Review: Colored Pencil Painting Bible by Alyona Nickelsen

My latest colored pencils book -- a treasure!

Colored Pencil Painting Bible by Alyona Nickelsen, scan by Robert Sloan
Colored Pencil Painting Bible by Alyona Nickelsen, scan by Robert Sloan

Realism made easier!

Alyona Nickelsen knows a lot of interesting tricks with Prismacolors. I've been using them since 1972 and I found tips in this book that left me excited, delighted and ready to try some new and spectacular artwork.

Colored pencil isn't a medium for the reckless or impatient. It takes time to create a colored pencil painting that shimmers with color and rich layers that glow. Alyona Nickelsen freely admits this. It's a good medium for an artist who enjoys painting slow layer after layer, detail after detail with meticulous accuracy.

There are shortcuts and techniques that can speed the process. One is using thinners -- her favorite is Odorless Mineral Spirits (abbreviated hereafter to OMS), a technique favored by Gary Greene and other prominent realists but not discussed in depth in Masterful Color by Arlene Steinberg.

I own several good colored pencils realism books already. I love them all -- each one has its own method, each has given me new techniques and artistic skills, each one approaches color theory, blending, burnishing and mixing in different ways. Alyona Nickelsen's Colored Pencil Painting Bible has earned her a place in my top favorites with Painting Light in Colored Pencils by Cecile Baird, which showed me how to do living flames, Masterful Color by Arlene Steinberg which taught me complementary underpainting and the elegant texture created by dry over dry patient layering and light into glass, and my collection of Gary Greene topical volumes that taught me so much about textures.

If you are a beginner with colored pencils, this is the place to start. Alyona Nickelsen's prose is clear, simple and easy to read. All artistic terms and specific art jargon is explained in a way that's very beginner-friendly, yet it's concise and doesn't slow down to bog an expert.

Her methods are unique to her as Gary Greene's, Arlene Steinberg's and Cecile Baird's are. This is all to the good. Her book also includes a long vital section on "foundations" that includes composition, design, theory, rendering and copying, how to get accurate realism with any medium you choose. It's this "Foundations" chapter that helped me as much as the colored pencils specific sections, that improved my oil pastels work as well as my colored pencils!

Below is an oil pastels painting inspired by her Red Delicious Apple demonstration. I was so enthralled by the apple she painted and the subtle color shifts she noticed, the color combinations she used and the details she noticed that I'd never realized were there on apples that I painted one from life looking for the same details. They were there and I chose similar colors and mixtures to paint it.

Nickelsen's book helps realism in any medium.

Red Delicious Apple in oil pastels by Robert A. Sloan
Red Delicious Apple in oil pastels by Robert A. Sloan

Alyona Nickelsen's Demonstrations

 My interest in Alyona Nickelsen began when a friend sent me the link to her website, http://www.BrushAndPencil.com where I found several step by step demonstrations and signed up for her newsletter. Ms. Nickelsen has been teaching classes for some time and her newsletter is full of interesting tips. Her online courses showed me her quality as a teacher long before I bought her book -- because she posts student art on her website.

That is the ultimate test of any workshop instructor. It's not about whether Ms. Nickelsen can paint astonishing works of beauty and eye-fooling illusion. Can ordinary beginners who invested in her course do the same thing? The answer is yes.

I found out in person when I found out about her special offer regarding the book -- she made a bonus DVD with an hour-long demo of the Red Delicious Apple project from the book and includes it in a special package with the book, a CD of photo references and traceable outlines (like Cecile Baird, Alyona lets a beginner focus on coloring separately from learning to draw accurately), and a sample of Stonehenge paper to get started.

I love that DVD. Her style as a teacher is clear and easy to understand, her soft Russian accent is easy to understand, just a flavor rather than an impediment. But this may have something to do with her success in communications. She pays a little more attention to language than those of us born to English and it shows in her writing and her presentations.

Her classes are very reasonable compared to the price of a weekend workshop from a prominent artist, and Ms. Nickelsen is definitely a prominent artist in her own right with an impressive display of credentials. Instead of one to three intensive days focusing on topic, the courses run for an entire month and materials for each project are included so that there are no questions about who's substituting brands or colors and expecting similar results.

The Red Delicious Apple demo only took eleven or twelve Prismacolor pencils, half of them included in a 12 color set. Prismacolors are her favorite pencil, easily available, richly colored and specific in their working qualities despite the many other good artist grade colored pencils available. So if you invested in Prismacolors and Stonehenge paper to work through Masterful Color projects, you probably won't need to buy new materials to work on the lovely projects in Colored Pencil Painting Bible. All you'd need to add is a soft brush and a bottle of odorless mineral spirits.

For added value, the book also has the lightfastness ratings by color from as many artist grade colored pencils manufacturers as gave her the information. Sanford only gives out that information for Prismacolor Premier Lightfast, its lightfast line, all the rest are included in one place.

Textures covered include ice, lace, pearls, fire, wood, silver, brass, glass and flowers. I loved the pearls. I've been fascinated by painted realistic pearls ever since I was a kid looking at odalisques in art museums, it drove me nuts that I couldn't paint a pearl that didn't just look like a white bead. Yet she creates shimmering soft pearls reflected on a mirror a bit larger than life -- so well that I know if I get hold of some pearls I can incorporate them into a still life easily.

If you want the adulation of painting colored pencil realism and trompe l'oeil with strong foundations and a few shortcuts to speed the process, check out the Colored Pencil Painting Bible first. If you're interested in seeing her videos, check YouTube or http://www.BrushAndPencil.com for her small brass pitcher video -- it's beautiful. She is one of the great masters of Prismacolor realism and she's great for passing that skill on to others!

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Comments 4 comments

MindField profile image

MindField 7 years ago from Portland, Oregon

Robert, I'm envious of you. It isn't enough that you write beautifully but you draw brilliantly, too. My mother and grandfather were both wonderful artists. My own attempts are rudimentary at best and I feel far more inclined to work at perfecting my writing abilities. However, someday I'll find the wherewithal to take a drawing class or invest in a book like Colored Pencil Painting Bible and give it the old college try. Meanwhile, I'll never cease enjoying your art and art-related hubs!


robertsloan2 profile image

robertsloan2 7 years ago from San Francisco, CA Author

It really is a matter of knowhow. I can remember when my attempts were rudimentary and looked horrible. They still are in some subjects -- I just tend to post the ones I do that come out well and do subjects that I can do well (or have a really good reference for).

Classes are great if you learn better with a teacher showing you how. Books and videos are a good deal less expensive though, and there are some good videos available at http://www.artistsnetworktv.com -- subscription is about $70 or so but you get six months unlimited viewing of all their videos. I've been tempted, they started adding quite a few good ones.

The cheap way to get started is a sketchbook and a set of inexpensive student oil pastels, Pentel or Loew Cornell or anything like that. My site, http://www.explore-oil-pastels-with-robert-sloan.c... has a free basic drawing section that's constantly growing as i add new articles. You might enjoy it.


Jill 6 years ago

Thanks for this review Robert, I have this in my list of books to buy along with 2 others (I have Amazon.com gift cards coming in) Based on your review, I'm going to purchase it along with "Colored Pencil For The Serious Beginner" by Bet Borgeson, and "Drawing For The Absolute And Utter Beginner" by Claire Garcia. Again thank you so much!

Sincerely,

Jill


iron doors 5 years ago

cool. I love your idea.

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