Brush Care: Escoda Artist Brush and Hand Soap (review)

A few years ago, I reviewed The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver. It’s a good brush cleaner, but it is slightly abrasive (so I’m reluctant to use it on watercolour brushes with natural hair). Also, I found that if I had to use it more than once within the space of a day or so (which I did sometimes), it dried and irritated the skin on my hands, so I’ve been keeping an eye out for a gentler alternative. A little while ago I was looking for a new paint palette or something on one of the online websites and stumbled across Escoda Artist Brush and Hand Soap.

It was about $10, but I’ve paid that much for fancy scented shower soaps in the past as a self-indulgent treat, so I thought I might as well try it.

Last weekend, I attended a watercolour workshop by Alvaro Castagnet (I’m hoping to post about it soon). In the interests of trying to reduce the size and weight of the gear I was lugging to and from the workshop all weekend, I took a small empty tea jar for use as a water container, instead of the big Vegemite Jar I usually use at home. Unfortunately this meant that I didn’t really have enough room to wash my big brushes properly, as I couldn’t swish them around. I’m also lazy, so the dirty brushes continued to sit in my brush case until today.

The Escoda Artist Brush and Hand Soap works much the same as other brush soaps and cleaners, as you’d expect. Wet the brush, swish it on the soap, lather it in your hand. Rinse and repeat. Unlike the Masters Brush Cleaner (which has a mild but still noticeable citrus smell), this soap has almost no odour. It also doesn’t have any abrasives in it, so it’s much gentler on the brush, and on your hands. I’ve spent the last two days (on and off) washing some of my brushes, and so far I’ve suffered no skin irritation. It also seems to be just as effective at cleaning the brushes as the Masters Brush Cleaner was; before using the soap, I rinsed the brushes out with plain water, squeezing and rinsing until the water ran clear, but then when I used the soap, I got even more colour out of them.

If you’re looking for a brush cleaner or artist soap that will be gentle on brushes and won’t irritate your skin, Escoda Artist Brush and Hand Soap is worth checking out.

Posted in Accessories, Reviews, Soaps and Cleaners | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Skyscape Baubles: Stormy Sea

I haven’t done much painting for a while, but I finally got around to painting another Skyscape Bauble. I’d had the idea for this one for a while, but it kept getting pushed back by academic commitments.

Stormy Sea
My fourth Skyscape Bauble is Stormy Sea. I had originally planned to paint a moonlit ocean, but as I fiddled with the composition I wanted, I figured it would be hard to convey the full range of colours in the waves with only the distant moon as a light source. I decided to make the sky stormy instead, with rain falling in the distance. The waves were painted with varying shades of Cobalt Green Turquoise and Paynes Grey, while white gouache was used to create the foam. A barely noticeable wash of Raw Sienna was applied over the sky area before the clouds were painted in, as I find this helps it look less flat than just having to cover up white.

“Stormy Sea”. Schmincke and Winsor & Newton watercolours and Art Spectrum gouache.

I’m not sure how many more of these Skyscape Baubles I’ll paint. I did have an idea for another one but haven’t been able to work out a composition OR colour scheme that I like and that accurately shows the subject, so I’ve kind of lost interest in it. I still have a few pieces of the handmade watercolour paper I’ve used for the series though, so if I do come up with another idea, I’ll paint a fifth Skyscape Bauble.

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Inks: Derwent Inktense Paint Pan Travel Set (review)

Some time ago I reviewed the Derwent Inktense pencils and blocks. I quite liked them but even though most of the colours were listed as lightfast, the fact a number of other artists had reported issues with fading even in supposedly permanent colours made me hesitant to pick up the Inktense pan set when it was released, even though I really wanted to try them (that, and the fact I already have enough watercolour paint boxes to sink the Titanic).

Recently, my friend who works in an art supply shop in Italy kindly sent me an Inktense Paint Pan Travel set as an early Christmas gift. (if any of my readers are in Torino, drop by Bianco & Marzano to look at their wonderful selection of art products)

Here’s the colour chart for the set:

The white plastic box is compact (though it is a bit bigger than the Winsor & Newton Cotman Pocket Sketch Box I have) and feels sturdy. It seems quite similar to the Sakura Koi watercolour sketchboxes, though my Sakura box is larger and more bulky. The lid has five little sections and doubles as a mixing palette, while the base holds the pans of colour, as well as a water brush (with space to include a pencil stub and an eraser) and a sponge for cleaning your brush. The brush doesn’t come with a lid like most waterbrushes do, which is disappointing, as I worry that it could get damaged or bent if it moves around in the box too much. However, I was happy to discover that the waterbrush itself was a good quality one; many I’ve bought over the years have had faulty valves (meaning a slight squeeze empties half the barrel of water through your bristles) or leak, so that instead of water coming through the bristles, it emerges from above the ‘ferrule’ (or whatever the plastic bit that holds the bristles is called). This brush responded well to pressure and was easy to control, allowing me to produce a thick wash or just a few drops without too much hassle. It does have a small reservoir, though, so you would need to carry a little bottle of water so you can refill it if you’re going to be painting anything bigger than postcard size, otherwise you’ll likely use up all the water in the barrel.

The colours are held in place by two plastic inserts (each holding six pans), and these inserts have a gap in the bottom, making it easy to pop out the pans as required. As for the pans themselves, they are a little bit smaller than standard watercolour half pans, so if you intend to buy this box and replace them with your Winsor & Newton or Sennelier etc half pans, you won’t be able to, unless you remove the inserts as well (and even then, you’ll have to glue them in or use double-sided tape to keep them in place). Derwent has listed individual Inktense pans for sale on their site but so far they don’t seem to be available anywhere else, even in stores that sell the set itself. The price of the set itself varies wildly according to supplier; Jacksons in the UK, where I normally buy art supplies, has it for $30AUD, but I’ve seen it for as much as $50 on other sites. This is comparable to a set of student grade watercolours of about the same size.

The set comes with a reasonably good selection of colours, though I’d have liked to see another blue instead of one of the greens (I find the inclusion of the light green kind of pointless as you can easily mix it with Teal Green and Sun Yellow). That being said, for people who paint a lot of landscapes, it’s probably a good thing that there are three greens as it would save you from having to mix them all the time and use up other colours in the process. Unfortunately there’s no white, but it’s easy enough to break off part of a white Inktense Block and stick it in at one end of the compartment where the waterbrush goes, as there’s plenty of room. Otherwise, you can mix pretty much any colour you want with this set; Mid Ultramarine looks more like Cobalt Blue, but if you mix it with a bit of Bright Blue, you can get a good match with regular Ultramarine. You can also mix a good grey with Natural Brown and Bright Blue (for a really dark grey) or Mid Ultramarine (for a softer, lighter grey). The pigment concentration in the colours is high, so much so that it almost feels like painting with artist grade watercolours.

Most of these colours are semi-opaque, though some lean more towards the opaque side (especially Mid Ultramarine and Natural Brown). They also dissolve quite quickly when you wet them, so it feels just like using a normal set of watercolour pans. The only difference is that, being ink, these colours generally won’t rewet or activate again once they’ve dried. This gives you the option of laying down heavy colour in one go or slowly building up layers of colour without having to worry about the previous one coming up and muddying the colour. The colours didn’t seem to be 100% permanent; while I was able to lay a wash over one colour without it coming up and mixing with the other colour, they did still lift a little when I scrubbed at it with the brush after it had been dried for a few minutes. It was a lot harder to lift colour once it had been dried for half an hour or so, and some colours were more stubborn than others; for example, the yellows and blues lifted noticeably, while the reds and black only budged very slightly.

One of the problems I had with the Inktense pencils and blocks was that sometimes, if I had applied colour by scribbling on the paper and then wetting it with a brush, there would be bits of pigment that I hadn’t dissolved properly the first time round, so when I put another layer over it, that pigment would get into my mixture when I didn’t want it to. This isn’t an issue with the pans, since all the pigment is essentially ‘dissolved’ before you even put it on the paper, and since you really do have to scrub at it to lift the Inktense pan paint, it mostly stays put. Also, unlike the pencils and blocks, which have a few fugitive colours, all the colours in this set are rated 8 on the Blue Wool lightfastness scale (the highest rating). I haven’t tested them myself yet, but this is promising for those who might want to display or sell work they create with them.

Here’s a small quick sketch I did from imagination with the Derwent Inktense Pan Set while I was watching TV.

For anyone who loves working with Ink but doesn’t want to lug around big tins of pencils or fragile bottles of ink, the Derwent Inktense Paint Pan Travel Set would be a wonderful addition to your field sketching supplies. The compact and sturdy box houses a good selection of strong and mostly permanent colours, along with a waterbrush, so as long as you also bring a little waterbottle for refilling your brush, you’ll have everything you need to sketch on the go.

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Watercolours: German Shepherd 3/4 Profile (demonstration)

For a long time, I’ve wanted to paint an animal portrait, but always put it off out of fear I’d mess it up. I still have that fear, but I decided I should at least try to do something about it by practicing a dog portrait. I thought I would have a go at painting my friend’s German Shepherd, Vedina (who works with her mama in an art supply shop in Italy).

Schmincke Watercolours
-Permanent Chinese White
-Indian Yellow
-Permanent Carmine
-Potter’s Pink
-Jaune Brilliant Dark
-Yellow Ochre
-Spinel Brown
-Venetian Red
-Burnt Umber
-Payne’s Grey

Daniel Smith Watercolours
-Iridescent Gold

Creative Mark Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable Round size 4
Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 1
Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 3/0

Masking Tape

Canson Heritage Watercolour Paper – 300gsm Rough (150X210mm)

Step 1
After transferring the greylead line onto the watercolour paper, wash a light layer of Potters Pink over the dog’s tongue and the insides of her ears. Mix a very watery wash of Jaune Brilliant Dark and Yellow Ochre and wash this over the left side of the dog’s neck and head and the whole chest/torso area under her chin. Mix a little Venetian Red and Spinel Brown so you get a slightly reddish brown and apply this in thin strokes along the dog’s forehead and nose and down her back, as well as a few strokes anywhere the fur looks reddish. Now make up a weak to medium wash of Burnt Umber and run this along the edges of the dog’s ears (as well as in the fluffy areas), down her back and in a few places along her collar and head. At this stage the colours should be fairly loose and light as you will build up the colour in multiple layers.

Step 2
Make a medium wash of Payne’s Grey and put this over all the dark areas of the dog, especially her muzzle (make sure to leave some highlights for her lips and the top of her nose) and the blackish fur on her back and near her ears. Build up some darker strokes of Burnt Umber around the black patch on her back and under her collar, as well as to the left of her muzzle and around her ears. Build up some more strokes of your reddish brown made from Venetian Red and Spinel Brown, focusing on the fluffy areas around her ears. After this is dry, put another layer of Payne’s Grey over the darkest areas (her back, the left and underside of her muzzle and nose and her eyebrows and ear fluff).

Step 3
Continue building up the same colours you used in previous steps, gradually covering more of the pale tan areas leaving only a small amount under the dog’s collar and chin. Switch to a smaller brush to create the fur texture on the dog’s head, following the direction of her fur with your brushstrokes. Put another, stronger layer of Payne’s Grey over most of the dog’s muzzle and face except for the bridge and tip of her nose and just under her eye, then, when everything is dry, use almost pure Payne’s Grey to draw the outline and pupil of the dog’s eye.

Step 4
Add a little more Potters Pink to the inner part of the dog’s ears, then mix some Permanent Carmine with Potters Pink and paint the dog’s tongue, making it slightly darker at the top where it is in shadow from her mouth. Layer more Payne’s Grey over the darkest parts of the dog’s muzzle and let this dry. Mix a black from Payne’s Grey and Burnt Umber and use this (watered down slightly) to colour the darkest shadows under the dog’s chin and on the front of her nose, plus some of the darker markings on her head and cheek. Now use the same colour in its purest form to colour in the dog’s nostrils and redefine the outline of the dog’s eye and pupil. Some of the highlights beside her nostril and on her lips are still the white of the paper at this point, so now is a good time to put a very weak Payne’s Grey over it, just to tone down the pure white. Add a few little dots on her muzzle beside her nose to give the impression of whiskers. I also darkened the area under her eye slightly as it looked too light compared to her face.

Once this is dry, put a little bit of shadow in the top half of the eye with Payne’s Grey. Then, once that’s dry, put a light layer of Burnt Umber mixed with a tiny bit of Indian Yellow and Venetian Red (you want a rich, golden brown for this bright eyed dog’s gaze). Make sure you leave the white highlight in the top right corner of her eye. If you’ve accidentally painted some grey over her tooth (like I did), put this back in with a dot of Permanent Chinese White. For her tag, mix Yellow Ochre, Indian Yellow and Permanent Chinese White into a very pale gold. Any visible parts of the chain under her fur can be painted using Payne’s Grey mixed with a bit of Permanent Chinese White (don’t make it too dark or it will detract focus from her face). Once the tag is dry, you could either build up more of a gold colour by layering more Yellow Ochre and Indian Yellow, or if you want an excuse to use sparkly paints (and who doesn’t love sparkly paints?) you could just use a metallic gold watercolour over the top of it. Most metallic watercolours will do a good job, but I used Daniel Smith’s Iridescent Gold as that’s what I had handy. All that’s left to do now is sign your name, using any leftover light tan (Yellow Ochre and Jaune Brilliant Dark) mixture you have.

I hope you’ve enjoyed painting this German Shepherd. I was pleased with how it came out, and I look forward to trying my hand at more animal portraits.

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Watercolours: Sennelier Luxury Walnut Wood Box Half-Pan Set (review)

Before I get started, I should probably admit that this is as much of a show-and-tell/brag post as it is a review.

Back in 2016, I reviewed the Sennelier Landscape Watercolour set of 14 half pans, which I had bought in 2012. This was a clearance item that Dick Blick (a US retailer) was getting rid of because it contained the old formula of Sennelier Extra-Fine watercolours, which had been discontinued earlier that year. While I thought they were reasonable, I didn’t think there was anything special about them (I felt the pigment load wasn’t quite as high as in my other artist grade watercolours), and at the time I couldn’t justify spending the money on buying the reformulated ones to see if they were any better.

Side note: if you find Sennelier half pans out in the wild and can’t work out if they’re the new or old formula, look at the front of the packaging. The old formula wrappers are white in the bottom half and coloured to match the paint it contains in the top half, while the new ones have the whole wrapper in the corresponding paint colour. I never saw any of the older tubes so I can’t compare them to the new ones but I’d imagine a similar colour/labelling scheme applies to those.

Ever since I started painting seriously with watercolours (nearly 10 years ago), I always wanted one of those beautiful wooden box sets, but never felt that I was a good enough artist to justify spending the money on one. I’d often see them online while buying individual colours that I need to replace pans or tubes I’ve used up, but every time I was tempted to get one, I told myself to just keep using the little tin set or loose tubes I already had. Early this year I saw a wooden box set online with a RRP of $200, but the retailer’s price was $150. I made a bargain with myself that if I ever sold or traded $150 worth of watercolour paintings, then I could have one. Over the last few months, I finally sold or traded enough paintings to push me over that $150 bracket (also the box went on sale for an even lower price of $135). So I treated myself to this lovely Sennelier 24 half pan wood box set of watercolours. Of all the wooden box sets, I felt that this one had the best layout and was the best value for money in terms of what was included. Anyway, now that my precious new watercolour box has arrived, let’s spend some time admiring it…

The wood is walnut, and the box is very well made, with the brand name embossed in gold on the lid and matching hinges and clasp (my old man, who is a skilled woodworker himself, turned his nose up at the hinges, saying they were flimsy; they seem adequate for the box though).

When you open the box, there’s a sheet of printed watercolour card in the lid, where you can make colour swatches for all the colours in the box if you like.

In the bottom of the box, there are two rows of watercolour half pans. Some metal watercolour boxes I’ve seen that are designed to fit 24 half pans will actually fit 26 if you push all the pans down far enough, but this box just fits 24 snugly. Though if you remove the brushes from the third row, you could put another 12 half pans in there, bringing the total to 36 (I’d rather use it for brushes though as 24 colours is more than enough). The pans stay firmly in place when they’re wrapped, but once you open them, they are a bit loose, so if you tip the box upside down, they’ll move around. I solved this by putting a line of double-sided tape along the bottom of the box and then pressing the pans onto it.

The type of brushes you get apparently varies slightly between boxes. I’ve seen some pictures and videos other people have posted after they got the same box, and a few of them had Sennelier-branded brushes. The two brushes I got were Raphael; a size 2 squirrel mop, and a size 4 red sable round. I have never used any brushes from this brand before (correction: I already had a 3/0 sized Raphael squirrel mop, but hadn’t reviewed it yet), so I was eager to try them out. I was impressed with the quality and performance of both brushes. The size 2 mop (which is the same size as my Jackson’s size 8 squirrel mop) holds plenty of water but also maintains a point, and I notice that once it’s dry, it retains its point a little better than the Jackson’s, which kind of fluffs out a bit (this doesn’t affect its performance when loaded with paint, but it was still interesting to note). The red sable was also very nice, holding a point for the smallest lines (the sample painting I did in this post was done almost entirely with the two brushes included in the box; I only switched to the small Isabey sables for some of the final details). Unlike a lot of Kolinsky sable brushes (which tend to fluff out when they dry), the red sable also remained more or less in its original shape. Even if you don’t want to buy this paint box, it’s worth checking out the Raphael brushes.

There’s also a porcelain palette 19.5cm long and just under 8cm wide, with six slanted mixing wells. This is also not held securely within its compartment, so you’ll need to be careful if you move the box around a lot. You could glue it in but I’d rather not do this in case I need to take it out to give it a good clean.

Here’s the colour chart for the colours in my box set, plus an additional 12 colours I bought (some of which will be used to replace colours in the original 24 colour lineup).

As I mentioned above and in my 2016 review, I wasn’t overly impressed with the pigment load in the old formula Sennelier colours. When I made my colour chart for this wooden box set, I was pleased to see that the reformulated colours do appear to be stronger and more concentrated, while still retaining their transparency. I also found I didn’t need to spend as much time scrubbing at them to activate them when I first start using them, which basically means they’re now competitive with my other artist grade watercolours. Though the older formula contained honey, the new formula apparently contains even more honey, which is probably why they’re much easier to rewet now. I have not tried the tubes, but from what I am seeing on various art forums, there are some issues with the consistency across colours, with some being extremely runny, and others separating badly within the tube. This can happen across any brand, though, so I’d suggest if you prefer to buy tubes, just get one or two Sennelier tubes to try before committing to a full set.

The new range has also been expanded from 80 to 98 colours, and there are still a good number of single-pigment mixtures. There are some odd multi-pigment mixtures, though, including some that should (based on their name) be single-pigment mixes. For example, Viridian Green is made from viridian and phthalo green pigments, while French Ultramarine is made from ultramarine and a blue violet pigment. Alizarin Crimson is a mixture of three pigments (with the real Alizarin Crimson being named Alizarin Crimson Lake in their range). These colours really should include Hue in the name, if they’re not actually made from (or at least not solely made from) the pigment they supposedly represent.

Though most of the colours in the range appear to be lightfast, there are still a few fugitive colours, such as the Alizarin Crimson Lake I mentioned above, and the bright and beautiful Opera. Unfortunately a number of fugitive colours are included in the deluxe box, which is a pet peeve of mine; art supply manufacturers are aware of the fact that many artists prefer to use lightfast materials, yet they still include known fugitive colours in their sets, when they could just as easily include a similar but more permanent colour in their place. I also felt there were a few odd multi-pigment colours taking up slots that could have been better used by single-pigment colours (eg. Cinereous Blue, a mix of phthalo blue and white, could have just been a Cerulean Blue, while some of the convenience greens could have been replaced with a larger selection of earthy browns). Much of this is subjective, though, and I have simply replaced some of these colours with new half pans more to my liking.

Here’s a painting I did with my set of reformulated Sennelier watercolours based on a photo by Sei Nakatugawa (for a demonstration of this painting, click here).

As I said above, I’m not sure about the tubes, but I can definitely recommend the reformulated Sennelier watercolour pans and half pans. They are competitive with other artist grade brands in terms of quality and they’re often among the cheaper brands, depending on where you buy. I also think this deluxe wooden box set is quite good value for money, at least at the $150 price point it seems to be at Jackson’s in the UK most of the time. The quality of the Raphael brushes included makes this an especially good deal. If you want to treat yourself or a special watercolourist in your life to something nice, one of these Sennelier boxes would be an excellent choice.

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Watercolours: A Fiery Pair (demonstration)

Time for another art demo! Today we’re painting some fiery red, yellow and orange tulips in watercolour.

This painting is based on a photo by Sei Nakatugawa in the Facebook group, Photos for Artists. I’m pretty sure they’re tulips but I don’t know what variety (if any of my readers, can tell me, please leave a comment). As always, if you don’t have these exact colours or brands, use the closest thing you have in your existing supplies.

Sennelier Watercolours
-Lemon Yellow
-Sennelier Orange
-Alizarin Crimson (Hue)
-Dioxazine Purple
-Ultramarine Deep
-Cerulean Blue
-Turquoise Green
-Viridian Green
-Payne’s Grey
-Titanium White

Raphael Squirrel Mop size 2
Raphael Red Sable Round size 4
Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 1
Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 3/0

Masking Tape

St Cuthbert’s Mill Saunders Waterford Watercolour Paper – 300gsm Rough (140X190mm)

Step 1
After masking off the edges of the paper and working out the composition, transfer the lines to your watercolour paper. Mix a dark wash of Dioxazine Purple and Payne’s Grey and fill in the background. You might need to do several layers in order to build it up so it’s a solid almost-black with a hint of purple. If you’re a beginner, I’d also recommend mixing up a lot more of this colour than you think you’ll need, or you’ll run out half way through and find yourself watering it down to make it last the whole background, resulting in uneven washes. Using a weaker wash of this mix, lay in the shadows down the right side of the tulip stems and under the flowers (and a weaker shadow across the middle of the stem of the right tulip), and blur the bottoms of the stems so they fade into the background.

Step 2
Paint a weak wash of Cerulean Blue over the stems, making it lighter where the light hits. Mix up some Turquoise Green and Viridian Green and go over the middle value areas of the stems, allowing some of the Cerulean Blue to show through. Let this dry, then add some Ultramarine Deep to the mix and add darker shadows over the grey-purple shadows you did in Step 1, blending these so they gradate smoothly around the stem.

Now it’s time to paint the tulips themselves. When painting flowers, I find it easiest to work one petal at a time. Start with Lemon Yellow and put in a weak layer of this over all parts of the tulip flowers except for the bright white highlights and the areas that are a deep, cool red, graduating to a stronger mix in the areas that will be orange. Wait for this to dry. Make a pale wash of Sennelier Orange and then put this over the lightest non-white areas of the tulips and some of the yellow parts, for a hint of rosy orange. Let this dry as well.

Step 3
Building up colours on the tulips will be a gradual process. Mix Lemon Yellow and Carmine for a light-medium orange and apply weak layers of this over orange parts of the tulips, overlapping the yellow and Sennelier Orange in some places. Add more Carmine to this mix for a reddish orange and start adding it to the darker areas of the petals. As you add these darker colours, be sure to leave highlights along the outer edges of the petals.

Step 4
For some of the medium dark areas, add Alizarin Crimson Hue to the Carmine and Lemon Yellow mix, then lay a mid-strength wash of this over the relevant parts of the flower. For the much darker areas, use pure Alizarin Crimson Hue. There are a few very dark shadow areas (under the left most petal of the left flower and in the centre of the right flower) so use Alizarin Crimson Hue with a touch of your Dioxazine Purple and Payne’s Grey mix from the background (adding some of the background colour to the subject helps unify a piece). Use a small brush here (a size 1 round or smaller) and make your strokes follow the contours of the petals, creating a stripy, feathery texture in some places.

Around the bases of the tulips (where they join the stems), mix some of your Viridian Green/Turquoise Green stem colour with a bit of the Carmine and Lemon Yellow Orange mix, and add in some shadows to help join the flowers to the stems. Take some of your leftover green and add some Lemon Yellow to it and add this to some parts of the underside of your tulips. If, like me, you’re not happy with the highlights you left on the edges of the tulip petals, use Titanium White and a small round brush to go over the edges again, making them lighter.

All that’s left to do now is sign your name. I used Titanium White mixed with the Dioxazine Violet/Payne’s Grey background mix.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this watercolour demo. Keep an eye on my blog for more art demonstrations, as I’m hoping to do a few more watercolour demos over the next couple of months.

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Mediums: Brush and Pencil by Alyona Nickelsen (review)

I first heard about Alyona Nickelsen’s Brush and Pencil products on a coloured pencil demonstration by Lachri Fine Art on YouTube. At the time I wasn’t doing a lot of coloured pencil drawings because I was busy with uni and didn’t have the energy or patience for it, but being a fan of Nickelsen’s Colored Pencil Painting Bible book, I was intrigued, and eventually I managed to track down some of the products in the range.

I got the Touch-Up Texture and the Titanium White, but you can also get a clear powder called Powder Blender, plus two fixative sprays: Textured Fixative and Final Fixative. At the time of writing I couldn’t afford and/or source all the products in the range, but if I do get more to try, I’ll update this review. I have heard that the Powder Blender is a bit finicky to use, in that you have to put some of it down, then put pencil over it, and then put more blender down and work it in with an applicator tool, so if you decide to get it, it’s a good idea to watch a video tutorial or something showing how you use it (the blender is one I likely won’t bother getting as I don’t think I have the patience to use it).

The Touch-Up Texture comes in what looks like a nail polish bottle, with a similar brush to nail polish and a ball bearing inside, as you need to shake the bottle before each use so all the gritty sediment stuff mixes in and gives you an even coat. It’s a clear substance, so you can use it over white or pale colours without it discolouring or going yellow, but I did notice a slight solvent effect, as when I brushed it over layers of darker colour, the strokes smoothed and blended a bit (not as much as when I use proper solvent, but it was definitely noticeable). The stuff dries within ten minutes or so, and if you touch it with your finger, there’s a slight gritty texture (if you don’t get this texture it means you didn’t shake it well enough), though it’s nowhere near as pronounced as touching a proper sanded paper or ground.

If you have an area of paper where you’ve put down so many layers the paper won’t take anymore pencil, putting some Touch-Up Texture over it will allow you to add another few layers. The extra layers of pencil will also look slightly darker than pencil that goes down over a non-textured area, so if you want to make sure you don’t get inconsistencies, you’ll need to make sure you apply the Touch-Up Texture to the whole area you want to add more layers to.

Using the Touch-Up Texture on its own is helpful for when you want to darken or add more colours to an area, but you can also restore highlights by mixing in some of the Titanium White. This is basically a powder that comes in a little jar similar to some makeup foundation jars, which you need to tap to dispense the powder into the top section of the container. Depending on how much you mix in, you can get a solid white fluid or a semi-opaque white that will show some of the colour underneath. Either way, you can then add a few extra layers of colour, but it’s good for getting back areas of white you covered by accident and then adding light colours to make the highlight less glaring.

It may sound like a ‘magic fix’, but there are a few caveats you need to be aware of when using the Touch-Up Texture. First, it seems to be quite fussy with the paper it’s used on; the heavier and more textured the paper was to start with, the better this product will adhere to the surface. Mixing it with some Titanium White seems to make it even more fragile, as using anything more than a medium pressure will make the dried White/Texture mix just flake off in places. Funnily enough I had no problems with it on the actual drawing I used, but the results I got while testing it on some spare Strathmore Bristol ATCs varied. Secondly, while applying some of this product will let you add a few more layers, it really is only a few more layers; depending on how much pressure you use, you might get up to three or four, but with a medium or heavy pressure it’s only going to be one or two (and as I said, using a medium or heavier pressure increases the chance the product will flake off your drawing). I found I had a bit more success using softer lead pencils (like Caran d’Ache Luminance or Prismacolor Premier), but it wasn’t really a huge difference.

Unfortunately the spray fixatives (and the Touch-Up Texture in some stores) are listed as hazardous materials, meaning you can’t get them shipped overseas or by airmail. This could make it difficult to obtain, depending on where you are. I think more Australian shops sell it now, but when I got it, The Art Shop in Bayswater was the only retailer that listed it, and they had some pretty big delays with stock of the Touch-Up Texture coming in. It’s also not cheap, at a bit over $20 AUD for the powders and Touch-Up Texture and nearly $40 for the spray fixatives.

For a sample of artwork I used the Brush and Pencil Touch-Up Texture and Titanium White on, check out my Scarlet Macaw drawing demonstration. I used a little of the Touch-Up Texture on its own on parts of the branch I wanted to add more layers to, and I used a mixture of both products to restore some highlights to the bird’s back and wings, as well as to the top of the branch and the ends (the latter of which I added another light layer of yellows and browns).

Ideally you should try to preserve any areas you want to keep white or light, and use a paper or surface that can take a lot of layers of pencil, but failing that, the Brush and Pencil mediums may just come in handy. I wouldn’t recommend relying on them all the time as the results can be hit and miss, but in a pinch, they can make the difference between getting those last couple of layers down and not being able to finish your drawing.

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