Tortillons, up close.
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There are lots of cool things in art supply stores, including a fair number that might make you wonder, “what’s that for?”
At The Art League Store, staff members are working artists, so they can answer that question for you. For the inaugural edition of “What’s That Thing?”, we decided to tackle tortillons.
How’s it pronounced?
Tour-tee-ohn, roughly. (Note: if you ask for a “tortle-on,” the store clerk will still know what you’re looking for. We speak from experience.)
It’s French, meaning “something twisted.” Sometimes spelled tortillion, with an extra “i”.
What is it?
A short stick made from tightly rolled paper. You can see what they look like close-up at the top of the post.
What’s it for?
It can be used for blending graphite, charcoal, and pastel. Use it by rubbing and see the effect it has on your drawing. To clean it, you can use sandpaper (also sold in the store) or just grab a new one. They’re very inexpensive.
How’s it different from a blending stump?
They’re used for the same thing, but they have some differences. Tortillons are much smaller and have harder, scratchier paper. They’re made from a sheet of paper in a tightly rolled stick.
In contrast, blending stumps are molded from paper pulp and have a more “velvety” texture, as described to us by store clerk Chris Cardellino. Because they’re larger and stubbier, they’re better suited to large areas of blending, while tortillons can get into the detailed areas of your drawing.
How much are they?
At The Art League Store, they’re $1.20–1.30 for a pack of six (in either Small or Medium). Blending stumps come in a variety of sizes and range from $0.84–2.45.
You can also experiment with making your own: just cut out a trapezoid of scrap paper and roll it as tightly as you can.