The permanent marker was made for mundane chores such as marking packages.It was never intended to render subtleties in a sketchbook drawing, such as the light falling across a child’s face. It’s an interesting challenge to take this rather crude instrument and make it express those subtleties. It does take some practice, so scroll down to read how to get started.
Note: All of the references are to my marker drawing, White Ribbon (above), permanent marker on 60-lb sketch paper, 4½x2½.
1. Start with lines.
Most artists begin a drawing with a kind of shorthand, a series of gesture lines or construction lines—just something to get them started and to map the placement of the major shapes. I’m comfortable using the marker itself to make those first lines (you can still see some of my construction lines in White Ribbon, above). However, if you find such lines to be too obvious or intrusive, try using pencil for that initial line-work.
2. Make clear shapes.
Areas of light surrounded by half-tones will “read” if they’re clear and definite. The light effect in White Ribbon works because the shapes of the reserved lights on the cheek, nose, and mouth are simple, clear, and definite.
3. Control your values.
When you touch a marker to your paper, it makes a positive black mark that can’t be erased or altered. To make a gray tone, then, you have to make a pattern of black marks mixed with the white of the paper: scribbles, dots, or the simplest, line-groups. All the halftones in my drawing are grays produced with line-groups.
You’ll quickly get a sense of what a marker can do if you fill a few pages with scales or shapes of different grays. Try dragging the side of the marker, as well as the point, and try varying the pressure of your strokes.
4. Use a slip-sheet.
If you apply the marker heavily, or in layers, the ink will bleed through your light sketch paper and make blots on the following page. In the lower part of White Ribbon you can see a pattern of little dots—bleed-through. This doesn’t bother me, but if you prefer to keep your pages clean, put an extra sheet of paper behind the page you’re working on to soak up the blots. The one sheet can be used over and over, of course.
5. Save those old markers!
Don’t throw your markers away as soon as they start to dry up. You can use a marker that’s running out of ink for quite a long time, to make an effective “dry-brush” for light tones. Some of the gray tones in White Ribbon were made by dragging a semi-dry bullet-point marker on its side.
To learn a great way to use value contrast to improve your drawing, click here. And, don’t miss this free article, “Drawing Techniques & Tips to Capture What You See.”
Bill Teitsworth is a member of the National Watercolor Society and the 2006 winner of their Milford and Patricia Zornes Award. His article “Four to Go: A lifelong sketch artist explains his favorite media for working in the field” appears in the October 2008 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.