We’re excited for the first Art Product Review of 2021! Our featured product is the mighty little Tortillon.
When new students enroll in Drawing Classes with my boss, Linda Wehrli at Pastimes for a Lifetime, they are provided a Drawing Kit supply list. Although the list is brand-specific, the products are pretty straightforward (pencils, sketch pad, sharpener, etc.) However, there is one essential tool that *stumps (no pun intended!) our newbies: the mighty tortillon! So, what the heck is this tool and how is it used? Keep reading to find out!
Here’s the What: The tortillon (pronounced “tortle-on”) is a type of blending *stump. This small but vital drawing tool is simply a short hollow cylindrical stick made from tightly twisted paper! The word origin is French and literally means “something twisted”, from tortiller, to twist. Tortillons may also be referred to as “torchons”, which is actually French for “cloth” or “dish rag.” Très approprié!
Here’s the How: Tortillons are used by artists to blend and smudge pencil, charcoal, and pastel on paper. You may hold it like a pencil, charcoal, or pastel, whatever is most comfortable. It allows you to soften lines or smudge shaded areas as you see fit.
For my charcoal drawings, I love using tortillons to diminish any hard lines. Per the famous French Impressionist painter, Édouard Manet, “There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another.”
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Tortillons are especially useful when creating illusions of texture, such as velvet and when creating graduated highlights in textures such as hair. This tool allows the artist to blend, then sharpen the drawing with a pencil line and erase out any highlights.
Values are also created by using this tiny stick. A clean blending tool is key for blending light values. When working on a dark area, it’s typical for tiny specs of the white paper to shine through. Blending with a tortillon delicately pushes the medium (graphite, charcoal or pastel) into the paper pores, creating a nice dark value.
So how are tortillons different from blending stumps, you ask? Although they’re both used for the same purposes, they do have some differences. Tortillons are much smaller and are constructed from harder, scratchier paper. A sheet of paper is tightly rolled into a stick, with a hollow core.
In contrast, blending stumps are molded from paper pulp and have a more “velvety” texture. Because they’re larger and stubbier, they’re better suited to large areas of blending, while tortillons are able to work into the detailed areas of your drawing.
After several blending sessions, you will notice that your tortillon becomes “dirty”. This occurs naturally because it’s picking up particles from your drawing. To clean it, gently wipe the tortillon on a paper towel. In comparison, stumps can be cleaned or sharpened with a sandpaper block. If a tortillon or stump can no longer be cleaned due to many uses, simply grab a new one! Thankfully, the torillons that Pastimes carries come in packs of six. Another bonus? They’re cheap! You can grab a pack for a couple bucks at any art store. We also sell them here at Pastimes’ Student Art Store. Feel free to email me if you’d like to purchase a pack with curbside pickup. 🙂
You can also try making your own: just cut out a trapezoid of scrap paper and roll it as tightly as you can.
So, next time you use a raggedy old cloth for blending, consider adding the tortillon to your art supplies. You won’t regret it!
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