Traditional Art Basics
Hello, my name is TheBrassGlass
, and I have a problem...
I’m addicted to markers.
If you are new to this medium, or maybe you think it’s outdated or too limited, please give me a few minutes to open your eyes to a beautiful, colorful world! This is a relatively cheap medium to get into (even the most expensive markers will be easier on your wallet than investing in oil paints, brushes, palettes, canvas, frames, gesso, smock, mineral spirits, an easel, for example, and for the price of even a refurbished Wacom Intuos medium tablet, you can buy dozens of the most expensive markers), they are pretty portable as far as art supplies go, and they look good – what more can an artist want?
So, as an introduction, I’ll go over two main types of markers – water-based and alcohol-based – and a couple of quick techniques for both. I’ll also talk a little bit about paper, using markers with other media, as well as what you need to share your marker artworks with the world via the internet. I also will talk about alternative brands for those of you who want to try alcohol-based markers but find the two big names, Copic and Prismacolor, too expensive for your budget.
I use GIMP as my image-editing program. It is a powerful free program that you can get here
The shape and size of each marker determines the best way for you to use it. Below are examples of the most common shapes and sizes of both water-based and alcohol-based markers.
I've lumped round and wedge-shaped (also often called chisel-tip) markers together because they have the same kind of hardness. The wedge/round and felt-tip markers tend to be the most consistent, so they are good for coloring large areas. Fine-tip markers are best for coloring in small details and outlining things. But it is the brush tip that has become the most popular in recent years. Its length and softness have made it excellent for creating the look of a watercolor wash and it is ideal for blended, seamless shading.
For most of the types, if you work quickly and use tiny circular motions, the marks are not as noticeable if you’re using the softer flat side of the marker tip; this seems to be the technique preferred by most for coloring large areas. If you use the hard, pointy end of the tip, those marks will be more distinct. You also can change the look of the mark by controlling the pressure of your hand; brushing the paper lightly with the marker will produce a slightly lighter tone. Since markers are their own distinct medium, play up their unique qualities – play around with different kinds of marks. I like to use big, slow curlicues for curly hair, for example, or long, straight lines to suggest folds of stiff fabric.
Just as it sounds, these are markers in which water is the solvent for the pigments. My friends, forget what you know about the lowly water-based markers. These sometimes fat, sometimes scented tubes of colorful water are not just the purvey of kindergarten classrooms; they are a cheap, compact, portable, legitimate medium that can be manipulated and rarely bleed through the paper, making them ideal for sketchbooks. They are available in many colors, have a lot of depth, and play beautifully with other media.
The double-ended (fine-tip/brush-tip) water-based markers I used to color this cost me $5 USD.
Markers work best in layers, kind of like watercolor painting. One major advantage that water-based markers enjoy over their alcohol cousins – besides the cost, the lack of a bad odor, and not bleeding through paper, that is – is that you can build them up just by going over the same area with the same marker over and over. If you go over the same color twice with a water-based marker, the color on the drawing gets darker because the paper becomes literally more saturated with the pigment. In contrast, alcohol markers get slightly darker if you go back over the same area with the same marker, but not by much.
However, with water-based markers, you have to remember that since the pigments are water-soluble (that just means they dissolve in water), this means that lighter-colored markers will pick up darker colors that are already present on the paper if they touch. So you must always work from light to dark, putting down your highlight colors first, then working in progressively darker colors for your shading.
Another tip: by curving your marks around the implied contour of the shape or object you’re coloring, you can create an almost 3-D effect because it implies form.
Remember to keep in mind the size and shape of your marker as you work.
In contrast to their water-based cousins, these markers often have a bad odor and will bleed through paper. You should use them in a well-ventilated space and/or for limited periods at a time, as these odors can cause dizziness and headaches or even irritate your eyes. As for ink bleeding, as long as you have a buffer under the paper – I tend to use the cardboard back of a sketchbook, which is perfect for this purpose, or you can use a much thicker paper underneath the sheet you’re coloring on – you should be fine. You can also try specialized marker paper, which is treated with chemicals on one side to prevent, or at least minimize, the markers bleeding through.
However, with the marker paper, you can only use the untreated side for drawing (you’ll know immediately if you’ve mistaken one for the other; the marker ink beads up on the treated side). However, even the treated paper will not stop markers from bleeding outside your line art. Some pigments are worse than others, with dark reds and blues seeming to be the worst culprits.
It is a good idea whenever you get new markers to try out all the colors by drawing simple squares on a test piece of paper and coloring them in to see how the marker ink will behave; this way, you will know to look out for certain colors and avoid coloring right up to the lines with those ones to minimize bleed-over. You also will know exactly what the colors look like on paper, since they very rarely match the color of their packaging.
With alcohol-based markers, you can use many of the same techniques as with the water-based markers. I tend to put down the mid-tone colors first and then add the shading and highlights:
(Here's what the above piece looks like finished: Art trade - The broken bottle
There is one major advantage with alcohol-based markers: you can use lighter colors on top of darker ones! In fact, while most alcohol-based marker sets come with a colorless blender (it’s full of the alcohol solvent used in the other markers but contains no pigment), it’s far better to use lighter colors to blend instead because this will give your drawings more depth and impact. For example, a yellow alcohol-based marker was used to blend the hair in this drawing
If you go outside the lines, don’t sweat it too much. It comes with the medium. But if you want a perfectly clean look, you can always clean up spill-over on the computer later, and/or use white gel pen, or thicken the line art with ink pen to cover the slips.
Tips and other stuff to know
You don’t have
to get fancy paper. I almost always use computer paper, myself. What you want is smooth, bright white paper of a good weight. So I tend to get computer paper heavier than the standard 20 lb weight and as close to 100% bright as possible (at least 90% or better). You can certainly try others; Bristol paper and card stock are good, and marker paper has a very fine tooth and, as we discussed before, is treated to minimize bleed-through. Don’t be afraid to try colored papers, too!
If you are worried about ruining your drawing, use a scanner or copier machine to make a copy of the drawing and color the copy; this way, if you mess up, you can just make another copy of the original!
Scanning is by far the best way to digitize your marker drawings to share them on the internet. However, I know that not everyone has a scanner. Check your local thrift stores for scanners; I’ve found a few in the past year that were selling for as low as $5. If you can’t get a scanner, don’t fret, you can use a digital camera or even your phone to take a picture of the drawing. But it will take a few more steps to get the drawing presentation-ready:
- First, try to hang up the drawing – use matte or artist’s mounting tape to attach the drawing to the wall; taking a photo of the vertically oriented drawing will minimize skewing caused by perspective (you can correct it further with an image-editing program, for example the perspective tool in GIMP).
- Use a tripod but make sure the areas is well-lit, preferably with natural sunlight.
- Use the highest resolution that you can; this will help ensure good quality when you resize the image.
- CROP IT. The No. 1 mistake rookies make is not cropping the edges of the paper out. Cropping it makes it look better and far more professional, trust me
- Resize the image for social media; you don’t want it too large for viewers on smaller screens.
- Use the levels and/or curves tools to even out the color of the paper and make invisible any warping of the paper. Here’s a tutorial on how to do this in GIMP
- Upload and share your masterpiece!
Below is the picture I colored with the water-based markers earlier; on the left is exactly how it was when I took the picture (note the skewing because I took the picture looking down on a horizontal surface rather than straight-on at a vertical surface), and on the right I have rotated it, fixed the skew with the perspective tool in GIMP
and cleaned up the drawing, then cropped out the edge of the paper:
Which looks better?
Now here is the cleaned up camera shot of the picture above (left) vs. using a scanner (right):
They’re pretty close, right? I ended up going back and using a gel pen to add some more highlights and some embroidery details on her dress (stomacher, to be exact; and if you’re wondering, her hairstyle is called a hedgehog XD) and used a slightly tighter crop, but otherwise they look almost the same!
If you want to use a colored paper but can’t put it through the printer or copier machine, just use white paper and this tutorial
to use an image-editing program to superimpose the drawing on the colored paper! Here's what the above picture looks like superimposed on "old" looking paper
What’s in a name?
As for marker brands, for water-based markers I really do love Crayola SuperTips, which is what I used for the water-based portion of this article; I paid about $6 USD for a set of 50, so for that price you really can’t go wrong. I still prefer the leafy green of that set and some of the darker reds over even the alcohol-based markers I’ve used. They really are lovely.
For alcohol-based markers, I don’t think I’ve met a kind I didn’t like! However, if we’re going by sheer numbers, I actually own more Prismacolors and Spectrum Noir markers than any other brands. I own five Copics (actually, physically I own eight Copics, but four of those are the same color: Putty!); what’s nice about the Copics is that you can refill them. Of the Prismacolors and Copics, though, I find the ones with the brush tips are by far the best to use for most applications. If you want a relatively cheap set of very good, very vibrant alcohol-based markers, I highly recommend Bic Marking (sometimes labeled as Mark-It) markers; you can find a set of 36 in most department stores for about $15 USD. Unfortunately, one of my absolute favorite brands, Utrecht, is no longer in production.
My go-to colors? For mid-tones for shading, I use Copic’s Putty and Prismacolor’s Pewter and Warm Gray 40% ––
in fact, I use these three colors more than any other markers I own. I use Prismacolor’s Sand and Brick Beige for white skin tones.
Try coloring only the shadows and any colored highlights if you want, then leave the heavy lifting to the paper. The viewer will be able to infer the color of the item or subject's skin ... or fur!
If you have tried these or any other brands of markers and have a review or recommendations for us, share them in a comment below and I will do my best to highlight those comments for other readers! Also, if you have any questions, I will try to answer them.
The last thing I want to stress is that markers are such a versatile medium and they really play well with others! I’ve used them with acrylic paint, I’ve used some water-based markers with water and a paintbrush to create a watercolor effect, they look wonderful with pencil and ballpoint pen, and can even be used to make comics:
If you are bored or are looking to expand your traditional media skills, I hope you will give markers a try!!
But be careful... they are addictive, after all.