The Art of NOT Blending

 We all know the importance of blending in painting, but did you know you can create beautiful art when you do not blend your paints? Enjoy this free tutorial for the art of NOT blending.

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A canvas painted with a black and white bird with a turquoise background and branches with fall-colored leaves.

I think we probably all know how important blending is to creating beautiful works of art. But, did you know you can create equally beautiful paintings by using the art of NOT blending? It’s true! When you learn to layer your painting in such a way that does not blend your strokes, you can create depth with different colors that are absolutely stunning.

In this blog post, I’m going to walk you through exactly how to make gorgeous paintings by not blending. I will share with you tips for brush strokes and how to let energy and movement come through with fun techniques. This is a great way to create layering that is really eye-catching and gorgeous.

Step-by-Step Guide to the Art of NOT Blending:

Step 1 – Collect your supplies

 Begin with a plain sheet of paper in a mixed media pad. I am using an 11 by 14 size but you don’t really need one that large. You can also get a small one if that’s more convenient for you. All mixed media means is that you can use different mediums, whether it be pen and ink, watercolor, or acrylic paints. Think of this like a sketchbook for painting. Then, collect your brushes and paints, so we can begin practicing brush strokes. I am using an angled brush and a few beautiful blue and warm rich reds and orange colors.

An angled paintbrush with dark teal paint and some red and orange paint strokes on a mixed media pad.

Step 2 – Learn this unique brush stroke technique

It’s very important that with this not-blending technique, you pick up and put down your brush. You don’t want to maintain contact with your paper or canvas because that will cause you to blend the colors which is not what we want to do with this technique. It is similar motions, but the difference is that you are lifting and placing my brush. Each section is a separate and different brush stroke. This adds great layering and depth.

A display of painted section on a mixed media pad showing to pick up brush in between brush strokes.
A painted section on a mixed media pad showing over blending paint.

You can see above what happens when you don’t truly lift up between strokes. The blue strokes all begin to blend together. This isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s just not what we are going for with this more impressionistic style. With this technique, you want to do a slight pull after you touch your brush down. It will make small rectangular strokes. You want to move quickly. Try not to focus on each individual brush stroke.

Step 3 – Begin layering your brush strokes

I prefer to layer my strokes by starting with the darker shades at the bottom and adding the lighter colors as I go. I just love the way these look when you layer in this order. In this particular painting, I love how the dark reds and oranges come through my blue sky. So, if you want to do exactly as I did here, then start with your deep reds and oranges using the same brush stroke technique I detailed above. Then, let those dry for a few minutes. You can even take a hair dryer to them to speed up the drying time.

Paint brush showing tabbing of paint strokes to display how to to over blend your paint.
Showing  how the dark reds and oranges come through my blue sky.

Next, I add in blues from dark to white on top of the red and orange strokes while still using the same pickup and put-down brush stroke technique I explained above. I use my angled brush throughout so no need to change brushes.

Adding in paint, blues from dark to white on top of the red and orange strokes while still using the same pickup and put-down brush stroke technique.

Step 4 – Avoiding Overblending

Let’s take a minute to review over-blending. Using your mixed media pad is a great way to practice this. The art of not blending is achieved by picking up and putting down the paintbrush: Picking up and putting down the paintbrush can help you to stop overworking areas of your painting. In the picture below you can see the differences when letting it dry between layers, overbending, picking up brush in between strokes, and most importantly for this design, The Art of Not Blending!

Mixed media pad with different paint strokes, showing not blending, blending, and over blending.

Over-blending will give your painting a completely different look. If you stay connected to your canvas, you’re just blending all those brush strokes together. You can definitely blend. There’s nothing wrong with blending. It really depends on which look you are trying to achieve.

A painted section on a mixed media pad showing over blending paint.

What you want to avoid is creating muddiness. If I did not let it dry all the way and I was too quick to move, especially with that orange color that I put underneath (which is the opposite of blue). That would create a muddy color. So for example, if you add a little bit of blue to your orange, you’re going to start to desaturate that orange. And the more blue you add, the more it’s going to be a muddy color.

Blue, orange, red paints over blended  and created a muddy mess.

Same with the orange. It starts a very vibrant orange, then by adding blue to it, you’re taking the orange away, and it’s going to meet in the middle, and it’s going to create brown neutrals, depending on what opposites you use.

Orange, red, and blue paint over blended and created a muddy mess.

Watch a quick tip on how to fix a muddy mess in your painting:

Step 5 – Enjoy your artwork

You should end up with a beautiful spread of layers and depths of color. There is no precise way to do this. Simply get your brush strokes down by using the pickup and drop-down technique, moving quickly, and pulling a bit to create tiny rectangles. I love this abstract way of painting. And, I hope you do too!

A canvas with birds on branches with fall-colored leaves, showing the painted background with the Art of Not Blending technique. Also a mixed media showing the different results of over blending, letting it dry between layers, the art of not blending.

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