So…This Happened Today

It will come as no surprise, I’m sure, that I didn’t exactly follow the directions for today’s drawing lesson. More and more, I’m doing my own thing in art, even while I profess to be following along with specific instructions. Chalk it all up to the idea of exploration — my word for 2021. As the year comes to a close, I seem to be doing more and more exploration, digging deeper, being bolder, and taking a lot of risks with my art. Sometimes I think I know what I’m doing; other times I’m just winging it to see what happens.

What happened today was this:

This is not pretty, but I’ve moved past the point of thinking art must be pretty. Art can be intriguing, thought-provoking, emotional, evocative, and interesting even if it’s not pretty. To me, this quick drawing is interesting, mostly because it shows how few lines we really have to make in order to convey facial features.

This odd-looking drawing happened today for several reasons. It happened because my art time tends to be a bit more erratic now that my husband has retired. I can’t “plan” my studio time the way I did in the past. There are distractions, more things to do, more interruptions. This happened, too, because I’ve had fauvism on my mind. That was definitely an influence here. The main reasons this drawing happened though are because earlier this morning I decided I wanted to play with my new alcohol ink markers during my drawing time today, and because when it came time to do my drawing lesson, I couldn’t find my charcoal. Yes, this was supposed to be a lesson about using charcoal — or conte — in various ways to create thin lines, thick lines, and broad swaths of shading.

The studio is in disarray again — that seems to happen a lot — and I’m promising myself to get busy putting it all in order. I just haven’t gotten around to it. I did look for my charcoal. I looked for my conte. I even looked for my soft pastels. Gee, where have they gone? I don’t know.

So, I shrugged and returned to my new alcohol ink markers. Like the drawing I did this morning, the Copic and Marabu alcohol markers are a bit odd-looking. Here’s a picture of a Copic marker:


This is oval-shaped, and much larger than I’d expected. It is dual-tipped. One end is much like a conventional highlighter; the other is a finer brush-type tip.

I received 4 Copic markers and one Marabu marker in my recent “Paletteful Pack” subscription box. It arrived on Wednesday afternoon. I was excited to try out these new tools. The subscription box is somewhat Christmas-themed (everything packed in red and green shredded paper, a holiday decal, and a set of Strathmore cards and envelopes), so I was surprised at the odd color choices for these alcohol markers.

I received:

  • Vermillion
  • Violet
  • Pink
  • Yellow Green

The Marabu marker is “Primary Yellow”.

Definitely an odd combination of colors, so when I picked up my sketchbook and wondered what to do, I really wasn’t at all sure where to start. Obviously I couldn’t really use alcohol markers to do charcoal shading exercises, nor could I create a charcoal portrait with them. Obviously I’d have to do something very different.

You’ve probably guessed that this drawing lesson was from Bert Dodson’s book. Keys to Drawing. I’m still studying the principles of “controlled lines” and “spontaneous lines”, or, with today’s exercise, using charcoal in different ways to create both “fine lines” (control) and “broader shading” (spontaneous).

Now, true enough, with the dual-tipped markers, I could be both spontaneous and controlled, but not to the degree, of course, that I could be with charcoal. I looked at the dramatic drawing in the book — one of Kathe Kollwitz’s self-portraits — and for me the key point was the use of value to give form to the face. I’ve taken charcoal portrait classes which have focused on this essential point: don’t think about “drawing eyes” or “drawing lips” or “drawing a nose”. Just focus on the values you see in the facial structure.

Although I’ve never been good at it, I do understand the principles, so that was where I focused. I looked at the Kollwitz illustration and quickly sketched the basic contour — the shape of the head. I did this using only my Vermillion marker.

Next I tried to add shading to the darker areas — those dark eyes, the base of the nose, the shadowed side of the face, the mouth. Even using only a single color (I should have scanned the image then) I was able to see a human face on the page. The lines were rough, the drawing raw, but it was undeniably a human face.

I then decided to play a little more. I picked up my Violet marker and layered it over some of the shaded areas. I had no idea what I was doing, really, but I was enjoying my drawing time.

Finally, since I wanted to try the Marabu marker as well as the Copics, I used it (Primary Yellow) to add a bit of highlight. After that, I called it done, and moved on to doing a few practice exercises with the alcohol ink markers.

Here are my thoughts on these markers. I like them. Although I found it hard to get the caps on and off, they are otherwise easy to use. There are, by the way, four types of Copic markers:

  • Classic
  • Ciao
  • Sketch
  • Wide

The ones I received are the “sketch” markers. This type is available in 358 colors! Are you kidding me? 358 different colors? Yes, you read that right. The tips on the markers can also be changed, although I’m not sure what other option is available. Personally, I’m good with the two I have. An added bonus is that these markers are refillable.

What I really like about them is that — in my exercises — I found it easy to get smooth blocks of color. I was also able to do some basic shading with the markers simply by going over areas to darken them. They do layer nicely, and you can “blend” colors in this way. When drawing or blending, a good tip is to always begin with the lighter colors.

I learned, too, that the “color code numbers” have specific meaning for Copic markers. If you have any markers, maybe you’ve noticed these color codes. My Vermillion, for example, is coded R08. The R refers to the color family — “red” in this case — and the numbers that follow show the amount of saturation and the value. This means that Vermillion, from the Red color family, is “more saturated” (0) and “darker” in value (8).

For comparison, consider Pink. Its color code is R11 — again in the “red” family — but slightly less saturated (1)  and definitely very light (1).

For reference, the color families are shown in this illustration from The Curiously Creative.



In addition to the the colorful markers, Copic also makes a “colorless blender”. This can be used not only for blending colors, but also for:

  • Adding highlights
  • Fading to white
  • Coloring transparent objects
  • Pre-soaking paper
  • Fixing mistakes
  • Adding texture and patterns
  • Muting colors
  • Cleaning up edges

Now that I’ve read more about Copic markers, I’m even more excited about using them. I’m sure I’ll be having a lot of fun playing with them, and I’m sure I’ll be adding more colors to my collection! It’s been a good morning in the studio. I not only created a weird — but interesting — drawing that taught me again about using values to describe facial features, but I also learned a lot about Copic markers.

If you don’t have any Copic markers, you might want to pick up a few. They really are fun!


  1. I like your drawing. It is thought provoking-what is the person thinking, what is his or her mood (especially when considering the mouth). The blank eyes give little clues. The use of your colors could make this person of any ethnicity or background.

    Liked by 2 people

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