Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Marker Techniques – Materials:


Many people that I meet at the Urban Sketchers Chicago Sketch Crawls will ask me about using markers and some of my techniques. In my continuing series on urban sketching with markers, I must address the question “which markers and why?” And while I may have 30 years working with these wonderful little tools of the trade, please know that the following is merely from my perspective and experience. There are plenty of other marker artists that will tell you which materials work best for them and I welcome that feedback in the comments below. 

As you can see (from the attached photos) you will notice the wide assortment of marker brands, marker types and paper pads available for the marker. You can appreciate how the materials have evolved out of the many sketch needs.

TIP #1: Select a paper pad that is designated for marker use
There are several reasons for this. Most markers are alcohol-based and tend to soak through papers that do not have some kind of coating or seal. The trick is to find a paper that you like that does not have such a heavy coating that it dries out your marker at an abnormally fast rate. Most sketchbooks rated for sketching or drawing will be sufficient as well as those books rated for watercolor. Pages in the sketchbook or paper pad that are very thin run the risk of bleed-through unless they are “marker” papers. Additionally, thin sheets will prevent you from sketching on both sides of the paper—a popular technique employed by urban sketchers.

When I work with markers, I am a big fan of super-smooth papers because I can keep my line work clean. A slight tooth (or roughness) to the paper can also work in your favor if you wish to add texture to your sketch. For years I have used Graphics 360 (by Bienfang) as my paper of choice because I can put my rough sketch underneath the top sheet and put my marker color down and finish it off with a clean line work. For urban sketching, I have a heavier weight sketchbook where I pencil my rough sketch, add marker tones and then finish with a black line all on the same page. Because the sketchbook paper is thicker, it is harder to see a rough sketch under the top sheet for tracing.

TIP #2: Select a brand and style of marker that fits you
At the risk of sounding like I am a paid spokesperson for any particular brand, all I can tell you is that I have been a big fan of a few different brands because I like how they lay down color for the way I work. What works for me may not work as well for you but that is why there is a Tip #3 below.


I was introduced to the Design® Markers (by Eberhard Faber) when I first began as a graphic designer. Over time, I switched over to Prismacolor® Markers (by Sanford) because the odor is far less overpowering. There is a different kind of alcohol used in Prismacolor markers and odor is definitely something you should consider when trying out different markers. The other thing I like about Prismacolor markers is that there are two different tips on the same marker barrel. This can save you space and time when you are packing a travel sketch kit.

My newest favorite markers came at the suggestion of fellow Urban Sketcher Donald Owen Colley: Pitt® Markers (by Faber-Castell). I have a set of 4 Cool Grey and 4 Warm Grey markers. These markers do not bleed–through most any kind of paper I can throw at it–and the pointy brush tip allows me to get into tight spots as well as cover broad areas with ease.

TIP #3: Now just play
Do yourself a favor. Print out the attached photos of the markers and the marker paper selections, bring them to your favorite art supplies store and look for as many of the brands as you can find. Many art stores will have some kind of scratch pad around so that you can try out each marker. Purchase one marker of each brand that you like and test-drive each marker for a few days. In your different sketch situations, you will see how well the markers respond to how you work. You can always go back and pick up more colors later, but make sure you like how one marker works for you first.

I recognize that I did not have much technique in this week's post, so in my next post I will go over some more techniques and tricks with markers. Good luck and have fun discovering your new sketch friend.

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