A blending stump or paper stump is a stick of tightly rolled up soft paper with 2 pointed ends. They are used to blend, smear or smudge graphite, charcoal or similar mediums. They work really well for blending large areas (using the side) and even small areas (when using the tip) which require detail and allow you to have more control than other blending tools like q-tips. A lot of people confuse blending stumps with tortillons.
What is a tortillon? They’re also made of rolled paper, however, due to the pointier tip, they are able to blend even tighter spaces where a high level of precision is required.
The tip can collapse when too much pressure is used. A toothpick or paperclip can be used to push the tip back out.
The side of a tortillon will not blend very smoothly, but it does create very interesting textures that resemble grass and brushed metal for example.
I personally love using blending stumps with charcoal because it spreads the medium so beautifully. For graphite drawings, I mainly use it for dark areas of the drawing. It saves a lot of time when blending and shading clothing and backgrounds.
Different Methods for How to Use a Blending Stump
Drag the stub to smudge different elements of your drawing. You can use small circular motions to create interesting patterns on things like shrubs and trees.
Draw some tight scribbles in a small corner of a scrap piece of paper and work the graphite onto the paper stump. If needed, remove excess graphite by rubbing it in a clean area of the paper before using it on your drawing. Use light strokes to layer the graphite onto your portrait. Keep the direction consistent with your overall drawing.
Use a clean blending stump to push the graphite on your drawing back and forth lightly until the tones blend together. If you are scared to do this, use very little pressure (it will take longer to blend though).
Light Values: Always use a clean blending stump when blending light values. You may need to sand it a few times throughout the blending process to keep it clean. I generally use tissue paper for the lightest areas of a portrait.
Dark Values: If you’re trying to achieve a really dark value, a blending stump will do the trick. You will notice that when shading, there are tiny little white dots between the graphite. These little grooves in the paper are really noticeable when adding dark values. Using a blending stump will spread the graphite and fill the grooves to give your drawing a smooth finish.
If you notice many black dots on your drawing before and/or after using a blending stump, use a kneaded eraser to remove them one by one. Click here to learn how to use a kneaded eraser.
How to clean a Blending Stump
When the tip of your blending stump becomes too dull or dirty, you can sharpen it using a sand paper sharpener, which usually comes with the stump if you buy it in a pack. After sharpening the paper stump, you will notice that it becomes a little fuzzy. I personally like this, and will use it to blend lighter areas of my portrait using very little pressure. You can also use a nail filer or box cutting knife. But be careful!
I recommend having dedicated stumps for dark, medium and light shades to avoid cleaning your stump multiple times for one portrait.
How to Make a Blending Tool
The benefit of making your own blending tool is that you can customize the type of paper and level of softness.
Alternatives to Stumps and Tortillions
Tissue: Tissues work great for light or mid-tones. But they don’t work as well for darks because much of your graphite will transfer to the tissue, making those darker values almost impossible to achieve. Here are a few ways you can use tissue paper to blend:
- Fold the tissue in half and then in half again. Fold it into a triangle one or two times until you can get a pointy corner that’s relatively stiff. Great for tight spaces!
- Wrap a tissue around your finger making sure to bunch the tissue at the top so you don’t accidentally smudge other parts of your drawing.
- Make a tissue ball and wrap it inside another tissue. This is similar to the one above except you can blend a larger area.
Makeup or Paint Brush: Good for blending light areas. My favorite brush is the S60 Flat Shader by Robert Simmons. The bristles are stiff enough that the brush doesn’t flare out too much when pressure is applied, it’s super soft and the brush’s corners are perfect for getting into tight spaces.
Q-Tip: OK for large areas, but not so great for tight spaces unless you roll the cotton to a fine tip. You might find it hard to erase areas where you’ve used the q-tip. Especially if the q-tip is hard. Can’t find soft q-tips? Use your clean hands/nails to fluff the cotton by pulling on it in different directions.
Chamois: Chamois are made of soft leather and are most ideal for blending charcoal and pastel. Not for detailing work. I haven’t tried one, but have heard amazing things about them.
Finger: Using your finger to blend a portrait is a big no no because the natural oils from your skin can cling onto the graphite, making the area impossible to erase. If you absolutely need to use your finger to blend, make sure to clean it very well using an oil/grease absorbing cloth/tissue.
I hope you enjoyed this guide! Click here if you want to learn how to use a kneaded eraser!
Darlene created RFA In 2013 with the goal of sharing simple yet detailed drawing tutorials with other artists on the world wide web. She is a self taught pencil portrait artist and Youtuber.
My blending stumps dont come with sandpaper in the pack – can anynone tell me what number to use (e.g. 60 or 120)? idk if its different in america tho!!
That was super useful, thank you so much!!!
I had a tortillion that was dull and looked at your site, pulled out a small wooden skewer and viola! It’s like new. Thanks so much for the easy fix!
I treated my self to some stumps and what a difference they make. Well worth getting some if you have already. Many thanks for your tutorials – they’re brilliant.