Draw along with me to create a beautiful sketch with alcohol-based markers. This is a simple yet effective technique both for sketching on location and drawing from a reference photo. Each step of this tutorial is accompanied by a photo and a detailed explanation.
For my Dutch-speaking readers: find the Dutch version of this article here at Urban Sketchers Nederland
If you are just starting out with alcohol-based markers, you must have many questions. Head over to my blog post Alcohol-Based Markers Q&A to find answers to the most frequently asked questions. You will also find additional resources on markers at the end of this tutorial.
This is my reference photo for the tutorial. I am going to take you step by step through the process of creating a colorful sketch of this house front.
In this tutorial, we will:
go over the necessary materials
choose Promarker colors for the sketch
learn how to draw shadows
plan your sketch with the help of a thumbnail
color your sketch
add details with fineliners.
WINSOR & NEWTON MATERIALS USED IN THIS TUTORIAL*
* Some links in this post are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission when you buy something (at no extra cost to you). This is a great way to support my free content. Also, please note that while this sketch was done using Winsor & Newton supplies, you can absolutely do it with the brands of your choice.
I love this paper because it is very smooth and allows me to create beautiful transitions. Overall, marker paper is a very personal choice. I know sketchers who hate smooth white paper and prefer rougher off-white paper. The general rule is the smoother the paper, the smoother your gradients. The same goes for blending: it is easier on smoother paper. However, in urban sketching, we don't do a lot of blending. It's a technique for more illustrative work.
In Your Guide To Perfect Paper for Alcohol-Based Markers, I show how markers work on different kinds of paper, from printer paper to really high-quality bleed-proof marker paper.
thin -- 0.1mm, the main -- 0.5mm, thick -- 0.8mm.
3. Promarkers: see the colors in the color chart below. Feel free to choose a different color combination! Markers are sold separately or in sets. If you are not sure which colors to buy, use my Hand-Drawn Promarker Color Charts and Color Combos.
Alcohol-based markers blend beautifully and allow you to create beautiful gradients and transitions. I love blending and use it often in my artwork, but not so much in urban sketching. I prefer drawing rougher sketches. I don't like them too smooth. That is why this tutorial does not cover blending. We will focus on shadows instead, as the main way to add depth to your sketch.
COLOR CHART FOR THIS PROJECT
These are the Promarkers colors I will use in this tutorial. You will notice that most colors in this color chart have two shades: a lighter and a darker one. I will be using the light tones for the lighter parts and the darker ones for drawing shadows.
If you don't have these colors, feel free to choose your own color combinations. I have created Promarker Color Charts for your convenience. You can find combinations that work well together. It will help you choose colors for your sketches. You will see that the colors are presented in groups of three (a lighter tone, a medium, and a darker one). Three shades is what you need to create beautiful transitions. For the purposes of this tutorial, two shades of each color are enough.
Using the color charts will make it easier for you to buy the right markers that will definitely go well together. However, feel free to experiment with your own combinations and use the colors that you already have.
The green colors above are among my favorites. I use these three colors for all the greenery in my sketches.
Drawing shadows is an essential skill in sketching, regardless of the sketching medium. Without shadows, your drawings will look flat and boring. Here are a few ways to create shadows using alcohol-based markers:
You can create mid-tones and shadows with darker markers by drawing several layers. Remember that new layers will appear darker if you let the previous layer dry completely. The darker the initial marker color, the darker the following layers will be.
Take a light and a dark shade of the same color. If you're new to markers, use my Promarker Color Charts to determine the best color combinations.
The idea is the same as for two colors, but we also have a mid-tone. Drawing with three colors will make your sketches look softer because the mid-tone will soften the contrast between the dark and the light colors. I prefer to use three-color combinations for greenery and large shadows.
Where are you supposed to draw shadows in your sketch? Shadows are difficult to see, both on location and in reference photos, but there is an easy method of drawing shadows.
Here's what I do: I do not try to copy the shadows. I make them up!
I place an imaginary light source on the top left side of my sketch. In this case, there will be shadows on the right-hand side of objects, of the parts that stick out. If I put the imaginary light source on the right, the shadows will be on the left. This is the method I will be using in this tutorial.
Okay! Let's start drawing!
MARKER SKETCH STEP-BY-STEP
Step 0. Thumbnail
Make a thumbnail before you start working on your actual sketch. Create the composition, try out different color combinations, fineliners of different thicknesses, make some quick sketches of details if you are unsure how to draw them, etc. As you can see, I simplified the house a bit: I removed one door and a few other details.
Do not skip this essential step! If you sketch without a thumbnail, chances are you'll find yourself stuck in the middle of your drawing, not knowing what colors to pick next. It is a bit counterintuitive, but creating a thumbnail (or several thumbnails) does not slow you down! It actually speeds things up as you will have made all the important decisions before you embark on your main sketch.
Step 1. Sketch
I don't use a pencil for my marker sketches. Instead, I prefer a very light grey marker. Promarker has three grey tones: Warm Grey (warm tone), Cool Grey (neutral tone), and Ice Grey (cool tone). How do you know which one to choose? It all depends on the color scheme of your sketch: if your sketch is mostly cool (blue, purple colors), use Ice Grey. For warm color sketches (yellow, red, brown), use Warm Grey. Cool Grey is neutral. I use it if there are different tones in my sketch.
Step 2. Coloring
Start coloring with the markers you have chosen for the light (not shadowed) parts of the objects in the scene. Color the whole area. If you are an advanced artist, you can color just a part of it to make your sketch more playful. However, it's easier to color the light areas completely if you are a beginner. To make your sketch look neat and tidy, you can draw a line around the areas of different (lighter) colors. Just don't forget to blend them a bit with the main color area so it doesn't look strange.
Many students ask me how to make their coloring smooth and beautiful.
Here's the trick: get smooth paper, use the chisel nib of your marker and draw a few layers.
It's difficult to get very large areas smooth, but it's also absolutely unnecessary in sketching because a sketch should be quick and 'sketchy.' But the tip above can prevent your colors from being too uneven.
Keep coloring all the light parts of the sketch. Draw carefully around the tree leaves, trying to keep this part fresh and lively.
Step 3. Adding shadows
Start adding shadows, as I explained above. My imaginary light source is on the top left-hand side, so the shadows will be under and to the right of the sticking-out parts You can immediately see how the shapes pop up, and the sketch becomes more interesting and engaging. Like magic!
Add more shadows.
Greenery: use thee tones for greenery so it looks livelier.
Under the roof: the shadow is quite large here, so use two colors to make it look smoother.
Ground: notice how the ground is very light right in front and how it gradually gets darker towards the house. Blend colors for a smoother transition.
Step 4. Refining with a fineliner
This is the time for you to look very carefully at the reference and draw all the details you want to have in your sketch. Everything that you think will make your sketch look more attractive. Everything you want to show the viewer (someone you will show your sketch to). I usually don't have any particular order of using thicker and thinner fineliners, I alternate them as I go along, but for this tutorial, I started with the thinnest one -- 0.1mm, so that you can see what lines I draw with the thinnest liner. These are the lines that I don't want to be too prominent in my sketch: the roof tiles, the wall bricks, and the basement stones.
I draw all the other lines with the 0.5mm fineliner.
Now the sketch is almost done, but I want to add a little bit more vibrancy to it by stressing the shadows, making them darker with my thickest fineliner, the 0.8mm. Using different thicknesses (or even colors) of fineliners, you can make your sketch look engaging and captivating for your viewers.
We're done! Let's place the reference photo and the complete sketch side by side. As you can see, I did not try to copy the reference. Instead, I interpreted it creatively, adding more color and leaving out the unimportant details.
24 Markers: How to assemble your urban sketching set. Promarker / Copic versions.
Promarker Color Charts and Color Combinations: check them out here.
How to Use a Colorless Blender Marker: two easy techniques for sketching.
50 Shades of Grey Markers: how to decide what you need.
LEARN FROM ME
For a smooth start with alcohol-based markers, join my classes at Brave Brushes Studio, my membership for artists and urban sketchers.
In my Sketching with Markers course, you will:
Learn how to blend markers to create smooth transitions.
Choose color combinations that will work great for tour sketch.
Learn how to draw shadows with markers.
Learn how to use fineliners together with markers for expressive urban sketches.
Create amazing sketches using a limited color palette.
Learn how to make the most of the marker set that you have.
Get feedback, ask questions and find the courage to show your work to the world!
Besides Marker Adventure, you can do my three Skillshare classes on markers. Available in Brave Brushes Studio and on Skillshare. Plus, there is a lesson on drawing greenery with markers which is part of the Sketching Beautiful Greenery Adventure.
Brave Brushes Studio is an online club for amateur artists and sketchers designed to provide both the support of a community and with structured instruction that can help you grow, improve your technique and have fun along the way. Each month's Adventure is devoted to a particular topic or a skill, new lessons come out every week.
When you join Brave Brushes, you get immediate access to all past adventures, workshop recordings and my Skillshare classed for as long as you are a member. You can also take part in live Q&A sessions and sketching workshops and make friends with other artists.
Not ready to become a member? Sign up for my weekly newsletter to get sketching tips and tricks, inspirational resources, workshop announcements and other news.