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What Is a Tortillon or Blending Stump in Art and How to Use It

Blending stumps with different sizes in a jar

When starting in drawing, you may wonder what a tortillon or blending stump is, what tortillons are used for, and finally, how to use a tortillon for blending drawings.

A tortillon is a drawing utensil made from paper wrapped tightly in a cylinder used by artists to blend pencil markings or build up layers of subtle shading.

Using a tortillon advanced my drawings exponentially.

Initially, I really struggled with shading and building up layers in my drawings, but by using it, I was able to improve my shading and layering which exponentially improved the look of my completed drawings.

Below is a quick video from my Instagram where I used a tortillon in combination with pencil and eraser pen to work on the shading of a sheet ( >>>> swipe to the right) :

Tortillon is pronounced: tor-ti-yon

It came from the French word “tortiller,” which means “something twisted.” A more common term for it is a blending stump or blending stick.

Tortillons are cheap to buy and can often be found in beginner art or drawing kits. They can also be made from a piece of paper on your own. 

Table of Contents

    What Is a Tortillon or Blending Stump?

    A tortillon is a small, cylindrical tool that is one of the drawing materials for beginners and experts. It is also sometimes referred to as a blending stump. 

    This tool is often formed of tightly rolled paper and is used to blend and smudge pencil markings on paper, allowing smooth and fine transitions with shades.

    You may hold it in your hand like a pencil or charcoal as well—whatever seems most comfortable to you and can be sharpened by peeling off the worn-out layers.

    What’s the Difference Between a Tortillon and Blending Stump?

    Is there a difference between a Tortillon and a Blending Stump?

    A tortillon and a blending stump are similar tools and are sometimes considered interchangeable (in terms). Both are designed to do the same thing: blend and smooth over pencil lines in your drawings.

    However, you may find that the paper in tortillons is substantially harder, and the roll is thinner and tight. On the other hand, blended stumps are thicker in size, feel softer, and have a velvet texture.

    See the photo below for reference: 

    Tortillon and Blending Stumps

    Do You Really Need a Tortillon?

    No, you don’t need a tortillon. 

    Still, if you struggle and need help creating more subtle layers of shading in your drawings, you should use one. I strongly recommend utilizing a tortillon or other similar tool to blend your drawings better and build up your layers of shading.

    How to Use a Tortillon in Art

    Paper with Tortillon, Eraser, Pencil, Charcoal and Sharpener

    Now that we know much about Tortillon, it’s time to understand how to use it.

    The first step in using a tortillon is to wrap your fingers around it as you do a pencil.

    To blend colors or tones smoothly, gently twist the tip into the spot you want, then rub it back and forth. In addition, you may use Tortillon’s side for specific techniques as well.

    Different effects and outcomes may be achieved with different types of pencils or media when you use a Tortillon. Some techniques are as follows:

    Blending: The transition from one hue to another is smooth when you blend it. To do this, twist the point of the Tortillon and press it against the region that needs blending.

    Smudging: For smudging, press and smear markings with the Tortillon’s side. It will give the drawing a softer quality or a smoggy effect.

    Layering: For added depth, use the tool to put a light layer over a layer already there.

    Texturing: You can also use the pointed end of your tool when making a texture by pushing and twisting it. You can utilize this technique to make textured-feel drawings such as fur or wood.

    How to Make Your Own Tortillon

    Do you know that you can make your own Tortillon or Blending Stump?

    If you can’t find a Tortillon in any art supply store near you, don’t worry; we will help you make one for yourself!

    To make a blending stump, you will need the following:

    • Paper 
    • Tape
    • Sandpaper/Nail File

    Step-by-step instructions:

    1. Cut your paper into a parallelogram shape
    2. Roll your strip paper tightly from end to end
    3. Fasten your Tortillon with a tape
    4. Shape or sharpen it with your sandpaper or nail file

    Note: Consider that you can build your tortillon using any paper you like, as this choice is entirely up to you. Sandpaper is a tool that many artists choose to use when sharpening the tip and making it more durable.

    How to Clean a Tortillon

    Graphite or charcoal dust might accumulate on the Tortillon over time, reducing its effectiveness. This blending tool works best and lasts the longest when cleaned regularly.

    Here are the steps on how to clean a Tortillon:

    1. Get rid of as much graphite or charcoal particles as possible by rubbing or tapping the blending stump on paper.
    2. If you have a kneaded erase, you can also use it to get rid of dirt.
    3. Remove the remaining stained area and shape it with a cutter or exacto knife 
    4. Sharpen your Tortillon with your sandpaper or nail file
    5. Reshape the tool better with your cutter again until you are satisfied with the feel and shape of it

    It is important to avoid over-wetting the tortillon since this could cause it to fall apart. It should be cleaned carefully, and an effort should be made to use as little water as possible.

    Other Tools to Use

    There are several other ways to blend your drawings aside from Tortillon or Blending Stump if you don’t have any.

    1. Blending Stump: as I mentioned before, a blending stump is a thicker, pointed tool made of compressed paper or felt that is great for precise blending and smoothing.
    2. Finger: Many artists use their fingers to blend and smooth out graphite or charcoal, giving them more control and precision.
    3. Kneaded Eraser: Kneaded erasers can be used to lighten areas of a drawing by gently lifting off the graphite or charcoal. They can also be used to create highlights or to shape the edges of forms.
    4. Cotton Swab: Cotton swabs, also known as Q-tips, can blend and smooth out small areas.
    5. Paper towels: Paper towels can also be used to blend and smooth out graphite or charcoal and can be used to create a variety of textures and effects.
    6. Rags: Rags can be used to blend and smooth out charcoal or graphite and can also be used to create a variety of textures and effects.

    Working with several tools can help you see what distinct qualities and effects it offers so you can choose which suits your artistic style and preferences. 

    What Is a Tortillon or Blending Stump in Art and How to Use It – Conclusion

    A tortillon and blending stump are similar tools in use- to blend, but their features have some differences. 

    Tortillon is ideal for tiny details and blending because of its much tougher surface and thinner roll. In contrast, a blending stump is thicker and more like velvet in texture.

    It is a simple and effective way that allows artists to blend, smudge, layer, and create textures in their drawings.

    You may discover additional information and lessons about art tools and methods on our website if you’re interested in learning more. Please get in touch with us so that we can support you on your creative path.

    Thanks for reading!

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