Friday, March 29, 2013

Carrots and Icees

When I was a little girl, my parents and I had a deal.

If I stayed on the 'green' light, and didn't get my name written on the board at school, we would stop and get me an Icee on the way home from school.

It could be any flavor.  Coke, pina colada, blue raspberry, orange creamsicle.  It didn't matter, the choice was mine.  So long as I was good, I was given a dollar and allowed to run in and get my Icee.

Some days, earning that Icee was hard.  I was diagnosed with ADD at 5, and it was known early on that I had trouble focusing, staying on task, and not distracting other students.  I had a tendency to finish my work early, and was often left with fairly large spans of unoccupied freetime, with little outlet for my attention.  If I wanted that Icee, I had to sit quietly, which is a hard task for any 5 year old. 

When I graduated from kindergarden to first grade, earning that Icee became even more challenging.  Every week, my normal class assigned 20 spelling words, and my gifted class assigned another 20.  While the normal class might have words like 'boy' and 'cat', the gifted class assigned words like 'turquoise'.  My gifted class pulled me during phonics, which was never my strong suit despite learning to read at an early age.  I guess I didn't see the need for both 'oy' and 'oi' words when they sounded exactly the same.  Needless to say, spelling wasn't easy for me.

My mother, a teacher of ten years by that point, had a solution.  Every single day, from Monday to Thursday evening, we'd go over spelling words.  Any words I couldn't spell right the first time, I'd have to write five times each, spelling each aloud.  Any I missed the second go round, it was 10 times each.  The third was 20.  There were a lot of Mondays where I wrote the entire gifted spelling list 20 times each several times over.

It was frustrating, and as a reward for hard work, my parents upped the incentive.  For A's at the end of the quarter, I recieved $25 total.  I couldn't exactly spend it as I wished (one time, I'd saved around $100 and tried to buy a used Super Nintendo.  That got shot down by my mom fast), but it was mine, and it generally got frittered away on My Little Ponies.  $25 may not seem like much, and honestly, it isn't (my dad upped it to $25 per A on a report card when I was in high school), but it was something.  And for a goal oriented kid like me, it was something concrete to work towards.

As an adult, how do we reward ourselves for hard work?  I feel like some of us are taught in college that the effort should be intrinsic, but that seems to run out after awhile.  When I have the time, I treat myself to an afternoon off- picking up cat food, buying groceries, getting coffee, eating lunch out.  When I don't have the time, that's when things get sticky.  I can brute force myself to work non-stop for a couple weeks, but after that, I am mentally done.  I start to resent what I'm doing.  Resentment eventually turns to hatred, as I think about all the things I'm missing out on just to get this done.

Usually good planning prevents this sort of circumstance from occuring, but unfortunately for me, this spring has been pretty non-stop.  From art histroy to MoCCA, it's been hard to make the time necessary to recharge my batteries.

It got particularly bad as I struggled to find inspiration.  Sadly, I know 7" Kara chapter 2 won't make me any money in it's current print interation.  Double sided, large format color printing is expensive, and I can't afford to charge customers more than the meerest profit margins if I want to see any sales.  I've been posting the pages online to my Twitter, Tumblr, and to this blog, but the reaction has been muted to say the best, so completing this chapter won't make me more popular.  And publishers are hesitant to print color comics by a newcomer, let alone WATERCOLOR comics by a new comer, so it probably won't advance my career.  This led me to wonder "Why am I putting in all this effort?"

It took getting back to my roots to find my Icee.  Talking about the stories that I love and inspire me, stories that give the reader something more than they started with.  I thought about how I felt the first time I watched Howl's Moving Castle at the Canal Place Theatre on Canal Street, in a theatre no bigger than my living room with a screen hardly bigger than my current TV.  I remember watching it with my highschool boyfriend, clutching his hand and sobbing with Sophie as she dealt with Howl's hair drama meltdown.  I remember crying at the end, when Sophie returns Howl's heart, and I remember hearing others in the audience sniffling as well.

I'd gone into that movie annoyed, tired, cranky at getting lost on the interstate for thirty minutes.  I left that movie hopeful and happy, wanting to create something amazing.  I was inspired and my head buzzed with ideas. 

The only reason I make comics is to give a gift to others.  I want to make others feel happy or inspired.  If I'm successful in this, even a little bit, then the time it takes to make those comics is worth it. 

In three years of critiques of my anatomy, perspective, shot choices, and style, I'd never once been critiqued on how successful a mini comic was at conveying its story.  It seems like we focused on everything but, like we danced around the heart of what makes this job worth it.  It's a sensitive subject, one we try to ignore perhaps, but all roads lead to Rome.  Money, popularity, those things pay the bills yeah, but they also indicate that what we created has value to SOMEONE.  This is why people slave over webcomics.  It's why they sell their mini comics for a dollar a pop, when time and labor would cost ten times that.  We all want our work to have value to others, we all want the sacrifices we've made making these things to mean something.  Otherwise, it's just wasted time.

My reasons for writing this blog aren't far from my reasons for making comics.  I want to give a gift, if I can.  I spend a lot of time and money trying to share what I know, and to find out answers, in an attempt to help others.  It's discouraging when all I hear after months of radio silence is a complaint about how I may be possibly doing something wrong (protip:  I research stuff before advising it, or else I am very clear that it's how *I* personally do it, and that results may vary.)  It's never a quiet email to alert me to this fact, it's always very public- a barrage of tweets where everyone can see, no private opportunity to resolve the matter, and I find this discouraging.  I try to keep in mind that when 'everything is going well, no one notices, but if you make a mistake, the world will hear'.

This is a bit rambly, but I have two points to make.  1. Find your Icee.  and 2. Pursue it.  And if you have trouble attaining that Icee, vocalize it.  Maybe others are willing to help you get it.  Maybe others want it too, and you can work together.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Art Marker Showdown: MEPXY Markers Vs. Copic Sketch

EDIT: As this blog is completely unsponsored, and I receive no financial compensation from companies to write these reviews, nor do I receive donations, I really depend on the goodwill of my readers.  If you benefitted from this post, please consider contacting Copic or Montana (makers of MEXPY) with a link to this post and your thoughts.  I would also sincerely appreciate it if you sent me an email with your thoughts, questions, or thanks.

 If you enjoyed this review, please consider donating! Donations go towards the purchase of additional art supplies, which may include more markers for testing. If you found this review useful, please consider sharing it on your social networks- a larger audience means I can afford to do things like Kickstart future projects and makes me more attractive to possible publishers.  There's also a handy pocket edition of ALL my marker reviews in a beautiful little 4"x6" photobook.  It's available for $3 in my Nattoshop, and proceeds go towards things like keeping the lights on and buying more markers to review.

November 7, 2015 EDIT

These markers have become increasingly difficult to find- the Dick Blick website no longer offers them, and you'll have to purchase them through Ebay or the MEXPY website.  I've recorded a condensed video overview to help you decide if these markers are worth the effort of tracking down

MEXPY  Marker Overview

There's a new, potentially heavy hitting, contender in the alcohol marker world, available at an increasing number of brick and mortar art supply stores.  MEPXY markers share many of the same qualities that have made Copic markers so popular with professional artists, and are now offered at many of the venues that have traditionally sold Copics.  Online, MEPXY markers are available in sets and open stock, but in stores like DickBlick, I've only seen sets offered behind the same glass housing that protects the Copic sets from admiring hands.

I was eager to get my hands on a few, so I ordered from Jerry's Art-A-Rama when I placed an order for Pantone's Color Universe markers. 

MEPXY Background Information


MEPXY markers come in two options- black design markers, and white brush tipped markers.  Markers are divided into sets with designations like 'basic' 'pastel' 'skintone' 'vivid'.  These sets contain 12 markers, and retail on the MEPXY website for $49.99.  Larger sets contain 24 ($99.99) or 36 ($139.95), or 60 ($199.95) markers.

It's difficult to find photos of the MEPXY Design Marker uncapped online, but it looks to be a twin tipped marker like the MEPXY Brush tip, and I'd hazard a guess to say that one end is chisel nib and the other bullet nib.  It seems that more companies are offering a brush option in addition to a chisel nib option- Letraset, Prismacolor, MEPXY, Copic, TriArt all offer options for both bullet nib and brush tip alcohol based markers.  Perhaps as alcohol marker becomes a popular choice for illustrators as well as layout artists, we will see even more companies offer a flexiable brush nib.

MEPXY (pronounced like 'Pepsi') touts the translucency of it's ink, and the fact that it's toner safe. From this, I assume that MEPXY ink isn't alcohol based after all, but utilizes some solvent similiar to the ADPRO markers.  In the future, I may  have to test their compatibility.

MEPXY vs. Copic Sketch


When ordering my MEPXY markers, I went for bright colors that I don't necessarily own within my range of Copic markers.  Although this makes comparing colors more difficult, it makes intregrating the sets easier.  MEPXY are similar in design to Spectrum Noir markers in that the cap is flared.

The MEPXY marker caps are pretty accurate to the color the markers produce.  They are rich and vibrant.

As you can see, the MEPXY is much larger than the Copic sketch, although their brushes and chisel nibs are about the same size.  The MEPXY is a bit bulky in the hand.  Like the Copic Sketch, the MEPXY has a grey end for the brush tip to make it easier to find.

 Price per marker $2.79 (, marked as clearance)

  • Refillable
  • Replacable Nibs
  • 200 available colors
  • Blendable
  • 'Super' brush
  • Color code on cap
  • Availability:  DickBlick, Jerry's ArtaRama, MEPXY website, Amazon
  • Sold individually and in sets
  • Blender marker available
  • Design and Brush options available 

Copic Sketch
 Price Per Marker: $7.29

  • Refillable
  • Replacable Nibs
  • Comfortable in hand
  • 358 available number of colors
  • Blend
  • Color Name and Family on Cap
  • Color Coded cap
  • Super Brush
  • Can mix own colors, blank markers available
  • Availability: limited availability at Michaels, many art supply stores, Dick Blick, Jerry's Artarama, Jetpens, Amazon    
  • Available in individual and color themed sets
  • Alcohol based
  • React to rubbing alcohol and 'blender' fluid
  • Can be blended

The Comparison

 This test is my standard for all alcohol based marker comparison tests, and you've already seen it with my Spectrum Noir, Prismacolor Premiers, ShinHan Twin Touch, FlexMarkers, and Pantone Letraset Tria tests. I test the marker's compatibility with a variety of technical pens (Sakura Micron, Copic Multiliner, Pitt Pen, the waterbased ink found in Akashiya brush pens, the gel ink in Pentel Technica rollerball pens), as well as it's ability to blend and layer (shown on the sphere) and it's ability to mix with the other marker (show in the boxed area).  I also test blender compatibility with the Copic Colorless Blender.

 In this test, the dark red MEPXY performed much like the Copic Sketch- neither reacted strongly to either brand of blender, and blending between the brands was difficult to judge based on the saturation of both colors.  Future testing with a greater discrepency between colors is necessary to truely judge MEPXY's compatibility with Copic alcohol ink.

From what I have seen of this test, both brands seem to perform on the same level.  MEPXY markers retail on the MEPXY website for around $5.00 each, which while far below the average price for a Copic Sketch, is not nearly as low as they retail for on DickBlick's website.  I have not seen them sold open stock in any brick and mortar art supply store I've been to, but this may because the product is still relatively new.  I have not seen refill ink nor replacement nibs available online nor in person, so these supplies may be hard to come by, and I have zero familiarity with the MEXPY brand, nor parent companies.  I am also not sure how well these markers hold up to long term use, this is something only repeated and prolonged testing will reveal.

I intend to perform further testing with MEPXY alcohol based markers to determine just how comparable they are to Copic Sketch markers, but as of right now, I will say that they aren't a bad choice for a beginner artist, particularly if they're purchased online during a sale.  When purchasing these markers, I advise keeping in mind that refill ink and replacement nibs may always be difficult to procure, so these markers may be more disposable than intended.  If refill ink never becomes easily available in the United States, that would decrease their monetary value to me by about three dollars, making them a fine sale purchase, but not worth their full price.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Creating Plaid Patterns with Copics and Watercolors

Recently I was asked over Twitter how to go about making a plaid pattern.  The asker didn't specify the media, so I did two varations- Copic marker and watercolors.  There isn't much of a difference between the two, and they could be interchangeable, but watercolor takes longer to dry, and color layering with alcohol based ink won't have the same effect as glazing will with watercolor.

Plaid isn't a hard pattern to replicate, it just takes a little patience and maybe a little reference.  There's a variety of ways you can go about doing it- marker on marker, paint on marker, gouache on marker, color pencil on marker, watercolor on watercolor, gouache on watercolor, pencil color on watercolor.  For this demo, I'm focusing on marker on marker, watercolor on watercolor, and gouache on watercolor.
The plaid on ths skirt is an example of pencil color over Copic marker.  This technique tends to offer more opaque stripes, particularly if you spray the Copic with matte fixative first, to give the paper some tooth.


When recreating a plaid pattern, it helps to have a little reference.  For my examples, I didn't really care about color, but if you're recreating a tartan, its important to know exactly what the colors are, as they have particular significance.  A little Google searching brought up several nice examples of plaid.

There are some major characteristics that plaids have that you should note when recreating them:

Overlapping colors
Varied line widths
Opacity and transparency
Regular spacing

Copic Version 1

When recreating a plaid with Copic markers, I use Copic Wide markers to lay down a color ground first.  When creating a plaid, you should consider utilizing the chisel nib end rather than the brush end, so that your lineweight doesn't waver mid line.

Once you have a ground down, it's mostly just a matter of laying down lines.  I try to do all of a particular type in a particular color at one time.

Plaids are a repeated pattern, so you want to keep that in mind when you're laying down lines.

Copic Version 2

 The ground color of a plaid can be multicolored, it doesn't just need to be a single hue.  To achieve this, I apply alternating colors using Copic Wide markers.

Very wide stripes can be applied using Copic Wide markers.


Copic Version 3

A plaid can even be as simple as a multicolor checkerboard, with wide stripes layered on top of one another, creating an optical 5 hues instead of the three applied.

Working with Copic Wide markers requires care, as they have a tendency to skip.

Watercolor Version 1

When using watercolors to create a plaid, make sure you give each layer enough time to dry before applying subsequent layers.

Watercolor Version 2 with Opaque Gouache

Sunday, March 24, 2013

7" Kara Chapter 2 Watercolor Progress (part 2!)

Hey guys, just checkin' in with more ugly cellphone shots of 7" Kara pages in progress.  Trying to complete so many pages in such a short amount of time means I have to give some serious consideration as to how I spend my time.  While waiting on pages to dry, I'll do any number of things- work on blog posts, ink monsters for the upcoming Little Book of Monsters anthology, sketch, or even clean house.  These pages show a departure from my reliance on colored pencils to bring out details, and further demonstrate using a mixture of indigo+paynes grey and complimentary colors to create layered shadows.  I believe this is particularly successful in skintones, where I use a red violet as the compliment to peachy orange, the skin reads as more natural.  I think in Chapter 1, my skintones tended to verge on zombie, since they were greying out.

Since the weather has dried out just a little bit, I'm able to accomplish glazing techniques again without colors becoming muddy or pulling up.  This is particularly useful when adding washes of indigo+paynes grey to the background to enhance atmospheric perspective.  In the middle panel at the top of the above page, I was able to introduce a technique I learned over winter break- carefully dropping rubbing alcohol into wet ink creates a fisheye effect, which I thought played nicely with Ma's concerned surprice.

Retrospectively, I could have gone darker with the above page, but I'm somewhat glad I didn't, as the rest of the chapter is about to get really dark (color wise, not tone wise).  By holding back, I'm left with somewhere to go.

Some of these pages were so poorly photographed, but rest assured, this is just me checking in with a work in progress.  I hope to have the completed chapter available by MoCCA.

I think these pages have also photographed somewhat light.  This can be chalked up to the camera I'm using (actually my phone, which allows me to sync to Sugarsync and Blogger).

These night scenes are actually pretty time consuming.  The candles require a build up of color around them, in order to create the glow effect, and the large washes of color must be allowed to dry fully before further layers can be applied.  Color consistency is also harder to maintain, and multiple washes do cause some color migration.

 And here's the last finished page, a continuation of the glow effect.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Watercolor Marker Review: Letraset's AquaMarkers

The Quest for a Better Watercolor Marker

In case you guys haven't noticed, I'm a pretty big fan of art markers.  Besides testing alcohol based markers and blogging my results, I also use them for illustration.  I don't limit myself to just markers- I'm also a huge fan of watercolors, rendering comics and illustrations in illuminating color.  There are traits unique to both media which I appreciate- translucent color, ease of blending, relatively quick application, but both media also have unique traits only available to that technique.  I appreciate the portability of alcohol based markers, but the interesting water effects of watercolor.  I love being able to create near endless color from a relatively limited range of watercolor pans, but I enjoy the easy clean up of markers.

Watercolors are available in a wide variety of forms- pans, tubes, crayons, pencil colors, even stones, but I wasn't sure if they were available in a marker format.  And even if there are watercolor markers available, I wasn't sure how they'd compare to traditional markers.

The List of Demands

I've already done one watercolor 'marker' test with the Akashiya Sai watercolor markers, and those shortcomings whet my appetite for a better solution.  I wanted an easily available watercolor marker that wouldn't be ruined upon the introduction of water.  I wanted an ink that wouldn't seperate into the individual colors, I wanted easy portability, I wanted color sets that worked well together, and I wanted an affordable product.

Letraset's AquaMarker

I discovered Letraset's AquaMarker while doing my research for my review of the Letraset Tria Pantone and Promarker.  It was a twin tipped watercolor marker, with one end being a bullet nib, and the other being...a larger bullet nib?  The AquaMarker was available in color families, and I opted to go with Set 2- a more muted color family that could possibly be augmented with later purchases.

The AquaMarkers are available 4 different ways- as individual markers, in packs of 6, in packs of 12, and in 'Artist's Sets', which come with 4 sheets of watercolor paper, a fine liner, and instructions.  I purchased a 6 marker set, as I was hesistant to make such a large investment at the onset.

AquaMarkers are actually much cheaper than their alcohol based counterparts, but this is because they are non-refillable.  There are 54 colors available, as well as the colorless blender (which was not available in my Set 2, and I did not purchase separately).

Based on my experiences with the Akashiya Sai watercolor markers, I decided to test these AquaMarkers in two ways- a color test on my moleskin watercolor notebook (which I use to swatch all of my watercolors) and a field test in my Strathmore 300 series Multi Media paper notebook.  The field test truely was in the field- I tossed my Aqua Markers into my satchel and dashed out.  Blending was done with a Pentel Aquash, no special solution needed.

The Breakdown:

Letraset Aquamarker
Available in sets and open stock
Individual marker cost: $2.30 (DickBlick)
Number of Colors: 54
Refillable?  No.
Replacable nibs? No.
Special blender needed for watercolor effects? No.
No color seperation when water is added.
colorless Blender Available
Availability: Amazon, Dick Blick, Letraset website

The Color Test

Unlike some of the watercolor markers I've tested in the past, the Letraset AquaMarkers are color true, even with the addition of water.  You get an effect very similar to watercolor, and if you work quickly, the pigment disperses fairly evenly.  Unfortunately, there is some slight color variation within the marker itself- the smaller nib produces a lighter shade than the larger one, which could be used to your advantage.

The Field Test

In the field, the AquaMarkers perform fairly well.  The sets come packaged in a resealable plastic shell which holds the markers firmly in place.   All you really need is a paper that can withstand water and your portable aqua brush.  I recommend outlining your pencil lines in fineliner and erasing before applying your marker, as graphite has a tendency to ruin marker nibs.  One drawback to illustrating with AquaMarkers is the quick drytime of the marker- dry pigments are harder to work than wet ones.  Applying water with an aqua brush can lead to a longer overall drying time, since aqua brushes may offer little control over water flow.  As with most watercolor markers, applying your marker to still wet paper can lead to backflow- when the water is absorbed by the nib rather than the paper absorbing the pigment.  In mild cases, you just need to work that water out on a scrap piece of paper, in severe cases, you may have ruined your nib.


I really enjoyed working with AquaMarker watercolor markers, and I find the results satisfactory considering the limitations of the product.  In the future, I would consider buying more of these markers, possibly in bolder colors (particularly to test whether or not the color-fastness is a feature only of the more subdued colors).  I have not tested whether or not AquaMarkers are compatible with traditional watercolors, but I would recommend using the Aquamarkers before applying the traditional watercolors.