Many of you have acquired Paintstiks Blenders over the years, and I get a lot of questions about how to use them. Let’s start with what a blender is, and then tackle whether or not we need them. You might be surprised by my advice about these sticks.
First of all, let’s be clear about one thing. You DO NOT need a blender stick to mix colors. It’s very simple to mix colors on any palette surface by simply applying one on top of the other. You can mix any of the paintstik color, whether they are matte or iridescent, to create a huge array of colors. With that settled, let’s move on.
A Colorless Blender is paint medium (the basic ingredients) with no added pigment (the stuff that adds the color). You can mix colorless blender with any Paintstik color to get a sheer version of that color. For example, if you mix a generous amount of paintstik blender with a small amount of dark red, you get a very pale red. (This is different than mixing with white, which would give you pink rather than a pale red.)
In this photo from my Paintstiks on Fabric book, the first color swatch is mostly blender with a small amount of red. The second swatch is about half and half. The third swatch was painted with all red (no blender added).
While this explains how a blender works, I have learned that the Colorless Blender will turn yellow over the course of several years. I’ll talk more about that in a minute, so please read on…
An iridescent blender is paint medium and ‘shiny stuff’ but no pigment. I have not encountered problems with the iridescent blender turning yellow, so this one is quite useful.
On dark fabric, the iridescent blender appears to be a nice, creamy off-white color even though there is no pigment in the stick. Like a colorless blender, you can use it to create lighter values of colors — it can be mixed with both iridescent and matte colors.
The iridescent blender can also be used to add a bit of iridescence to matte colors, but you may find that the smaller paint particles in the matte colors overpower the ‘shiny stuff’ in the blender.
Colorless Blenders Don’t Age Well…
A number of years ago, Mary Brandt (my trade show sidekick) did a series of samples to show how each and every Paintstiks color looked on white, beige and black fabric. She made a small rubbing, a small stenciled imaged and used the Paintstik directly on the label for each color.
When I look at the same set of samples today, it’s clear that the Colorless Blender, used by itself, turned dark yellow (kind of gold) over time. It wasn’t noticeable until after more than a year, and it was pretty subtle until about 3 years out. Now it’s beyond obvious… On a happier note, the Iridescent blender has shown very little change. Here a a couple of photos to illustrate the point.
The first photo shows the samples of the Colorless Blender and Titanium White paintstiks from our samples. While the Titanium White is virtually unchanged, the blender has definitely changed color. When we made the samples, the colorless blender was almost invisible.
The second photo shows the Iridescent White and Iridescent Blender samples. I’ve noticed a very slight change with the Iridescent Blender, but not nearly as dramatic as with the Colorless Blender. It’s not much different 5 years later. Perhaps a bit more yellow, but still pleasing.
Pleasant Patina or Ugly Mess?
Around the same time that Mary made the color samples, I made some samples for an episode of Quilting Arts TV. Thankfully, I took photos of the fabric right after I painted it. This really helps us make a ‘before and after’ comparison.
The color adjustment of the two photos is not exactly the same, but I think they illustrate the point very nicely. The yellowing of the blender has shifted the lightest portion of the leaf from pale blue to green. The second photo was taken 4 years after the first one.
One of our community members pressed me for a better explanation. Suzanne H asked,
“When you say it will yellow over time, did you use it alone or with other colors? Can you explain in more detail what you mean by “it yellows” — does it become brownish?
“Since I have the blender, would I be able to use it with colors that have yellow in them (such as deep yellow, orange, lime, greens, etc.) to get softer or paler colors without noticing the yellowing problems? Or, if I want to obtain a patina over time, would the blender help me achieve that?”
I liked Suzanne’s use of the term “patina.” That’s a good description for what will happen to colors mixed with a high percentage of the Colorless Blender Paintstick. This is a great use of the blender if done in a purposeful manner.
I’m also grateful that Suzanne continued to ask questions until she got a complete explanation. It was good for me to go back, really look at my samples, and think about whether we should be using this Colorless Blender Paintstik. You may like that ‘patina’ – or you may find it an ugly mess!
Should I use the Colorless Blender Paintstik?
Now that you know that Paintstik colors mixed with a high percentage of Colorless Blender will ‘yellow’ over time, I’ll leave the decision up to you.
Personally, I no longer use the Colorless Blender stick. I want my colors to stay exactly how I painted them! However, I do continue to use the Iridescent Blender if I want to create a sheer version of a color. I haven’t seen any problems with the Iridescent Blender in my 13+ years as a paintstik user, so I’m confident that it’s not going to create an ugly mess that comes back to haunt me 5 or 6 years down the road.