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CPSA District Chapter 210, San Jose, CA

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Book Review By Jackie Chang

Alyona Nickelsen’s new book, Colored Pencil Painting Bible, published in February 2009, was both an interesting read and a valuable resource. Not only does the book give a very complete and well-written overview of general colored pencil technique and color theory, but also she outlines the details about her unique method.

From looking at Nickelsen’s drawings there is no doubt that she has mastered the technique of capturing realism through colored pencil. However, her technique is harder to discern through looking at the drawings on their own. A main feature of Nickelsen’s technique is her usage of solvents (she uses Gamblin Gamsol odorless mineral spirits in between several layers of colored pencil), to blend the pencil markings into a uniform surface of solid color. The individual colored pencil strokes are no longer visible, making her work seem much like a painting rather than a drawing. The conventional methods of using a blender pencil or the white colored pencil to blend can leave your drawing too waxy or leave your colors muddled by the white. While Nickelsen does describe the traditional techniques as well, she ties everything together and discusses the specific reasons and situations where you would use one method over another.

Another aspect of the book that I really enjoyed is how she gives a very good overview of the colored pencil field in general. She mentions CPSA in the introduction of the book and there is a foreword by Vera Curnow, founder of CPSA, which could be very interesting information for the emerging artist. She discusses the newest available technologies, such as Ester Roi’s warm/cool Icarus Drawing Board. She also integrates digital photography and Photoshop to a lot of the demonstrations she has in the book, discussing how she uses her digital camera to take pictures across many photo sessions, carefully altering the composition and the lighting until she gets the perfect shot. She then uses many Photoshop tools to help her to see the outlines and colors in the reference photo. Whether or not one agrees, digital photography and Photoshop have inevitably entered the art space and is part of the art-making process, and it is refreshing to see those technologies integrated into a how-to art book.

Nickelsen goes beyond discussing the techniques for applying pencil to paper, but also she talks about her learning process, such as keeping notes on swatches of color for future reference. She discusses different techniques for rendering the unique surfaces that one might encounter in a still life, such as grass, leaves, different types of flowers, water, crystal, ice, wood, fabric, etc., giving the reader enough details to encounter different situations that may arise, but also encouraging them to create their own compositions.

When you look at the full-color drawings in the book, a lot of which are true to life size, you are even more amazed when you learn that Nickelsen has only devoted herself to colored pencil art in the last few years. According to an article published in American Artist in March 2007, Nickelsen is mostly self-taught, and started using colored pencils in 2002. Since then, she has won numerous awards and garnered a lot of attention. That is great inspiration to any aspiring colored pencil artist, demonstrating that success can be achieved depending on how much effort and passion you are willing to put into it.