What is it? Blending is the art of mixing different colors (whether still similar in hue or on completely opposite sides of the color wheel) to create a gradient of color, not a muddying mess that obliterates the vibrancy and trueness of the individual colors used to create a particular look.
Why bother? Using a single wash of color can be perfect or even ideal for some situations, like running out the door to make a few errands or for a simple workday, but in general, people who utilize makeup want to use more than one color, and of course, there are several good reasons behind this. Using multiple colors creates a sense of depth and dimension to the eyes, especially when used correctly. A darker color in the crease gives the appearance of a deeper, more pronounced crease; just as darkening the outer portion of the lid often defines the natural eye shape. By contrasting this dark shadow with a lighter color, the artist will open up their eyes while still allowing for an emphasis on accenting the shape of their eyes.
What do I need? I always find that telling makeup beginners that the easiest place to begin learning how to blend and understanding what exactly you are attempting to accomplish is to use similar colors. Using two drastically different colors is not nearly as easy as taking a dark brown and a medium brown or even a dark olive green and a lighter green. I also recommend choosing browns to start with, because you simply cannot muddy up browns, as they are already brown! The texture of the shadows and the type of base you choose can also simplify or complicate the process. Smoother textures will be easier to blend compared to chalky or matte ones. By MAC, some of the easiest shadows to work with are the ones with the best color payoff, and include many of the veluxe and veluxe pearl shadows. Lustre finishes are less color payoff as a whole and tend to be more prone to flake because of the chunkier texture of the shadow itself. Shadows like Antiqued or Woodwinked are definitely recommended. A way you can tell if a particular shadow will work is to swatch both on the back of your hand and test-run it. Fingers are great to blend with, but we will get into why you should not use them for your eyes shortly. Putting the shadow on the back of your hand and seeing how easily the two colors blend together will be a good indicator of how well they will blend on your eyes with a brush. Brushes are absolutely essential to applying eye makeup, and I cannot stress the importance of using brushes over fingers or sponge-tip applicators. Wrinkles are caused by pulling and stressing the skin out excessively, including merely pressure applied to the skin. As we get older, our skin loses elasticity, and in order to help you reduce your costs of wrinkle creams in the next ten, twenty, thirty years… brushes help correct some of the mistakes finger usage can make. Brushes will put less pressure on your eyelids allowing for less pulling or stretching of the sensitive skin there. Sponge-tip applicators are better than fingers, but not nearly as beneficial as brushes can be. One of the worst parts of sponge applicators is that they waste a lot of product, even for face makeup. They complicate the blending process because of how much excess shadow is left on the sponge, so you generally have to go through several in order to use a cleaner slate each time. Brushes pick up less color during each swipe, and this allows for better precision to determine color strength and vibrancy, but also allow you to easily switch between a light pink color and a dark blue color. Sponge-tip applicators also are much less forgiving of any mistakes you might make, because of that high color amount they pick up. Blending is best accomplished by a brush because the bristles allow colors to be subtly entwined and meshed together. I will admit that sponge-tip applicators may be able to blend shadows together, but ultimately do not find that they are the best method to go about blending successfully, especially over the long-haul.
When choosing a brush to apply eyeshadow and blend the colors together, there is definitely a wide, and most overwhelming, variety of brushes to choose from. Some users prefer to have separate brushes for the initial shadow application and the actual blending process. Either is acceptable, but it is not impossible to have an all-in-one eye brush. It is important not to use a brush that is firm or stiff, because you want the bristles to have a bit of fluffiness to allow you to sweep easily horizontally, vertically, and angularly. For instance, I find that MAC’s 252 brush is too flat and firm to do much more than apply shadow. You want a brush more like MAC’s 239, which has a bit of fluffiness, but not excessively so like the 222. The shape of the brush should be dome-like or slightly angular, but I would suggest the dome shape as being the most versatile. It is also important to choose a brush with soft bristles, and softness is not something solely reserved for high-end or more expensive makeup brushes. Sonia Kashuk makes more affordable brushes and can be found at Target stores, and their softness is not compromised by their price. Even some craftstore paintbrushes work wonderfully in the absence of cosmetic brushes! You can see what brushes I have purchased and pictures of what a good blending brush would look like by referring to my brush post.
How can I do it? Many believe that blending is one of the more difficult techniques to master, but it is merely something that takes a degree of precision and the willingness to practice if it does not just come naturally or easily to the person. I admit that it is not always easily accomplished when working with certain colors or textures. Each makeup application allows me to practice my blending or fine-tune it, because blending is really an on-going technique. Tutorials are an excellent way to understand the basics and mechanisms behind blending, but practice truly makes perfect in this case.
You begin blending by first applying two colors or more on your eyelid. There are two methods to go about doing this: 1) you can apply each color and blend afterwards, or 2) you can apply one and then blend as you apply the second one. I would suggest following the first if you really do not know where to start, because it is a lot easier to understand the process with this method. With method one, after you have applied the two colors to your lid, you will want to take your brush and hold it just at the end of the lightest color so that your bristles are vertical to your eyelid. Generally speaking, it is easiest to blend by pulling the lightest color into the darker one. With your brush positioned correctly, you want to pull the brush gently from the edge of the lightest that meets the darker color and pull towards the darker one. You are taking the lighter color and lightening the darker color faintly, which will create a sort of gradient effect so colors gradually fade into other colors, instead of splotches or blocks of color where it is clear where each one begins/ends. You do not have to drag the lightest color all the way to the end of the darker one; the point is merely to soften the edge between them so that the color on your lid appears fluid, while still maintaining distinct colors. The second method still follows the same technique as the first one; the only difference is perhaps the application follows darkest to lightest, allowing the lightest always to be overlaid on the darkest.
The art of blending is based on a very simple technique, but it just takes familiarity with it in order to be comfortable practicing it. One trick to aid in application is to use an intermediary color between two colors. For example, if you were to blend red and yellow together, you would likely get, at the very least, a tinge of orange; if you have an orange shadow, you can place a touch of it between the two and it will make blending even easier. Colors that are drastically different need to be handled very carefully, and it is a good idea not to rush through. Blending light green and a dark, hot pink requires a bit of finesse. The blending has to be incredibly subtle because these two colors do not naturally fade into each other, and infact, may be one of the tougher combinations to blend together without muddying them up. To deal with this, it is best to bring just a hint of the green into the pink, and repeat the motions as necessary. It will be problematic if you assume you will get a perfect gradient with just these two colors; it is best to merely soften the edge between the two colors, but you are unlikely to find it looks as blended as a look that merely consists of light green and dark green. Also realize that between green and pink, there are several colors inbetween, and your lid does not have the space to bring out all of them easily, either.
If you decide to use a second brush for blending purposes, the technique is still the same, but the brush you use will most likely be fairly fluffy in nature. You will still place your brush similarly and be gently pulling the colors together, meshing them to create a form of a gradient. Fluffier brushes tend to pick up less color so they are more forgiving; one wrong tap or stroke will not necessarily ruin your makeup. For this reason, it might be helpful for those struggling to successfully blend.
What else? Blending is merely pulling one color into and over another, almost like a venn diagram has two individual circles that share an overlapping section in the middle. You can facilitate blending by choosing a good eyeshadow base, like Urban Decay Primer Potion, MAC’s Prep ‘n Prime Eye, or L’Oreal Decrease; these not only allow your eyeshadow to have staying power and prevent the color from fading, falling off, or creasing, but they will help make blending all that easier. It is important to note that expensive brushes, eyeshadows, or other tools are not essential or even necessary to blend well. It is more about the quality of the product than the price; if the drugstore variety works well, it is not worse than an equivalent higher-end brand. I must stress the significance of taking your time and not rushing through the process if you are not comfortable with it. Use what makes you comfortable, and do not be afraid to spend an hour in front of the mirror ensuring you are doing a good job in perfecting your look. Not everyone can do perfect makeup in twenty minutes, and even those who are able, were not so when they first began, either. Have fun with it; spend one night mixing your two favorite colors together and see what you come up with. Experiment, test out new ideas, and be creative as you learn what works, what does not, and how you can improve upon your skills as a makeup artist.