Starting with marker shapes

January 16, 2023 | 10 Comments

In recent weeks I’ve been exploring ways of beginning my sketches with marker shapes. And I’m having a lot of fun experimenting with different colour schemes under my watercolour washes.

I started doing this in December as a natural development of the work I was doing during my trip to Port Macquarie. In fact ever since I started combining coloured pencils with watercolour (during my Hunter trip in May 2022) I’ve been fascinated by layering different hues and different media. In addition, I’ve been super inspired by the work of Jenny Adam (ronkiponk on Instagram) over the past few years and recently went through her wonderful Domestika course (BTW it’s in German with Closed Captions in English).

I’m generally more interested in creating work with more realistic colours but I love the idea of introducing different hues (particularly pastel colours) to create depth and texture.

This is today’s sketch – starting with a pale yellow, pale blue (both GoldFaber Aqua) and a mint (Tombow).

I then added some blue (light and dark) coloured pencil marks…

and then drew a few lines.

The sketch was finished with a few simple watercolour washes.
Last week I used the same three marker colours for the initial shapes and the result is very different.

A big theme of my work at the moment is sketching the same scenes over and over. This approach of starting with fun colours is really creating keeping me super inspired while doing my everyday sketching.

Want to see some more examples?

Here are a few ‘Step 1 photos’ of sketches that you’ve seen before…

Light blue and dark blue marker, with colour pencils (pinky brown and a range of yellow-green).

Finished sketch.

Vintage Pink and Pale Blue markers with dark blue and maroon coloured pencils.

Final version (more pink marker was added to the background building).

A little hot pink marker!

Finished sketch – I want to experiment with using hot pink again!

Finally… light blue and purple markers with cobalt turquoise and yellow watercolour pencils.

Lots of fun watercolour textures in this one which were created by adding water to the first pass before the watercolour washes.

I hope that you have enjoyed seeing the all-important first step from some of my recent sketches.


  • Jani H says:

    These look so fun. Can’t wait to experiment with something like this. I have been adding white chalk over a blue bird that I have repetitively done in watercolor or ink.

  • Sherry Johnson says:

    Thank you for this post, Liz. What a fun new way to start a painting! Can’t wait to try it.

  • Patricia Wafer says:

    Looks like a great way to start a sketch but I like several of these just as well without the final wash. Could be a good way of quickly getting a scene down using colors for mood rather than more realistic color. I really appreciate the quick, bold marks on their own.

  • Jamie C says:

    Fascinating to see what the first step looks like. The layers work so well together, it’s hard to see the process that made it! Love how generously you share with us!

  • Yvonne F Carpenter says:

    These are very cool sketches, Liz! It stray away from your standard “style”, but i can see that it added much joy to your outings as I know by now experiments keep your creative juices flowing! I want to try the marker shape thing myself – looks like fun! I am going to look for your Copic marker blog entry from a while back to see if i can answer my own question, but I see you tend to prefer non-alcohol markers – is it to match your other media (watercolors), is it a paper issue (as alcohol bleeds thru paper more aggressively), or just a preference? Do you experience any bleedthru when doing the marker shapes, specially on the alpha? Thanks!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hii Yvonne. I love Copics but it is the alcohol bleeding that prevents use in my sketchbooks. If there was no bleeding I would definitely be using them more… although at the moment I’m using water-soluble markers. 🙂

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