Markers and Sketchbooks -- a Few More Thoughts

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you might remember me writing about my experiments with markers in my sketchbooks. I first bought some markers when Dana and I were working on our 2x2 Sketchbook collaboration. I didn't really like them in the beginning. Then when Matthias got sick I became determined to learn how to use them because I needed easily transportable (and colorful) art supplies to take with me during his treatments.

When I finally let go and allowed working with markers to be about play, I started to truly enjoy them. But I ran out of pages in the sketchbook I was using.

My new sketchbook did not get along with markers at all. You might remember this page and my disappointment with it:

makers, sketchbook, birds, sketching, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The paper was too absorbent and the markers bled through with even the lightest of strokes. Blending was nearly impossible.

I stopped using markers for a while, embracing other things in my sketchbooks (I did have three other sketchbooks I was using), but finding a new sketchbook that I could use with markers (and was large and fairly inexpensive) never left my mind.

Then I read a blog post by Mia Whitmore where she shared her favorite sketchbooks and on her recommendation I decided to try a Canson XL Mixed Media sketchbook.

sketchbooks, Canson, Canson XL, Mixed Media Sketchbook, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'd never picked one up before for a few (silly) reasons. I didn't like the look of the cover and I didn't like the idea of perforated pages. I shouldn't have been so biased!

sketchbook, sketching, birds, markers, drawing, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

This paper loves markers and even when I layer and layer and layer, they don't bleed through (the exception, as seen above bleeding through from the previous page was the Prismacolor Markers).

sketchbook, markers, flowers, sketching, drawing, pansies, violas, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

These deep purples didn't bleed through at all and I layered a LOT of ink. I did find that there was a little "pilling" of the paper when I continuously worked the wet areas, but nothing that was a big deal. This is sturdy paper.

In addition to the Koi Coloring Brush Pens, I've just started using Tombow Dual Brush Pens. They have a brush tip and a "fine" tip and like the others also have a colorless blender (I started with the Bright Palette set of 10).

markers, Tombow, Tombow Dual Brush Pens, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The two brands work well together and they also combine well with Pitt Artist Big Brush Pens (which are no longer being sold in the same sets or colors that I bought years ago).

There's something about blending the colors that brings me so much joy. Even adding just a small bit of color to a page of pencil sketches makes for a fun addition (perfect if you're short on time, too).

sketchbook, markers, pencil, sketches, sketching, drawing, tulips, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Many of my Koi markers have smooshed tips from hard use, which makes it hard to make sure the ink goes where I want it go to. I see it as a lesson in letting go. I think the tips on the Tombow markers are a bit nicer (only time will tell how well they last), but I wish that the fine point was a little finer. I'd love to be able to add tiny details.

sketchbook, sketches, markers, strawberries, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Even so, this new sketchbook has made working with markers fun again.

sketchbook, markers, sketching, drawing, garden, dandelions, fuchsia flowers, color swatches, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Which is perfect timing now that I want to bring my sketchbook out to the garden with me.

Some tips for working with markers:

  • To avoid frustration use sturdy enough paper to handle layering and prevent bleed-through.
  • Don't get too hung up on details. The most joyful thing about markers is COLOR.
  • If you want to add some finishing details, a white gel pen or paint marker and a black micron can help give some finishing touches to your sketches. 
  • Use a lighter color or a colorless blender to smooth strokes and blend colors.
  • Clean the colorless blender and lighter colors on a piece of scrap paper. Just a few strokes made will clear out the other colors from the tip.
  • Have fun! Maybe it's an association with childhood, but markers, in my mind, are all about play.

Although I definitely believe in making do and using what you have, sometimes it's worth it to purchase the right tool for your project.

Are there supplies or tools that you wish you had on hand for what you've been working on? Maybe it's time to add them to your collection? (Especially if it's something as inexpensive as a new sketchbook!).

I have one last marker story for you before I end this post.

As I shared before, the cats we adopted in February immediately gravitated to my studio. They are in it most of the day every single day of the week. Their presence here brings me so much joy and I am grateful that they have settled in so well (and oh, do we love them!).

They spend most of their time snuggled up together in their favorite chair and are good about not bothering my work.

Pepper, though, has developed a funny habit.

Pepper, black and white cats, rescue cats, adopt don't shop, studio, art table, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

He likes to explore and is curious about every cabinet, drawer and shelf. His name when we adopted him was Bandit and true to that name he does like to make off with things. His favorite thing to take is markers (which is why I keep the ones I use in the lidded cigar box where he can't find them). I have a tin of other markers on the shelf above my table.

markers, studio, catnip mice, storage, shelving, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The catnip mice are a recent addition, added to distract him. He likes them, but loves markers. He stands on his hind legs to gently reach up on the shelf and grab a marker from the tin. I've watched him do it. He carries them in his mouth, very gently, and brings them downstairs (or sometimes over to me at my desk and even across the hall to Matthias in his office), not to play with, but to give to us. His record is eleven markers in one night.

I think he's encouraging me to get back to work.


  1. Great post, Anne! I've used the Pitt artist pens and also Tombow, and love them both. And recently I bought a relatively expensive mixed media sketchbook for my 100 faces project and I love it!! It takes any medium - I understand why you love yours!
    As for Pepper, how lovely of him to bring you gifts! lol! Smart move to distract with catnip mice!! xo

    1. Hi, Judy. Glad you enjoyed the post. :) Mixed media paper is so nice to work on (of course, some is better than others). The sketchbook that Dana and I used for 2x2 was mixed media and it was great. So happy you're doing the 100 day project!

      I'm not sure if the mice really distract him, but it gives him something else to do, in addition to the marker fetching. Plus, when he gets them off the shelf they amuse Quin and the dogs, too.


  2. How cute that Pepper brings marker pens to you! I used to have a cat that brought me my socks off the clothes dryer!!! I am glad that you found a sketchbook that is good with marker pens. I remember that as a young girl I liked nothing better than lying down on the floor with a new book of cartridge paper and a stack of felt tip pens. I used to mainly draw fashion models or princesses paying attention to their make up or clothes! :)

    1. Ha! Our Siamese used to LOVE socks. He'd steal them whenever he'd find one (he liked to get the used ones from the laundry most of all) and more than anything else, he liked to chew on them. I think he was cleaning his teeth because there would be soggy bits of chewed cat food on the socks he took. We quickly learned to keep socks out of his reach, but made sure that we had one around that was just for him. Eventually he grew out of that. And I'm sure Pepper will outgrow the marker obsession, too.

      Drawing princesses (and their fancy dresses) was always fun for me, too. But I mostly just drew them with pencil. So funny what we are attracted to as children!


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