Copic Markers: A Beginner's Guide to Choosing Your First Set / by Alexandra Fox

So this week I got savvy to what is apparently old knowledge in the illustration community: Copic markers. 

I've been getting rather disillusioned with my color pencils, as none of my illustrations have been turning out quite as clean as I'd want them too, and I've been finding it hard to do shading and blending. 

Then this week on Instagram, I saw in my "suggested for you" content, some really cool illustrations, where the artist had tagged Copic markers. Honesty, the artwork looked so good, clean, and the colors were amazing - not at all what I would imagine when I think of 'drawing with markers'. But, to be fair, the last time I even attempted marker illustrations was in grade school!

So I headed out to my nearest art store (Blick's, in Edina- ) to take a look and pick a few to start out my collection. 

My main order of business was to build up 1) colors for skin tones and hair, and 2) grayscale colors, as most of my work for Third Kind is going to center around grays and neutrals. The selection I found in-store was pretty limited, so you can see what I came out with, above. 

I stuck with the Sketch markers, which are the most comfortable to use, and the best for a longterm investment. The sketch markers feature a broad tip on one side, which you can also use to draw finer lines, with the diagonal edged point, and a brush tip on the other, which are great for filling in larger areas, and for blending. 

I learned that with Copic markers, you want to pick at least 3 colors in the same blending group, that will blend together for skin and hair. Copic markers are numbered starting with a letter to show the family they belong to (R - red, B - blue, etc.), followed by a saturation number (lower = more saturation), and finally a brightness number (lower = lighter color). 

For skin tones, you're going to be looking at your "E" family of markers. So, for example,  you could go with combinations like E30, E31, and E33, or E53, and E55. Unfortunately, I didn't have a wide in-store selection available, so I walked away with E51, E32, and E34. Since the E51 comes from a different blending group, it meant that my lightest shade turned out slightly pinked than my darker ones. You can see what that looks like below.

Similarly for hair, I stayed in the E family, since I was looking at mostly browns. For my dark brown hair combination, I went with E49 as my lightest color, and later layering on E79 and 110 - Special Black. Even though I used a fair amount of black in the hair in the end, it was definitely worthwhile starting with the lighter colors and building up, as this created a much more obvious illusion of depth, and the hair color can still be described as dark brown, rather than pure black. 

Prisma Micron Ink Set, $20.

Prisma Micron Ink Set, $20.

I also picked up a set of Prisma pens (above) for sketching and outlines. Originally I had only picked out a few sizes to use, but I ended up going back to the store and exchanging these for the whole packaged set, which also comes with the Pigma Brush and Graphic pen. I didn't think I would at first, but I really ended up using each of the different sizes in the one practice illustration I did. The smallest pen, 005, comes in really handy when doing details like eyelashes, fixing line widths, etc. The wides one, the graphic pen, is great for creating a solid line to prevent your marker colors from bleeding out. 

Finally, I remembered to pick up a white gel pen, which is a handy tool for any number of things, not least of all to dot the whites of your eyes when you're all finished, or to add graphic detail to dark clothing. 

And now, here's how it went with the markers. I put together a collage of 6 different 'versions' of me, done in different cartoon and anime styles! This was the #stylechallenge I'd seen on Instagram last week:

Major learnings from this initial attempt:

  1. Always think about where your light source isbefore you start filling in colors. I have very, very little conception of lighting and shadows, so I hadn't really considered this before I start using my markers. As it were, things started to get confused as I started layering on and drawing in shadows. In particular, my "FMA" character looks a bit strange, as the shadows on the steel metal arm are actually going in contradictory directions.
  2. Make sure your pen ink is dry before going over it with colors. I made this mistake a few times, and you can see on the FMA face above where there are some pen streaks that have smeared and dirtied the artwork. :/
  3. Generously outline your art, especially in places where two different colors will meet. At first I was afraid to make thick outlines, as a lot of the work I had looked at before starting seemed to have really thin outlines, or none at all. As it turned out in my experience, these lines virtually disappear once you start using your colors. Moreover, if your pen line is week or too thin, it's easier to accidentally run over it with a marker, which (depending on your paper) can cause your edges to become less defined, or even bleed).
  4. Be patient when blending skin tones. It really is a process of moving from light to dark, then blending from dark to light, and possibly doing this whole thing again, until you get it just right. This is my favorite YouTube skin tutorial I found

And that, folks, is my first experience with Copics! The cost of the markers is definitely quite high - I think after tiered pricing I ended paying ~$5.25 per marker, or $95 for my starting set of 18. Yeah, definitely not cheap. But, if you end up using these markers a lot, the cost goes down.... Copic sells cheaper refill ink, which you can use to refill your existing markers, rather than buy new ones. 

Alright folks, let me know what you think. Which cartoon drawing is your favorite??

Happy art-making,

- A