Colored Pencil Painting Portraits: Master a Revolutionary Method for Rendering Depth and Imitating Life - Alyona Nickelsen

Thought colored pencils were only good for middle-school drawings of ponies and rainbows? Take a look at one of Alyona Nickelsen's portraits and think again:


Who knew what wonders could be performed with colored pencils? In Colored Pencil Painting Portraits, Nickelsen seeks to explain how she elevates colored pencils from a child's activity to a true art medium. Perhaps the most surprising thing to me-- although in retrospect, I suppose it shouldn't be-- is her explanation of the other tools she requires to turn pencil into paintbrush. She describes the types of papers to employ as well as blending tools, solvents, and sealants to overcome the natural limits of the medium. Her techniques are fascinating, but I will admit I found her constant advertising of her own products rather tiresome. She never mentions blender or fixative when "ACP Textured Fixative" or "Colored Pencil Touch-Up Texture" can be wedged in instead. ("ACP Textured Fixative" literally turns up 81 times in the short book!)


Another unexpected aspect I found interesting was Nickelsen's pragmatic advice for professional portrait painters. She has made a career out of a role I thought had died out with the invention of the camera, and I was somewhat amused by the very practical advice she shares about the profession. As in very traditional portraits, Nickelsen favors single light sources, static poses, and strongly suggests avoiding "perspective distortion"-- in fact, it's the opposite advice you'll see in guides for gesture or animation. There's an entire chapter on how to pose the subject to make them appear to be slimmer, as well as a long digression into the delicate art of flattering the sitter without making them look unrealistic. It's the sort of thing that Bernini or Sargent must have struggled with constantly.


I was intrigued to discover that reading the book clarified something about my own feelings for art. With pencil and charcoal and paint, I like to see the strokes, the layers, the careless mastery of the tool. Nickelsen's portraits demonstrate tremendous care, but the techniques she supports-- careful posing, tracing photographs-- and the medium itself have inherent limits in the artistic spontaneity I love to see in an artist's work. Both portrait painting on commission and colored pencils are very specialized forms of the art, while I don't think the book stretches past these very specialized fields, I found it an entertaining and fascinating read.


~~I received an advanced reader copy of this book through Netgalley from the publisher, Ten Speed Press, in exchange for my honest review.~~


Cross-posted on Goodreads.