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Designing Characters Using Copic Markers

The Ghostly Captain and His Parrot: My Character Design Process

“Out on the sea with a crew planning mutiny, no pirate captain is complete without at least one faithful companion. Meet Malice, the Ghost Captain’s feathered friend. Ever since the Captain found him when he fell from a nest on a tropical island as a young parrot, the two have been on many adventures. Malice is all too fond of catching the rats on the ship, as well as chasing after the crew to bite their ankles. He was a source of amusement for the captain, a companion on the lonely seas.”

Character design has always been a very important aspect of my art. I prioritize storytelling in my drawings, so that those who look at my pictures see not just the characters, but their personalities, their relationships with one another and see them as they are in a moment of time.

The Ghost Captain and his companion, Malice, are a duo who were well known on the seas during their lifetime. Malice was known for being chaotic and humorous, while the Captain was more stern and serious. Although this is easy to depict in writing, it is not so easy to convey in a drawing.

For this specific illustration I decided to use a purple pencil for sketching. Using colored pencil for the base of your artwork can often drastically alter the final results, especially when coloring skin-tones. The Captain needed a more ghostly skin tone. Thus I opted for using purple erasable coloring pencils. Pink, orange and peach pencils tend to give your characters more lively skin tones when using markers. Purple, blue, grey and green pencils give your character more pale, undead looking skin. That was exactly what I had in mind for the ghostly duo.

After I started adding in the marker, I could slowly work more and more details into the illustration. I easily used over thirty different markers in this drawing, however, if you are just starting your Copic Marker collection, you can use colored pencils and pastels for shading instead.

Finally I added the white details to the eyes and background with a white Posca Paint Pen.

This is definitely my favorite illustration at the moment. I have gotten more ideas for their story and this won’t be the last we see of them…

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Copic Markers: My Newest Illustration and Some Helpful Beginner Tips

“Meet the Ghost Captain… No one knows much about him, where he is from, why his ghost is clinging to the wrecks of old ships. But you’d do well to sit and listen to him, if you’d meet him wandering the lonely shores at night. Sometimes he’d be alone, but some nights you may notice a spectral parrot at home upon his shoulder or arm. He could tell you tales of sirens, sea serpents and ships that long since became homes to such creatures below the waves. But, when morning comes, he will disappear and once more leave you wondering if what you had seen and heard was a dream, or a wild reality of life on the sea.”

I’ve been getting a few requests to help teach artists new to markers how to use Copic Markers. Copic Markers are usually a big investment, so I thought I’d give some beginner tips on how to start with these markers.

  1. Always store your markers on their side as to stop the ink from running to one end of the marker and drying the other. It is also best to keep them out of direct sunlight as much as possible. Purchasing a Copic Carry Bag or a clear tub to keep them in is usually your best bet when storing your markers.
  2. Never use watercolor paper, or sketching paper with a rough texture. This will damage the brush tip on your marker and you will have to purchase replacements to fix the marker. Watercolor paper will also absorb the ink, drying out your markers much quicker than smooth, thick paper will. The best I can recommend is card-stock or Bristol Board.
  3. Start by coloring small areas. Start on smaller illustrations for blending, smooth layering and flat washes of colors. Not only will this help build your confidence, but you are less likely to get streaky results.
  4. If possible, watch lots of videos about Copic Markers and the different methods of using them. Another good tip might be to talk to an artist who has experience with this medium. These tips will help give you realistic expectations on what to expect when you start with your Markers. Although Copic is one of the best brands of alcohol-based markers available, the markers themselves aren’t without flaw. Unfortunately, many artists, including myself, find themselves disillusioned when they realize that Copic Markers will not turn them into a professional, nor will it improve your art without practice. But don’t let this discourage you from trying! Just remember to be patient and not to panic if you do struggle.
I am very proud of how this character design turned out! I’m a big fan of using pastel colour pallets, and the mixture of light cool grays, purples, teals and blues really helped bring this ghostly Captain to life. For the background I used Copic Inks, rubbing alcohol and a brush to paint in the transparent ships and clouds. The rest of the drawing was done in Copic Markers over the purple sketch-layer.

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Artist’s Process

Inspiration and Learning in Art

There are many important aspects to doing art, but there are two I’ve been focusing on these last few weeks. One is my personal skill, the other how I find inspiration. In my time of doing art, I’ve found both these topics are generally difficult to discuss for both are deeply personal to the artists’ themselves.

‘Skill’ is very subjective, and especially for the audience who looks at your art. One person may easily agree with the statement: “Pablo Picasso was a skilful artist and a great influencer in the world of art.” Others, however, may be of the view that Picasso’s art was gloomy, too abstract or a jumbled mess. Both, so to speak, are critics. All the different opinions and suggestions, from friends and family and all those you share your art with, can get overwhelming. But, in this blog, when I am referring to ‘skill’, I actually mean your own personal view of your art. Are there things you want to improve? Can you spot the things you can improve upon in your previous drawings and think of positive ways to better yourself the next time you draw or paint? What do you really like and enjoy about the way you approach art? These are all questions you can ask yourself to find out what your personal view of your art ‘skill’ is. However, I encourage you to answer the questions as positively as possible. Negativity is known for killing the will to learn, as well as our second important topic for this blog, inspiration.

Progress of my newest project, creating a customized deck of playing cards inspired by my current favorite computer game, Sea of Thieves. This is my favorite character, Captain Briggsy. Or how I imagine she’d have looked like when she was alive.

‘Inspiration’ and how to find it is possibly one of the biggest topics in art to discuss. It goes hand in hand with learning and building upon your current skills, and is often viewed as the core motivator in the life of an artist. I’ve recently learnt two new skills, namely polystyrene-carving and sewing on a whim simply because I got inspired to start costume making. Without inspiration, art seems dead and even pointless. I think it is important for artists to know what inspires them. Do you really enjoy a specific style of art? Is there a T.V show, video game or book that inspires you to be creative? Do specific art mediums or supplies inspire you to draw, paint and create more? The answers to these questions can further help you find out what inspires you, and help you to keep inspired while you create.

The king of spades should naturally be the Gold Hoarder, main villain of the game. He’d is known for being a dangerous character whose greed is slowly eating at him and turning him to gold…

Inspiration creates motivation. Understanding this can help you learn more, create more and set the course for your journey as an artist. The joy I’ve gained in what I fondly think of as my ‘art voyage’ is something I love to share with others. Recently I’ve decided to further share what inspires me and what I’ve learnt with others by hosting monthly art courses. The purpose of these courses is to create a place where people can be inspired, share their art journey with others and where artists can learn from one another. Each month deals with a new and exciting medium. February, being the month of my birthday, I’ve decided to do a course about Copic Markers. This will be a good way for beginners to learn new things about the medium, as well as serve as an overview about Copic Markers and how to use them for people who have never used markers. The topic for the course, as to encourage out-of-the-box thinking, will be ‘Eye Spy’. Keep in mind that for the optional included art supply package for the course there will only be two markers included, so try keeping the idea simplistic enough to do with only two markers.

One of the more classic-looking pirates, Ramsey Singh, ever helpful in teaching new pirates to sail the seas and, of course, to eat bananas when injured.
Some close ups on the cards. These were colored with Copic Markers. I also used Copic Multi-Liners, white GellyRoll pens and Bristol Board for these illustrations. These characters and the exciting game plot is something that inspires me, especially since a big part of my childhood was spent making treasure hunts, skulking around the garden with a plastic cutlass and, of course, being called ‘Captain’ by my friends. So, me’ hearties, I suggest you get to creating your own inspiration filled art.
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Artist’s Process: Copic Marker Illustration (Embracing the colors!)

One characteristic of Copic Marker Illustrations is the flat, blended and layered look which closely mimics digital art. I find that Copic Markers achieve the digital look much better than most other traditional mediums. During this illustration, I decided to embrace the digital look and see how far I can push the bright colors of Copic Markers. This meant that I decided not to use skin tones. The inner character-design artist screamed quite loudly at this concept, especially since ‘alien’ and ‘Smurf’ weren’t on my list of accomplishments for this piece. However, being booted out of your comfort zone is part of the artist’s process, and is beneficial in learning and growing as an artist.

I started out by sketching my general concept in my sketchbook. I wanted the finished result to look like a sticker, so my first few concepts focused on a more ‘distant’ view of the character, who in this case is Atlas. I found that many of the details would be lost with a “far off” view, so my next sketch was a more zoomed in version. This one lost most of the emotion I wanted to achieve, which I felt I had captured much better in the first sketch. My final concept sketch included both the emotion of the first sketch, but with the layout of the second. I ended the planning phase by typing the words that would accompany the illustration into Word. I selected a font that complemented the illustration, and then mimicked the font in my sketchbook. Using Word fonts is a fun way to learn hand-lettering styles and techniques.

Here is the line-art of my final illustration on the sketchbook page dedicated to planning the concept.

I then redrew my final sketch into my Copic Marker booklet, and lined it with Copic Multi Liners. Multi Liners are alcohol proof, and are used alongside the Markers for line art that the alcohol ink won’t smudge. I did the lettering and lining, then left the ink to dry for an hour or so. The ink doesn’t need that long to dry however, and can usually be left for only five to ten minutes. Then I rummaged around my Copic collection for the right colors. For better results in blending, and for a more cohesive color selection, I decided to use Violets, Blue- Violets and Blues. After picking out my markers and testing them together on a separate piece of paper, I was ready to start coloring.

The fully colored illustration!

I knew that inevitably; the characters’ skin would end up being blue… Not being able to bring myself to do it I started on the hair, the clothes, anything to avoid doing the skin. But soon the time had come. The character himself was almost complete, but his skin was still paper white. I just swallowed my nerves, and got started on the skin. To conform my fears, on the first pass, he did look remarkably like a Smurf. Luckily, when I started to add shading with a very light Blue-Violet, it helped the illustration move away from the unwanted ‘alien’ appearance. I then finished the background.

The last step (and also the most fun), was to add white highlights and stars. After I had done this, I decided to add a white outline to the character and the planet. This will cause them to stand out from the dark colors of the background, and keep all the colors more separated.

The process from start to finish, from the messy sketchbook, to the color key, to the final, completed illustration.

The lesson learnt during this illustration was:

Never be afraid to try. Even if you are nervous you may end up with an accidental Smurf, it’s better to try and learn something, than to never try at all and live with the regret.

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Artist Process- Using Pens in Artwork

It can be very fun to add some flair to your artwork with colorful pens. Pens are a great way to add variation and color to sketchbooks, metallic shimmer to watercolor art and of course, add lettering and line work.

Using Pigma Microns in your sketchbook can make your favorite sketches stand out from the page. The bold line work draws the eye much faster than the pencil sketches around it.

Dark colored outlines can help separate your artwork from the background and add more definition to the drawing or illustration. Fine liners are perfect for this, however, be careful. Most fine liners smudge when in contact with wet alcohol ink or watercolors, with the exception of Pigma Micron Pens. Always test the pens with the medium you plan on using, that way you know what to expect while you work on your final piece.  

The Sakura Pigma Microns are waterproof, and can be used with water-based mediums such as watercolor. Give your lines ample time to dry (between 5 and 10 minutes). These pens come in a variety of thicknesses, and the brush pen set comes with many colors. Both sets are ideal to use with watercolor.

Here I used the Pigma Micron Brush Pen, as well as some of the fine liners, for lettering and line work.

White gel pens are especially useful for highlights, or transparency effects. Gelly Rolls can be used for lettering, metallic details and highlights. These pens have unique ink that is smooth, but might take a moment to dry. They can also be used to draw and write on black paper. They are pleasant to use for arts, crafts, writing and even scrapbooking. The white Gelly Roll Pens are opaque over most mediums and are ideal for highlights.

The ‘Moonlight & White’ set have ten beautiful bright colors, as well as two white pens. The ‘Metallic’ set has bold glitter pens that add a nice flourish to any art piece you are working on. The ‘Stardust’ set has finer glitter, adding a shimmer to the ink. The ‘Glaze’ Set has a smooth, glossy ink, and are less fluorescent than the ‘Moonlight & White’ set.

Here is a recent watercolor illustration in which I used both the Pigma Microns and Gelly Roll Pens. The Gelly Rolls were used for the character’s eyes.

With all these Gelly Roll set options, it can be a challenge to know which to buy. This will depend on which style and approach you take to your art. ‘Moonlight and White’ are a wonderful set for hand lettering, writing and drawing on black paper, as well as adding bright highlights to artworks. The ‘Metallic’ and ‘Stardust’ sets are for adding glittering and shimmering touches to artworks or hand lettering. The ‘Metallic’ pens look good on black paper, but the ‘Stardust’ pens don’t stand out a lot on the black surface, but can be layered over other mediums for the shimmering details. 

Using pens alongside other mediums is a fun way to experiment with things such as line work, metallic detailing, highlights and drawing on black paper. Using brush pens for calligraphy and lettering is another way to add a new dimension to artwork.

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Artist’s Process: Learning a new medium

Sometimes that new set of paint tubes or markers can be intimidating. I often found myself staring at a new set of paint on my desk, making no move to open it for a few days. There are times when transitioning from one medium to the next, you may feel uncomfortable and weary.

This isn’t true for all artists. Some people are naturally spontaneous and love jumping into new, unfamiliar mediums. I have become more daring as time went on, but even now my art drastically changes depending on the medium I use, and there are even mediums I tend to avoid because of that. I thought that sharing some of the methods I’ve learnt when dealing with new mediums can help other ‘cautiously-inclined’ artists start their journey with a new, unfamiliar art supply.

Firstly, research is your friend. Research the medium before you buy it, because that will give you a quick overview of what other mediums are similar, whether or not the medium needs special paper, canvas or brush cleaner and what mediums can be used with it. This helped me a lot when starting out with Gouache.

Gouache and Acrylic Mixed Media- I used the now familiar Gouache to progress into a medium I have less experience with, Acrylics.

 I found Gouache to be similar to Watercolor, which is a medium I am very familiar with. It can be used alongside both Acrylic paint and Watercolor, and it doesn’t require any particular canvas or paint board.This really helped me get started, since I could use Watercolor and Gouache together in a piece and find out what makes Gouache unique from the mediums I already used in the past. After learning to enjoy and properly use Gouache, I began to use it alongside Acrylic, a medium that I still find a challenge.

Secondly, experience is the only way to learn. Research can only bring you so far, and knowing all the ins and outs of the medium before you start is helpful. But it can never replace actually using the medium, making mistakes and learning to correct them. Copic Markers are not similar to any medium I have attempted prior to using them. It needs special paper, which I couldn’t find at the time. I didn’t see any other mediums used with Copics in artworks. Watercolor paper ruins the nibs and the alcohol ink doesn’t work very well when layered on paint.

Recent Copic Marker Illustration.

This posed a dilemma, since I have seen a lot of Copic art and absolutely loved the look of the medium. That led to the spontaneous purchase of my first four markers. I had no experience with the markers, and by the end of the first two months of using them, one already had a ruined nib. I had also stored them wrong at some point, so one end of the marker always had more ink than the other. This was the hard way of learning how to use the medium, and soon I got the idea of using chalk pastels alongside the Copics to make up for my limitations in color. I bought a new set of six markers as soon as I could, and set to work using Copics along the chalk pastels. That was when the art began to progress, and soon I stopped using the chalk pastels along with the Copics.

Thirdly, when it comes to buying the best, most expensive brand, versus buying a cheaper version of the product, try to buy the cheaper product. This will help the situation feel less risky, and help you feel more relaxed when using the medium. Some products don’t have this option, but for those that do I highly recommend it. I started Watercolors with a cheap, chalky, kid’s art set. I followed tutorials done with higher, artist quality paints, and at first, I was not limited too much by the cheap Watercolors. When I found myself enjoying and progressing in the medium, I invested in a more expensive set. That was almost three years ago. Recently I even bought a professional level metallic Watercolor set, knowing that I will enjoy and often use the medium.

Watercolor Illustration using FineTec Metallic Watercolors and Van Gogh Watercolor Travel Set.

In the end, the best way to learn a new medium is to do research, and then to actually experience the medium. Patience is key, because like most things in art, it is a growing process. Stick to things you are comfortable drawing and painting, as to not push yourself too far into unfamiliar territory. When using a new medium, I usually draw or paint my favorite original character, which helps familiarize the experience.

Keep in mind that learning a new medium is just that, learning. Don’t be afraid to fail, because it will grow you for next time you tackle that medium.

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Artist’s Process: Gouache and Acrylic Mixed Media

Although most artists would recognize and have experienced using Acrylic paint, Gouache can be somewhat of a novelty. Gouache (pronounced “gwash”) is a water-based paint that combines the best worlds of both Acrylic and Watercolor paints. Like Acrylic, it can be used to be opaque, and lighter colors can be layered over darker colors. Like Watercolor, it can be thinned with water to be transparent. It acts like a Watercolor, with the layering abilities of an Acrylic.

This painting I did with Gouache and Acrylic was done on a A2 Painting Pad. Being a fairly large piece, I felt comfortable to work in a more realistic style. This post is mostly going to describe my personal process of using the mediums, and not everyone’s’ process will be the same.

After rendering the sketch, I set to work on the paint.

Since the paints I used are opaque, I wouldn’t be able to see my sketch very well after a base layer of paint, and details had to be added slowly while looking at the thumbnail in my sketchbook. Things to keep in mind when painting with an opaque medium like Gouache and Acrylic are lighting, deepest shadows and color pallets.

In progress. Here you can see the way the paints completely cover the sketch in the areas I was painting.

Lighting is important, because you need to keep in mind where to start building up darker tones, as well as highlights. Since you can’t see your base sketch after the first layer, it usually helps to layer white on the highlighted areas as soon as possible. That way the painting won’t get too dark too quickly. Although you can layer lighter colors on darker tones with both Gouache and Acrylic, it makes the process take longer and you easily lose details as you layer.

The deepest shadows in the piece are also important to keep in mind. Too many similar tones can cause the main elements of the piece to get lost. Sometimes taking a photo of your painting or drawing and putting it into grey-scale can help with this. If most of your painting is black or dark grey, your main elements should be light grey or white. If most of your painting is light grey or white, your main elements should be black or dark grey. This helps balance the composition of the piece a bit, as well as helping you find the deepest shadows of the painting.

Grey-scale of the final painting, as well as the paints used. Note how the skin-tone and lettering appears almost white, and the inside of the cloak, chest-plate and background all seem to blend together because of the similar color tones.

Lastly, color pallets are important. Like with most paints, Gouache and Acrylic are made to layer and blend. Shading requires a lot of colors from a similar hue, but different tone, like shading a light blue with a dark blue. With so much canvas to cover and so many colors to use (as well as the fact that you can only see the base layer of paint and none of your sketch) it is important to keep your main colors in mind. What colors do you want to stand out? What colors are you going to use for shading? Are there any light reflections or colored lighting you need to keep in mind? What about the background?

A closeup of the effect that gouache gives. Like Acrylic, you can see the brushstrokes of shading, and in places you can see the more watercolor characteristics, such as the canvas texture coming through on the cloak.

As an artist who tends to dabble more in transparent mediums such as Watercolor, Gouache is an interesting transition to more opaque mediums. It was definitely a challenge to get use to, but the Acrylic and Gouache work very well together. I recommend trying out both mediums, especially Gouache for transitioning from an opaque medium to a watercolor, or from a watercolor to an opaque medium.  

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Artist’s Process: From Sketch to Watercolour

Each artist has a unique process as well as different preferred mediums and styles. Here I share a bit about my process as well as the mediums and style I used for an illustration.

Before doing a fully coloured illustration, I first thumbnail some ideas. A thumbnail is usually a quick, abbreviated sketch, usually to figure out the layout of the final piece and refine the idea. These are usually a lot looser and messier, but for this sketch I had a pretty good grasp of my idea from the start. The thumbnail is like the first draft of an essay, or like taking notes during a lecture, as it gives you a better idea of the direction, mood, style and even mediums of the finished piece. This thumbnail was done in my Hahnemühle Nostalgie Sketchbook.

Thumbnail for final Illustration

Once I was happy with this initial sketch, I could move on to my final piece. I decided on watercolour as my medium, as watercolours can be used to create wonderful earthy tones. I also have a set of FineTec Metallic watercolours, which could be used for details in the armour and eyes of the characters. I moved to my Hahnemühle Watercolour Book and re-drew the sketch.

My style, which is very inspired by comic books and animated films, usually includes a form of line-art. Watercolours smudge most pens, but recently I’ve found that the Pigma Micron Pens are completely waterproof, meaning I can easily add my watercolours over the top of them, without any smudging! After lining the illustration, I can erase all the pencil and be left with completely clean linework. I can then add the watercolours overtop, as if painting in a colouring book.

The finishing touches are of course the Metallic FineTec Watercolours. These are of astounding quality, but pricey. They work best when layered on dry watercolours of a similar tone and colour. I used this to add shimmer to the characters’ armour and weapons. It really pulled the illustration together.

Here you can see some of the metallic effect. This is best appreciated in sunlight.

These characters are Achilles (left), Ajax (middle) and Teucer (right). They are inspired by Greek mythology and are also characters in a book I’m currently writing.  

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Artist’s Process- Lion on Denim Jacket

After sketching out the basic layout of the lion with a white fabric pencil, I started on the muzzle with Dala Fabric paint. The white took some layering, and I got worried that the rest of the lighter colours would give me trouble on the jean fabrics. After the first layer of white, I could still see the jean colour and the fabric grain clearly. Luckily, I soon realized that I was spreading the paint too thinly on the hard, rough fabric. I soon got the hand of layering and blending the white. By the time I painted the eyes, I was well enough adjusted to painting on jean.

The paints held up wonderfully, the darker colours rarely needing a second coat. The lighter colours had a bit more trouble on the jean, but after a few coats they are vibrant and provide good contrast. It’s better than using acrylic paint, which might not need as many layers to cover up the material, but would crack when the fabric is folded or put to use. The metallic fabric paint was fun to use, and adds a unique flare to the piece.

After finishing the painting, I use Dala Waterproofing Medium to seal the paint. The Waterproofing Medium is easy to use and adds a durable finish to the paint. It protects the paint from water damage, dries perfectly clear, and especially helps when customizing shoes.

I would definitely recommend Dala Farbic and Dala Waterproofing Medium paint to customize fabrics.