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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