Tinkham


They resemble pastels and are even located in the same general area in your typical art store, but Conte crayons are actually much different. We’ve found that when the average person doesn’t quite know what a product is, how to use it, or what results it produces they skip right past it and move onto something they are familiar with. Do you ever find yourself doing the same thing? While that’s totally normal, we dare you to try at least one new thing this month. That’s right; we’re kicking off the year doing something completely new! And we will strive to bring you a new art supply guide each month to help you pick up a new medium and learn how to use it. This month is all about Conte crayons. Funny thing is, as we were browsing the Keeton’s art department, we glanced at these and instantly thought of pastels. So we did our research, found out how these differ from pastels, how to use them and then came up with this helpful guide. Read on to discover the possibilities of Conte crayons in your next masterpiece.

What are they?

Conte crayons (or sticks) look similar to that of a pastel but are much different. These are a drawing medium made up of compressed charcoal or graphite with the addition of wax or clay mixed in for the base as well as natural pigments for color. Conte crayons are actually commonly used for the initial sketch for a pastel drawing as the colors mix well.

Paper to use them on

You’ll want to use a rough textured paper with Conte crayons as this will hold the pigment better. You can also use a primed canvas for your drawing. Just keep in mind that Conte crayons are better suited for hatched work, not bold lines (as with soft pastels). You’ll notice that many Conte artists use a tinted paper for their drawings, something to consider for a different look.

Conte Crayons versus Pastels and Charcoal

Although Conte crayons look similar to pastels, they are harder and waxier. This means they produce less dust and are easier to control. They actually produce a similar line as charcoal but since they are harder, lines with a Conte crayon will be finer. You’ll also notice that Conte crayons come in different colors but are most commonly found in natural browns, reds, tans, black, and white (great for highlighting). This makes Conte crayons perfect for figure drawing and portraits.


The square sticks are great for producing blocks of pigment, as you would with oil pastels. As mentioned previously, the harder crayon is also great for producing very fine lines. Conte colors are very easily blend-able (we recommend a blending stump) and since they aren’t powdery like charcoal, they work well in layers.


The typical Conte crayon is in a block stick form but it is possible to sharpen. Just use a little sandpaper to sharpen the stick to a chisel point. You can also break the sticks into smaller pieces that are easier to handle.

Working in a medium you’re not too familiar with doesn’t have to be all that scary. It’s important to understand what the medium is, how to use it, and the results it produces before you begin. We also recommend researching helpful techniques and example pieces for inspiration. So now that you know a little bit more about Conte crayons, will you be giving them a try? Let us know in the comments!

Which of these 4 mistakes do you make when working with charcoal?

By Nicole Tinkham

Which of these 4 mistakes do you make when working with charcoal_

Trust us when we say charcoal can be messy! Before making a complete mess of yourself and your drawing, read on for 4 mistakes you could be making when working with charcoal. We’ll cover supplies, the ideal positioning of your project, the importance of shading, and why you need to know about fixative. Read on to see what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it.

1.    You’re not using the right supplies

When it comes to charcoal, there are many different types you can choose from as well as other essential supplies such as erasers and blending stumps. Having the right supplies is KEY to producing a nice charcoal drawing. We recommend having the following supplies when you sit down to do your charcoal drawing.

–    Vine charcoal: Comes from charred willow and produces a lighter mark.

–    Compressed charcoal: Comes in the form of blocks and leaves a darker mark.

–    Charcoal pencils (and sharpener): Compressed charcoal in the form of a pencil.

–    Kneaded eraser: Picks up pigment without leftover debris.

–    Blending stumps: Used for blending charcoal marks for a smooth look.

–    Chamois: Used to lighten dark areas.

–    Newsprint or charcoal paper: Newsprint paper is inexpensive and perfect for quick drawings. You can also use charcoal paper which has a fine texture that smudges easily.

2.    You’re working horizontally

It may not seem like a big deal whether you work horizontally on an art table or vertically on an easel but when working with charcoal, there is a difference. We suggest working vertically and here’s why.

–    It allows your charcoal dust to fall out of the way.

–    It prevents smudging from your hands.

3.    You’re not shading

The BEAUTY of working with charcoal is all about the shadows. This is why we stress having all the supplies you need to produce incredible shading. Once your basic shapes are drawn it’s time to form the objects with a combination of lights and darks. Play around with it. Smudge your marks to produce a 3D effect and bring your drawing to life.

*Less is more. You only need a small amount of charcoal to smudge and get the look you want.

4.    You aren’t using  a fixative

Fixative is a lifesaver when using charcoal as they can smudge as you’re working and get messy. There are two different types you can use. If you’re still working on your project, you want to use a workable fixative. This allows you to continue working without smudging. A non-workable fixative is to be used when you’re completely finished your piece.

*Be sure to allow fixative to dry completely before touching it.

Charcoal is an excellent medium to play around with but we must admit, these pointers won’t keep you totally mess-free. In our mind getting a little messy is half the fun anyway! This list is meant to get you familiar and comfortable with working on charcoal drawings. If you’re a newbie, you could be making one or all of these mistakes but luckily, they’re simple and easy to correct 🙂

Tell us, what’s the best piece of advice you have for a new charcoal artist?

3 Types of Artist Charcoal & How to Use Them

By Nicole Tinkham

Being an artist isn’t easy especially with various supplies to choose from and endless techniques to learn. Every week we strive to bring you useful product info and helpful tips to inspire and help take your artwork to the next level. This week, we’re focusing on charcoal. You’re probably aware that there are 3 main types of charcoal (powdered, compressed, and willow/vine) but you may not realize that all three types produce very different effects. Here’s a little information on your three charcoal options and how to use them in your next project.

Powdered Charcoal

Powdered charcoal is charcoal in its most basic form, powdered. This charcoal will give a softer look and is ideal when toning large areas. The downside however, is that it tends to be very messy. As an artist, we’re guessing you don’t mind getting a little messy :)!

Compressed Charcoal

Take that powdered charcoal, bind it with gum or wax, and you have compressed charcoal. The amount of powdered charcoal and binding agent used determines the softness of the charcoal stick, giving you options. Even with an assortment of sticks, compressed charcoal is still harder than vine and willow sticks (mentioned below). Because of its hardness, compressed charcoal can be sharpened, producing finer detailed lines that you can’t achieve with willow and vine. You may also want to choose compressed charcoal over the alternatives for its darker lines and break-resistant qualities. On the down side, it can be more difficult to erase and can bleed if wet media is placed on top.

Willow/Vine Charcoal

These charcoal sticks are made of grape vines and willow branches that have been burnt to a specific hardness. Unlike compressed charcoal, vine and willow charcoal doesn’t use a binding agent which results in clean erasing. Because of this property, they are perfect for sketching a composition on canvas prior to painting. You’ll notice a vast difference in the way this type of charcoal feels in comparison to the heavy compressed charcoal. Willow/vine charcoal is very light and produces soft, powdery lines.

How to blend charcoal

Your initial instinct may be to blend with your fingers but we advice against this. It’s messy and the oils from your fingers can darken the charcoal. Instead, use blending stomps or tortillons. These are tools made of tightly wrapped paper that are ideal for blending.

The best way to truly understand the differences between powdered, compressed, and willow/vine charcoal is to experiment. Practice using each one to determine the best charcoal for your project. Here’s a helpful tip: If you’re using charcoal sticks and want to keep your hands clean, wrap aluminum foil around the end of the stick that you hold in your hand. Now it’s your turn – share with us your best charcoal tip in the comments below!