“Colored pencil painting is a brand new approach to challenge the viewer’s eye. Make them determine the medium themselves!” (Alyona Nickelsen, Colored Pencil Painting Bible, xi)
For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I have been working with colored pencils for a few months. Today I want to share with you the method I am working on and how I found out about it. This method, dubbed “colored pencil painting” by artist/author Alyona Nickelsen, involves layering many colors and blending until no white from the paper shows through, making the final piece—with full coverage of the paper and a waxy sheen—appear to have been painted. Blending can be achieved with colorless blender pencils/ markers or with solvents such as odorless mineral spirits (paint thinner).
As an artist, I have always strived for realism in my work. With a little research online, I saw some examples of photorealistic colored pencil drawings, including works by Lachri Fine Art and various tutorials on YouTube. At the time, I didn’t know that there was a name for the technique they were using. But for Christmas, in addition to my first set of Prismacolors, my husband got me the book Colored Pencil Painting Bible by Alyona Nickelsen (published in 2009). This was where things started coming together. Having just begun to use the professional level pencils, which blend much more readily than your typical box of Crayolas, I was starting to see the realistic effects I could get with layering and blending. Now I had a name for what I was trying to do.
I hadn’t given it much thought before reading the book, but colored pencil art tends not to be considered “fine art.” In her introduction, Nickelsen notes that some people “traditionally consider only oil painting as a real art and…arrogantly dismiss other mediums as amateurish and hobbyist” (x). Nickelsen argues that “painting” with colored pencils, where the medium is not readily obvious, “successfully competes with more traditional mediums” (x). When you look at Nickelsen’s work, including her portraits (which you can view in the galleries on her website), you don’t think “colored pencil.” Perhaps you think “painting,” or even “photograph”; it’s that realistic. To me, that is certainly fine art.
In the drawings below, I compare “traditional” colored pencil usage with “colored pencil painting.”
Here is my example of a “traditional” colored pencil drawing, which employs minimal layering and no blending.
Below is my version of a “colored pencil painting,” with a significant amount of layering and fully blended with a colorless blender pencil.
I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the first style—for certain artists or projects, it may be ideal. But, for me, the second style offers a certain vibrancy and impact that is very appealing. I like that it is not immediately obvious that it was done with colored pencil; this increases realism and decreases the chance that the piece will be dismissed as “just” colored pencil art and not fine art. Here is the side-by-side comparison:
Discovering “colored pencil painting” has allowed me to do more with the medium than I thought was possible. I hope learning about this technique inspires some of you to try it!