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Tortillions and Blending Stumps

Updated on August 16, 2012

What is a Tortillion?

A tortillion is a small white beast that dwells in the depths of art classrooms and cubbyholes. They've been known to keep struggling artists company, and have been sighted in arts and craft stores. Inquiries to Google turn up little information. Don't let the mystery surrounding tortillions fool you, however; they're actually simple and benevolent creatures.

The difference between a tortillion and a blending stump can be seen above. They both have their advantages: tortillions are better at more intricate blending, whereas blending stumps have a sturdier tip.
The difference between a tortillion and a blending stump can be seen above. They both have their advantages: tortillions are better at more intricate blending, whereas blending stumps have a sturdier tip.
There are many similarities between these sticks and tortillions. Taste and texture are two examples (not that I would know...).
There are many similarities between these sticks and tortillions. Taste and texture are two examples (not that I would know...).

Consumption not recommended.

My first set of graphite sketching pencils came with tortillions. Upon closer examination of the little white rolls of paper, my first thought was, “what the heck are these?” I was still in elementary school at the time, and to me they resembled the stick of a Lollipop. I couldn't imagine what purpose these rolled up pieces of paper had, and always got that weird papery taste in my mouth that reminded me of all the times I chewed on the stick of a DumDum pop until it disintegrated in my mouth. Blech.

Tortillions are extremely helpful when creating realistic images.
Tortillions are extremely helpful when creating realistic images.

Enhance shading by blending.

Not to be confused with the giant burrito, El Tortillon, the word 'tortillion' is actually of French origin. It comes from 'tortiller,' meaning 'something twisted', which describes how a tortillion is made. It's basically a piece of tightly rolled paper. If you'd like to save money by learning to make your own tortillions, click here.

Tortillions and blending stumps are helpful blending tools. I've noticed that shading often isn't enough when it comes to achieving a realistic image, and that's where blending becomes extremely useful.

Pastels, charcoal, and graphite are great media for blending. If you've never used blending tools before, experiment with various media on a piece of scratch paper.

A blending tool can give shading a much smoother appearance.
A blending tool can give shading a much smoother appearance.

Tips:


  • blend from darkest to lightest

  • use a new/cleaned tortillion when working in lighter areas

  • clean used tortillions against an abrasive surface (a pink, rubber eraser will often work)

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