Blending and Shading

Alcohol markers have a quite unique ability to be layered and blended in a way most colour media simply can’t manage. Try mastering the basic techniques below, and you’ll soon be sketching and rendering like a pro…

Overlaying to Create Depth

Because dye-based marker ink is slightly translucent, the more layers of a single colour you apply, the darker it will get. This is a really easy and immediate way to add dimension.

The effect can be emphasised by taking another slightly darker colour and laying that over the top. The trick to this is picking a second colour of around the same hue and tone, but in a darker shade. The result should be a natural gradation from light to dark, to give you a realistic looking shadow.

When overlaying and blending colours together, don’t forget how quickly alcohol solvent dries. The smoothness of these kinds of effects very much depends on how fast you work. To achieve a really smooth, blended gradation, you’ll have to work wet on wet, applying each stroke and layer quite rapidly.

Doing the same once the ink has dried will give you a much sharper, more defined shift from one shade to the next. This might be desirable, depending on the subject and material you’re wanting to render. It’s just something to be aware of.

Using the Blender Pen

This next section introduces you to the dark art of using an alcohol blender pen. As the name implies, this is essentially a marker filled with just clear solvent and no colour.

The first thing to know, is that the blender won’t allow you to merge and move around colour in the same way as you would paint. But it can be used very effectively to knock back colours, creating translucencies and other subtle effects. The key to success with the blender pen is to apply it liberally, and within the short drying times afforded by alcohol markers.

One way you can use it is to generously pre-wet your paper with a coating of solvent before laying down colour. This will diffuse the applied colour, and encourage subsequent layers to blend more freely.

You can also use the blender for directly adding de-saturated colour to your work. Simply touch its nib against the nib of a coloured marker for a few seconds, then apply the transferred colour from the tip of the blender. The solvent will naturally soften down the colour, eventually flushing it through entirely.

 In a similar way, you can also try fashioning a makeshift palette (an old plate or saucer is good) then using the blender pen to pick up and apply your colours. First, pool some marker ink straight from the nib onto your ‘palette’. Then use the blender to pick up each colour and apply it to your design. So long as the colour is sitting on an ink-resistant surface, it can be picked up and moved around in this way. And if it dries, it can be re-activated with the blender.