Friday, March 22, 2013

An Urban Palette

Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real Brush markers
I love markers.

Who can resist the eye candy and creative potential of a huge palette of colors, like that of Pitt Artist Pens (48 colors), Tombow Dual-Brush Pens (96) or Copic markers (a whopping 214!)? (Actually, I have no problem resisting Copic markers, for a couple of reasons.) It’s like being a kid with a brand new box of Crayola crayons (64 was the biggest box in my day, but now it’s up to 133), but better, because markers don’t break or melt.
12/16/12 Platinum Carbon ink, Zigs, S & B Gamma

Unlike paints, markers are harder to blend, so I end up wanting more colors than I can realistically carry in my bag, which I’m always trying to lighten.  So as difficult as it is, I do try to resist collecting the entire available set of any marker I’m in love with, including the Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real Brush marker (60 colors), my current favorite.
2/26/13 Zigs, S & B Gamma

My bag now contains a careful selection of Zigs, which I think of as an urban palette that will take care of grass, trees, cars, buildings and people. The colors are (shown left to right in photo): Geranium Red, Bright Yellow, Yellow, Olive Green, Deep Green, Blue Gray, Gray, Mid-Gray, Oatmeal, Light Gray. (Ten markers – not bad for a girl who usually picks out purple, pink and lime green first from any retail marker display!)
12/28/12 Eclipse ink, Zigs, Pitt Artist Pen, Hand Book

I get a decent range of values from the shades of gray (the pickup truck and the interior value study are examples), which I consider essential, especially when paired with fountain pen inks. The Light Gray alone, which seems too light to be useful, is surprisingly versatile for shading and ghosting in background objects (the musicians and mom and kid scene). Oatmeal gives me a warmer shading color with brown inks, and Blue Gray pairs well with blue-black inks.
11/30/12 Black Velvet ink, Zig, S & B Epsilon

The five optional colors are mostly for convenience: Sometimes I don’t want to get out my watercolors just to put two small spots of red and amber on a car’s tail lights or to indicate a tuft of grass or a few flowers. I’ll probably pare these down over time and replace them with more essential tools.

Edited 4/26/14: See the results of a longevity test I did on these markers and some philosophical comments about lightfastness and sketching.


  1. I love your rainbow of colors! I'd rather use my mini paint palette. I've never really tried colored markers. I definitely don't need something else to carry.

    I like your little bottle below...but it looks like barely a sip. lol

  2. I just found your blog and have been reading a lot of the old posts, and am finding it very inspiring. I'm just getting back into art (used to consider myself a skilled "draw-er" but haven't done anything in over a decade!) Your reviews of supplies are very helpful and have guided my purchases - among other things, I've got a Rickshaw Moleskine Folio on the way (thanks for the heads-up about that company!) and I bought these Zig markers because I like the fact that they're self-contained.

    I know you use water-soluble colored pencils on occasion, but I am wondering if you have tried creating a portable palette from the pencils. I haven't noticed any mention of this on your blog. I saw a suggestion of creating a card, folded in half like a book, with squares of color applied thickly on one half (and, if you wish, the corresponding color names written on the other half.) It's dry and portable, and then on-site you can use your water brush to pick up the pigments. When you're done you can just fold the palette closed... no mess, no fuss. This was going to be my main way to apply washes until I discovered these markers. I may try both, though.

    1. Hello, Happily CF, and thanks for your comments. I recently saw a video showing the use of water-soluble pencils that you are describing, so maybe we saw the same thing. A while back I tried using water-soluble pencils in a similar way (making the palette as I went, right on the bottom of the sketchbook page), and it was only somewhat successful. I found that the paper palette got dirty quickly. Also, once I started using tube watercolors, I got used to the more intense colors, and I found it much more difficult to get intense colors using water-soluble pencils as described. You can't beat the portability of the paper palette idea, though. I think I'd consider that if I needed extreme portability, like if I were on back-packing hike.

      After trying a lot of different media and constantly balancing the weight/portability issue, I've found that the key to success for me is limiting the palette, no matter the medium. I've settled on a watercolor palette of 8 colors because that's what fits in my tiny tin, and I enjoy that limitation now (fewer decisions to make!). Same with the markers -- I've pared it down to about 3 - 4 now.

      Welcome back to the art and sketching world, and have fun!

      - Tina

    2. I think we probably did see the same video - I'm not sure how I found it or where it was. The idea appealed to me because I am facing self-consciousness in going into public places to sketch... I don't like people watching me when I'm not yet confident in my abilities. Something I need to get over! The paper palette seems more "under the radar" although I like your mint tin palettes. The markers may be even more under the radar. Eventually I will probably try the tube paints.

      P.S. I am loving seeing your sketches of the Seattle area. I am from the opposite corner of the country, but took a trip to Seattle this past spring, and it's fun to see places I have been, including some places tourists may be less likely to visit - we got a recommendation to go to Six Arms and I see you did some sketches there. When I travel I am always toting my camera around, but next trip I will try some sketching.

    3. When I first started urban sketching, I was very self-conscious. But I got my feet wet at coffee shops, and I discovered that no one is paying any attention to me -- everyone is too busy staring into their various electronic devices! You could probably pull out an entire easel and beret, and no one would blink an eye. ;-) Don't think twice -- go for it! And I'm happy that you are enjoying reliving your trip to Seattle through my sketches.


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