New at Jackson’s, the ‘Brush and Pencil’ products for coloured pencil painting are an exciting addition to our range of materials. The powder blender is a unique product that is designed to work in a very specific application, as a lubricant underneath the drawing, so you will need to read about it before you start. If used according to the special method it will yield surprising results; it can make coloured pencil look as blended and saturated as an oil painting.
Artist Judith Selcuk tries out the ‘Brush and Pencil’ products and shows us how they work best.
The Powder Blender is a transparent and non-toxic dry lubricant which stops coloured pencils from binding to the surface of the paper. Suitable for use with oil-based or wax-based coloured pencils. The coloured particles from the pencil will move freely on top of the lubricant, and can be manipulated and blended like soft pastels. It also allows artists to achieve seamless and stroke-free coverage of large areas quickly, and can be used to soften the edge of eraser marks, by blending in colour from adjacent areas. This product works best on non-absorbent, toothy surfaces such as sanded papers or acrylic gessos. It is an archival product, and will not affect the longevity of your artwork. It comes in a small 14g pot.
The Powder Blender is designed for a specific application method:
Apply a small about of powder blender to the surface of the paper, using a brush, sponge or applicator. The Sofft applicators would be great tools to apply the powder blender.
Apply coloured pencil to the desired area on top of the powder. Be careful not to press too hard, as this will press the pencil through the powder blender and into the tooth of the paper, making it more difficult to blend.
Apply a small amount of powder blender over the coloured pencil, blending and mixing colours as you wish.
This product should be used with fixatives, ideally the Brush and Pencil texture fixative described below, which will restore tooth to the surface for layering, or the final fixative, which will seal a completed drawing.
Acid free, odourless, non-toxic, non-yellowing and safe for indoor use, this fixative enables unlimited layering of coloured pencil. Without dulling or changing the colour already on the page, it restores tooth to the surface, seals the coloured pencil layers and makes them resistant to water, alcohol or odourless mineral spirits. It will dry and harden in minutes, and can then be worked on. It allows development of the form either from “dark to light” or from “light to dark”. It also becomes possible to apply chromatic colours onto a dark surface without white underpainting. This fixative is not designed for use as a final seal on coloured pencil drawings, for that you should use the Final Fixative.
Acid free, odourless, non-toxic, and non-yellowing, this fixative seals coloured pencil drawings without impacting upon their colours. It is quick-drying and safe for indoor use. Please note that as aerosols both of the fixatives are no longer able to be shipped by air.
The other two products in the Brush and Pencil range include the Coloured Pencil Touch-Up Texture and Coloured Pencil Titanium White.
The other two products in the Brush and Pencil system of 5 products are Coloured Pencil Touch-Up Texture and Coloured Pencil Titanium White. These are not currently available in Europe, but we will be getting them in stock by mid-March 2017.
Testing the Brush and Pencil Company Products
Judith Selcuk is a freelance artist and illustrator, Artist-in-Residence for Strathmore Artists Papers in the UK and a member of the UK Coloured Pencil Society. She has exhibited her coloured pencil artwork nationally and internationally and won several awards including the Maralyn Shilham Annual Art Award. Judith has published tutorials, books and been featured in many books and magazines. She demonstrates all over the UK and 2015 saw Judith having her own television show on Sky Create and Craft, demonstrating coloured pencil and Strathmore paper called ‘Creative Colour’. She runs a weekly group for coloured pencil enthusiasts from her studio, community art groups and courses and offers tutorials on disc or download via her website. She enjoys working with a wide variety of media.
We asked Judith to try the new Brush and Pencil Company products and let us know what she thought of them. She took loads of photos as she went and explained her process step-by-step of how she used the new blender and fixatives.
‘Brush and Pencil’ Products Review
Every day new and exciting products come onto the market – delicious pots and tubes of pigment, new gadgets and gizmos. How do we possibly decide what it is we would like or what is of actual use to us? Much of the time we have to trust the judgement of someone else or take a gamble. I hope that this review of the new line of products by the Brush and Pencil Company will be helpful to coloured pencil artists who are considering trying these new products.
As soon as I saw the new products for the coloured pencil enthusiast from Brush and Pencil by Alyona Nickelson I was intrigued. The examples showed wonderful creations that actually looked like oil paintings, and it enabled you to blend smooth transitions of colour quickly and easily. As any coloured pencil artist knows it can take hundreds of hours to complete a piece of art using our media. If the claims of these products were correct, this would shorten the process considerably and achieve a finish that is very difficult and time-consuming to achieve with coloured pencils.
They advise using a rigid surface to prevent the fixative cracking or flaking, just like a varnish for an oil painting would. Online demonstrations show it being used on surfaces such as boards to which you apply a coat of gesso or sanded papers such as Uart, although the papers would have to be adhered to some sort of panel before spraying with the fixative. I am already used to working on Ampersand panels and the Jackson’s own brand of panels. I had a gesso panel to hand and was raring to go.
The make-up of this product means that you need to use a sanded or rough surface to be able to let the powder blender move the pigment around the surface which allows the blending process to occur. I think there are two reasons, the first is that the wax or oil in the pencils does not adhere so permanently to the surface as it would with regular paper and the second is that the sanded surface allows the pigment to move more freely around the surface.
My initial experiments with this on the gesso panel were not very successful at all, I couldn’t seem to move the pigment at all like was described and neither could I get a seamless look to my coloured pencil and had lots of white space.
I was a little disheartened but after re-evaluating the next step in my experiment I chose to try a sanded paper by Uart and chose the 600 grade finish. I followed the advice of Alyona (the maker) and decided to play with small studies and using different pencils until I found the brand of pencil that worked best for me. Luckily, I am possibly slightly addicted to coloured pencils and have rather a lot of different brands in my arsenal!
The first I tried were Derwent Coloursoft but I found them to be patchy when I tried to blend them. The next I tried were Polychromos by Faber Castell and I was hooked, I could achieve a painterly, blended look akin to an oil painting and it was such fun. Using the texture fixative, I could spray and when dry use white right on top of the black without any change of intensity just like oil or acrylic paint. It was fascinating. The spray also restores the tooth of the paper which is perfect for when you have completely maximised the amount of layers on a piece or run out of tooth.
The next I just had to play with were Prismacolor pencils, another of my favourites. Wow is all I can say, the colours were bright and the blending transitions out of this world, they did feel more like pastels than coloured pencils though but if you are a pastel pencil lover as well as coloured pencil then you would really enjoy using Prismacolor with the blending powder.
For my final piece I decided to use Polychromos on the Uart, I prepared the non-flexible surface by using spray adhesive onto a plain thin wooden panel available from Jacksons and adhering the sanded paper to it. Although I always secure my work to my drawing board I didn’t want to take the chance it could crack the fixative.
One of the important things I did discover was the blending powder also blends graphite to a point and it is best not to use graphite pencil to draw out your picture as it will muddy any colour you apply over it. It is best to draw your picture out in a pale coloured pencil. Mistakes are very easily rectified with simple blu-tack which when pressed/dabbed onto the paper lifts off all of the pencil beneath it as long as it has not been sprayed with the fixative. It is very clever how it does remove anything you don’t want on your paper with a simple dab on the surface. (editors note: this can also be achieved with a putty rubber)
Brush and Pencil advise applying a layer of blending powder onto the area where you will be applying colour before you use the coloured pencils. This does stop it adhering too firmly or clinging to the grain in the paper. The times I forgot to do this I knew instantly as it wasn’t quite so easy to blend or move the pigment around.
I experimented with a lot of different blending tools such as a soft paint brush, a short bristled paintbrush and Pan Pastel Sofft tools. Out of these I found the Panpastel tools to be by far the best. The covers are easily changeable and you are able to keep a different cover for each colour range as any pigment on them will transfer if you use it to blend another area and it is easy to mingle the colours too much and end up with a dirty mess.
A handy use for the remaining pigment on the applicators is to apply the powder for the different areas with them such as I used my green applicator to cover the leaf areas with a base coat of powder and this way there was a light covering of pigment and was easier to see if I had covered the area I wanted without any gaps.
When you first start applying the pencil it feels rather like pastel pencil but without the majority of the mess, don’t get me wrong it is a little messy and you won’t want to be wearing your best clothes but it is nothing compared to pastel dust. It is helpful to keep a few small pots or cups nearby to store your applicators separately by colour and the same with the pencils. Once an applicator has been used for one colour it is not possible to use it again on a different one as it will muddy the colour. I had a few different applicators and kept them separately. One thing to bear in mind is that by using a sanded surface there will be a collection of dust on the surface. If you blow this away each time, be careful of what you blow it on such as pale carpets etc. or work relatively vertically to allow the dust to fall down as you apply the colour and collect it on a towel on your lap.
When you apply your first layer, use the pencil at an angle of about 70 degrees so that it is applying the pigment across the surface of the paper rather than in the grain of the paper, this way the blending process is easier. There is no need to sharpen your pencil as you normally would with coloured pencil work but merely rotate it to maintain a point. Because you already have a layer of blending powder on you will be able to move this applied pigment over the surface very freely.
If you want to intensify the colour either add another layer and again blend with powder or choose a darker shade in the colour palette you have chosen or vice versa if you want a lighter appearance, then use a lighter shade.
This certainly applies to backgrounds and the creator Alyona Nicholson has released very good demonstrations on achieving a seamless look to your background. She uses a large sponge such as the Panpastel sponge that is readily available from Jackson’s Art Supplies.
Once you feel that you have exhausted the tooth remaining on the surface simply spray with textured spray. It may need a couple of coats but the important thing is to leave it to dry for at least 15 minutes in between layers else you will find yourself in a sticky mess.
I used the time to plan out my next area and apply a layer of blending powder and start layering the colour there and that way no time is lost between coats.
Or if you are like me I find I use the time to make another cup of coffee, answer my emails or do a 15-minute timed sketch to improve my drawing skills (it is amazing what you can achieve in 15 minutes!)
Once the texturing spray has completely dry it should not feel tacky at all, it won’t feel like the original surface, it does have quite a unique feel to it and there is a minute texture too.
One important thing to bear in mind when you are spraying is to keep an adequate distance from the surface, I recommend the standard 12” or what you will find is that the spray collects in small droplets which will dry like that, however if that does happen it is not the end of the world as a tiny flick with a fingernail will lift them right off, they can be hard to spot though.
For the rose I created I used maybe ten layers of pencil and whilst this may seem like an awful lot, for me it isn’t – as my usual amount is around 20 to 30 layers, so whilst I cannot produce a piece in a couple of hours, it did at least halve the time it would have normally taken me.
You will find that when you are blending you can lose the crisp edges of your subject but there are ways to avoid this as well as ways to remedy it. One way to avoid it is to mask off the main subject with masking film. It is possible to lay the masking film on top and with a sharp scalpel gently cut the shape out and peel off the area you wish to apply colour to. Because the surface is textured/sanded you don’t get the cuts or nicks you would normally get in the paper surface. One important thing is DO NOT use masking fluid, you will not be able to remove it at the end as it will cling to the texture on the surface.
If you do use masking film blend outwards away from the masked area to avoid the blender getting underneath the film. The other way is to remove any excess blending by simply shaping your blu-tack into a point and dabbing it on the area you wish to remove or clean up. Ideally you want to do this prior to spraying with the texturing spray as it will be very difficult to remove once you have sprayed the area.
As I used more layers I did find that I needed to use a sharper pencil to get the effect that I wanted. I am quite heavy handed and I image I used up the tooth of the surface quite quickly in comparison to normal, whilst spraying with the texturing spray does restore some of this I also wanted to achieve slightly more detail than I had and could only achieve this with a sharper pencil and be aware of the colours I was going to use as I knew I wouldn’t have that many layers remaining. I added in the highlights again at this point and reinstated any that had dulled or blended away and once I had my light and dark areas reinforced I would pray with the texturing fixative and move on to my next area.
As you work you will need to reinstate any drawn outlines as they do tend to brush off, I found it best to use the lightest colour in the palette you are using to do this.
You will find you use barely any blending powder; I think the pot could seriously last you a year! Even when you have blended you will find that there is a layer of it on your surface, you can use this to your advantage by using it to blend on top and smooth out the colour transitions by using it with the coloured pencil actually on top of the area you are blending. It does not need to be a sharp pencil; in fact, it works best with a blunt pencil when blending in this way.
One thing I did find is different colours blend easier and some can be a little difficult. The pinks and reds blend beautifully and softly and covering all the valleys of the paper, however I found the greens to leave tiny spaces, I didn’t mind as it has given a nice soft look to the overall picture. Each layer reduces the tiny spaces but did not eliminate them and from a distance the spaces cannot be seen.
Earth Green actually smoothed all these areas out and was ideal for the lighter areas.
When creating a dark background, to get that really rich look to a black I used dark red, dark green and Indigo blending each layer and then adding a layer of black to deepen it even further. Once this area has been sprayed with fixative you can go right in and use light colours on top, even white and not have any loss of strength of highlights. As a coloured pencil artist I always try to retain the white and then work light to dark however this technique was more like when I use oil paints and I was able to do quite the opposite which is quite an exciting prospect.
With the background it works well to give the impression of shapes and textures and can be blended together with the background colour to produce a really nice effect. I added Indigo blue over the leaves in the background to help them recede into the background. A knowledge of colour theory is helpful and having a colour wheel next to you. For example, the red of the pot against the green needing knocking back slightly as it was coming too far forward in the composition, by adding a layer of blue this made the pot move further back in the composition and allowing the rose to move forwards.
Once I had finished drawing and was happy with the number of layers I sprayed outside with the Final Fixative, make sure you are in a very well ventilated room or outside as it is quite strong. The colours came into their own even more and deepened in tone with each layer. I have applied two layers to the rose and if I run my hand across the surface I can honestly say that absolutely nothing comes off, there is no dust and no smudging of colour.
To be honest I am already planning my next creation.
Products by the Brush and Pencil Company can be found on the Jackson’s Art Supplies website.