Part 2: Project 3: Exercise 1 – Using markers or dip pens


Line drawings made with pen are very direct but unalterable. However, the strong marks that the pen makes should encourage a bold approach and the opportunity to exploit the brilliance of colour makes the medium exciting. There’s a certain amount of unpredictability with dip pens. Make the most of these marks; don’t think of them as mistakes, but as alternative ways of seeing and mark-making. Allow blobs and blotches to happen and use them.

The ink in marker pens is transparent and you can mix colours on paper by laying one colour on top of the other from light to dark. As you work, you’ll find the colour mixes on the paper but take care to avoid building up too many layers and using too many different colours. Also avoid damaging the surface of the paper through overworking.

Part 2 Project 3 Exercise 1 course note image
Student drawing, Shirley Ann Leslie, Still life using marker pens

The medium works best when you exploit its artificiality (as opposed to mimicking ‘natural’ colour), for example when your idea requires a hyper-real visual effect. So consider which objects require an overly saturated colour and strong harsh lines.

You might want to think about ‘kitsch’, Pop art, cartoons and other genres that embrace unreality, replicas, imitation and so on. You might also think about how some images or parts of an image seem deliberately ‘flat’ (for example the Caulfield image discussed in Part One). You might also think about using found supports – pages from magazines, the cover of an old book, a large envelope with address, stamp, etc., still attached (and so on).

Work out at least three alternative compositions for your objects and other material, and test colour combinations in your sketchbook. Use a collection of markers with different sized fibre tips, from fine points to wedge shapes. Choose a variety of colours in different tonal values – some light, such as lemon yellow, and some with more intense colour, such as a deep warm yellow. Pick some vibrant coloured inks and have ready a couple of different widths of nibs for your dip pens. Try using both media together. Once you’ve tested a few compositional possibilities, select the one you feel works best and recreate it on an A4 or A3 sheet (or similar size depending on whether you use a found surface).


For this exercise I chose collected sea shells and in this first sketch idea arranged them on top of a bunch of dried out/dead seaweed. I wanted to try and capture the shapes and colours of all three shells, and particularly the pink open mouth of the gastropod shell at the front. The Letraset Pro markers allowed for a certain amount of blending, but I found it quite tricky to control and found myself using my finger a fair bit to help the blending process. Having said that I am reasonably happy with the finished composition and overall result:

Part 2 Project 3 Exercise 1 - Using markers or dip pens - sketch 1
Part 2 Project 3 Exercise 1 – Using markers or dip pens – sketch 1

OK, I went a bit on the edge here with this next idea sketch. But I took the course notes to heart and looked for what I saw as an appropriate found support. Something about The Great Wave of Kanagawa about to overwhelm the pretty arrangement of found sea shells and probably scatter them to the oceans appealed to me. The simplified Japanese painting style and the sweeping lines seemed to me to support my floating arrangement. The fact that the shell arrangement fitted into the space in front of Mt Fuji was done deliberately for compositional reasons as I saw the whole picture – a temporary placing on the waves, on the fishing boat, soon to be disrupted/destroyed – or maybe not. The German manufactured brushpens I used soaked into the ink jet paper and needed a few applications to become a bit more vibrant. Using the bamboo dip pen and calligraphy ink helped to pick out the forms and hold the whole together:

Part 2 Project 3 Exercise 1 - Using markers or dip pens - sketch 2
Part 2 Project 3 Exercise 1 – Using markers or dip pens – sketch 2

Idea sketch three has a lighter feel and I think this is partly down to the better blending abilities of the Uni POSCA marker pens compared to the Letraset pens. I changed the composition here to look inside one half of the larger bivalve shell. The sketchpad paper was covered with a clear water wash before applying the marker pens with the effect that the paper became and remains buckled, which I think adds a background design effect that sort of represents a cloudy horizon floating above a random beach collection washed in by the tide?

Part 2 Project 3 Exercise 1 - Using markers or dip pens - sketch 3
Part 2 Project 3 Exercise 1 – Using markers or dip pens – sketch 3

Final drawing

Here I chose a found surface of a cut-off from a roll of bamboo wallpaper that I found in a charity shop. Returning to the first idea sketch I slightly rearranged the shells to show the opening between the two halves of the bivalve shell and moving the front gastropod shell a bit further left. The bamboo paper ground was washed over with Uni POSCA marker pens several times and allowed to dry before drawing in the shells, again with marker pens. I then stuck a few pieces of dried out seaweed on top of the ground and I think that this along with the yellow leaf of bamboo that lifted off of the paper accidentally give an added sense of depth to the composition. To finish the drawing I used a .70 and 1.0 Rotring isograph pen to ‘scratch’ black ink into the dried marker pen colours and provide a bit of extra definition to the shell shapes:

Part 2 Project 3 Exercise 1 - Using markers or dip pens - finished composition
Part 2 Project 3 Exercise 1 – Using markers or dip pens – finished composition


I enjoyed using the marker pens in this exercise, my favourite being the Uni POSCA variety due to their vibrant colour and blending abilities. I also found it interesting and challenging to use different grounds other than sketch book paper and I particularly liked using the bamboo wallpaper with it roughish texture. My use of dip pens was a bit hit and miss, but I feel the isograph pen ‘scratches’ in the finished drawing are effective. This exercise kept up the momentum for me of taking risks and experimenting with ideas, composition arrangements and mark making – this is what makes it all fun.

Stuart Brownlee – 512319
12 July 2015