Trying New Things -- Embracing Markers in my Sketchbook

I've mentioned before that I don't like working with markers. I've tried them a few times during my art journey. I bought one type of marker fairly early on in my experimentations. An artist I admired recommended them and I thought that markers would be an easier medium to attempt than something like watercolor or other painting. I tried them, maybe only once, and I didn't like them. I don't even remember what I drew with them or what my objections to them were at the time. All I know is that they sat untouched in a drawer for years.

Much more recently while popping around on Pinterest I discovered an artist whose beautiful illustrations were created with markers. Once more I became curious about that medium (you can see Anna Rastorgueva's work here and here to see why I found it irresistible). When I read that Copic markers (Anna's preferred kind) could also be used for creating beautiful calligraphy, I decided that it might be worth it to experiment a bit.

Well... that didn't really play out as I had hoped. Calligraphy is difficult and with so many other creative outlets vying for my attention it didn't hold my interest for long. It didn't help that I couldn't figure out how to achieve the hand lettering results that I wanted with Copic markers. Drawing with them didn't really work for me, either. They bled through the paper terribly and the resulting drawings were streaky and uneven. Going back over my drawings to try to even them out only made things worse.

So, inevitably, after those first few experiments, those markers lay untouched in my studio, too.

A while later I saw Dana Barbieri playing with markers in her sketchbook and then when we exchanged sketchbooks for our 2x2 Sketchbook collaboration I saw that she'd used markers for some of her pages. I started thinking again about experimenting with them, this time using the type that Dana had been using: Koi Coloring Brush Pens.

art supplies, Koi Watercolor Brush Pens, markers, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Can you guess what happened next?

I played around with them a little bit, but still wasn't convinced. These markers were also streaky. I'd bought the "blender" pens with the hope that I'd get some lovely tones and gradations, but couldn't figure out how to make them work. Too much blending made the paper disintegrate. (Perhaps I should have looked around on the Sakura website and watched some of their video tutorials, but somehow that never crosses my mind in these situations).

Once again, I came to the conclusion that makers simply weren't for me. When there are other media that I love, why waste time with something I didn't?

At the back of my mind, though, the thought of markers and their potential nagged. And for some reason, I can never resist the pull of that sort of challenge.

With life's recent unexpected detour, I haven't been able to spend much time in my studio. I wanted to be able to keep creating, but needed to use materials that were easily portable, that didn't require a lot of space to use and that weren't messy. I packed up my markers and decided to try again.

markers, marker sketch, sketchbook, botanical sketches, Koi Watercolor Brush Pens, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'd love to end this story by saying that my experiments have been wildly successful, but that's not quite the case. But this is not the end of the story, either.

markers, marker sketch, sketchbook, botanical sketches, Koi Watercolor Brush Pens, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'm getting much more comfortable using the markers, but there are still frustrations. The biggest frustration is the limitation of colors of this set. I try to make up for it as much as I can by mixing and blending, but the greens, especially, are hard for me. They just don't look natural. My other frustration is the inability to get a very fine, very precise line.

markers, marker sketch, sketchbook, botanical sketches, Koi Watercolor Brush Pens, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'm still experimenting and although I've learned a lot so far, I know I have more to go. I'm glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and faced the challenge. Maybe it will inspire you to face your own challenge.

sketchbook, markers, figs, marker sketches, Koi Watercolor Brush Pens, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Here are some things that I've learned:
  • Don't give up. (This is one lesson woven through all of my creative experiments). Even when things don't look like they're going to work, if you have even a tiny desire to try again, do it.
  • Paper matters. This should have been obvious to me from the start because paper is so important to success with watercolors, a lesson I learned very early on in my art journey. The wrong type of paper for any medium will end up being frustrating. Markers are no exception. Marker paper is a little odd to me, very smooth and thin, a bit like tracing paper. My experiments with it that involved a lot of blending and layering made the paper very wrinkly at first, though after a while the wrinkles smoothed out. 
markers, Koi Watercolor Brush Pens, marker sketch, botanical sketch, sketchbooks, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry
markers on marker paper
I tried using (cheap) watercolor paper with my markers and was happy with that result. Mixed media paper (like in the sketchbooks we're using for 2x2) also works well. Avoid paper made for pencil or for pencil and pen, especially if you want to do a lot of layering and/or blending.

sketchbook, markers, marker sketch, botanical sketch, Koi Watercolor Brush Pens, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry
markers on watercolor paper
  • Keep experimenting. I guess this is similar to not giving up, but I see a subtle difference. Experimenting means trying different papers. It means mixing brands and types of markers. It means attempting new techniques. 
  • Even if you're fiercely stubborn and want to do everything yourself, it's not bad to learn from others. This is something I still need to work on, but doing a little research, watching tutorials, seeking out tips and tricks can save hours of frustration.

What about you? Have you tried anything new lately? How did it go?


  1. Hi Anne! I've not done much creating at all lately. Talking of marker pens, I bought some alcohol pro markers a few years back but they didn't excite me. I then bought some aqua marker pens which can be blended with water and they are much more my thing! I didn't like how the alcohol pens bleed through the paper but apparently that's what they do! Maybe I'll dig out the pro marker pens and give them a go again. By the way I think you have done a great job with the 'user unfriendly' marker pens although I miss your trade mark softer palette of colours! I hope that you are looking after yourself and wish you a happy weekend. :-)

  2. Hi, Simone. I hope you get back to creating soon! If not with markers then with something else (something that does excite you!).

    I can't really imagine using water with markers, but then, again, I never really got the point of watercolor pencils, either. There are so many types of art supplies and everyone has their favorite.

    Hope you're having a good weekend. Here we've had warm weather and the snow is melting into mud and it feels like spring!


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