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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: 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’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.