You might be asking yourself: What are paper stumps/tortillons, and do I need them for my art project? The answer is simple: If you are working with charcoal, pastel, pencil or any similar medium, then you need to get paper stumps as well.

Paper stumps (also known as tortillons: nub/stub in French) are made from soft paper that has been compressed. They are an extremely popular art tool for many dry mediums such as compressed and willow charcoal, graphite, and pastels. Paper stumps have been used by professional artists, street pavement sketchers, and hobbyists for all their free-form drawing and controlled illustrative requirements.

You will find paper stumps are usually available in a variety of thicknesses in both the shaft and the tip. This allows for different types of precision and accuracy. The smallest diameters and points are known as micro tortillons. They allow for extremely small parts of the artwork, such as the eye duct in a portrait, to be blended without the possibility of the art medium smearing into the whites of the eyes. The larger, broader paper stumps are fantastic for blending extensive and more accessible areas. It makes it easier for the blending and finer spreading of the medium, such as the hair in a portrait.

Paper Stumps Technique

When you are blending with a paper stump the hand pressure you use and the angle at which it is held both play a significant part in the end result of the drawing. If this is your first-time using paper stumps, try out the effects and ways in which they can be used first. Don’t jump straight into using them on a valued art project until you know what effects they bring to it. It is also recommended that you buy them in a range of thicknesses as this will give you a better idea of how it will affect the accuracy.

Experimenting is key. Blending with one colour to make different tints and tones can be achieved very easily with a paper stump. Greater depth and shading can be made if you blending together two or more colours. Red, orange, and yellow in a sunset scene can be seamlessly melded together. You could also try using paper stumps on several shades of blue for a seascape illustration.

An important thing to remember when you are using paper stumps: The tip of a paper stump needs to be kept fairly clean for best results. This is because if the tip of the stump is dirty, your colours or shading will become tarnished. This could make your final project appear muddy or smeared. It could even result in you having to spend hours cleaning up lighter areas with an eraser or light coloured medium.

Paper stumps can be sharpened with a stainless-steel sharpener or sanding block. This is also a good way to get rid of any old colour residue as well. When your tortillon has been shaped to a finer point and cleaned, it is ready to be re-used as many times as you like. You will know when they need sharpening again because the paper stump will become duller, blunter, and more stained from use. When you feel you are losing some of the accuracy or precision from your stump, it is time to sharpen it again.  

The average length of a paper stump is approximately 15cm. This makes them handy to fit into a pencil case or art supply box.