For my birthday, I requested an introductory set of copic markers. I’d never used them before, but I’d seen other artists work with their beautiful vibrant colours before, and thought it might be interesting to see how they adapted to my way of working.
I wasn’t sure if I’d like them at first, because most copic users tend to draw comic/cartoon characters, filled in with carefully gradated shades. Copics can make a very smooth gradient between closely related shades – but the key detail is that you need closely related shades, like a pale red to a slightly darker red. They can’t be mixed like watercolours. Could I get them to work even if I only had a set of 12 unrelated colours?
My first experiment was to use the chisel tip to make some blocky Finnish wooden houses. The colours in the set of 12 differ substantially in value, so the light blue is much darker than the pink, for instance, but I really enjoyed the effects I was able to create. I used a lot of pink for shading, and for base tones. I’m also not in the habit of using much black, so I used the Prussian blue for some of the shading (the black was also weirdly dried out, so I haven’t been able to use much of it.) Most copic users don’t use the chisel tip at all, because it doesn’t give very smooth blends, but I liked the blocky look for this kind of work.
I was a bit limited with what I could realistically depict with 12 colours, so I went for some beautiful poppies, using the famed Copic brush tip this time. I was extremely happy with the luminance of the poppies, but when it came to drawing the vase, a Rosenthal vase in the form of a crumpled paper bag, I realised that having only one shade of brown, an extremely saturated burnt sienna, was probably not going to cut it. I needed to get some more markers.
A self portrait! At this stage I still hadn’t gotten a full range of subtle pinks and beiges, so I improvised with violets, yellow, sandy beige, pale blue and the very vibrant sugared almond pink. As alarming as it is, I’m happy with the result. The original photo had a strongly-lit, clean-faced sparsity to it, and this drawing doesn’t stray far from it.
I purchased more colours – pale blues, grey blues, pale greens, a beautiful pale yellow and a sky blue, and drew this landscape. It’s based off a beautiful photograph by early colour photography pioneer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky. His photographs were taken by a camera that recorded 3 separate exposures, to represent the cyan, magenta and yellow hues that would combine to make a full colour image. Many of them have this interesting slight halo or refraction, from when elements in the image have moved slightly between exposures. To make the dark greens, I layered forest green on top of vermillion, leading to a similar colour-artefact effect to the ones in Prokudin-Gorsky’s photographs.
I’m very proud of this image, and the beautiful landscapes you can make with markers. It’s a lot easier to get lovely saturation and luminance with a marker than with watercolours (not that I’ll ever forgo watercolours) and you work with markers in a similar fashion, from light to dark. They have the brightness of inks, and many of the techniques I’ve learned with ink and watercolour translate well to markers.
Finally, a combination of a historic photograph and a photo of my own. The two girls are taken from a colour autochrome by Etheldreda Laing, the horses from photographs I took during my residency in Hungary. It’s somewhat eerie to think that the two girls in the original photograph were photographed before the second world war, and yet they’re in full beautiful colour, one of them even wearing sneakers with her dress. I loved the look of their dresses, with the way the stripes described the folds. I subscribe to the view of many watercolour artists that using grey or black to shade can deaden an image, and that using a complimentary colour or a cooler hue works better. I’m a very big fan of purple, especially when representing human skin tones, and pale blue, to shade grey and white forms. Pale blue and pale purple were two of the first additional colours I got – and you can see the colours used to shade the white horse, along with a sandy beige and a flesh pink. Dark purples and dark blues and browns also have a richness that black lacks, especially when layered, and red is an excellent compliment of green.
In a sense, there’s a purity to my earlier works, the odd combinations of colours I was led to use by my limited colours of markers. I’m acquiring more and more hues bit by bit, whenever I notice a missing colour (drawing this picture, I wished I had a yellow ochre.) I’m not sure if my pictures are actually better for having more realistic colours. Sometimes it can be good to have a limitation.
With all that said, I’m proud of my works. I’m very impressed with the markers and what they can do, how easy they are to use, and how one isn’t restricted in style, as I originally feared. I’m yet to see how they work en plein air (although I’m not a fan of working this way), nor have I travelled with them – they’re expensive, and being on a plane might upset them – but I hope to draw more pictures in the future.