Using Copic markers in my Greenwood Journal

September 28, 2021 | 12 Comments

As mentioned last week, after my chat with Olga from School of Sketching, I got my Copic markers out to try in my Greenwood Journal.

I used these markers for formal presentation drawings in the office when I worked as an architect. But more importantly, back in 2012, I  spent a few months sketching with them. This was inspired by the work of Eduardo Bajzek from Brazil at the time and his workshop at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Santo Domingo.

I love their smooth crisp colour, the hard edges of their chisel tip and how you can layer them seemingly endlessly. And I love the fact that I can achieve really quick ‘washes’ of colour without having to wait for anything to dry.

Last week I went through all my Copic marker sketches from 2012 and it was really interesting to follow my journey with them back then… and realise that I’m going on a similar one now, as I re-learn how to use a different tool.

When I first started using them, a little over a week ago,  I initially thought of them as a replacement for my colour pencils, but I just didn’t know how to create texture and found the strong block colours a shock to the system.

It’s easy to vary my pressure when using coloured pencils and with watercolour pencils I can add a little water to smooth strokes and create shapes of colour. But not so with these markers! I immediately realised that they are more a shape tool than a line tool!

On the third sketch, I started to become comfortable with them.

I was caught in a sudden storm and sketched this quick sketch of the date palm tree near the station. Ah! got it! I was suddenly using them more like my dagger brush than a pen/pencil.

Note: I think that the simple subject matter – a single tree rather than a whole forest of trees – made a difference too!

And I spent the week experimenting with different marks and ways of layering the colours that I used in 2012 to get the greys of the bush. And then I started layering with my watercolour pencils. It’s been a super fun week!

But before I share my sketches I know most of you are wanting to know…

Do the markers bleed through to the other side of the page?

Yes, but only through to the backside and not to the next page. This is great as Copic markers can bleed through three or four pages of copy paper!

In 2012 when I used them in Moleskine Cahier I always had to have a backing sheet under the current sketchbook page to prevent this. But as the Greenwood Journal contains 100gsm paper (it’s the perfect weight for this type of notebook) there is no need for any extra protection.

So basically, I sketch on every second double-page spread and use a dot sticker to hold the back sides together. This is what I did back in 2012 and it works great. However, it does mean that I’m going through the Greenwood much quicker now! 🙂


As mentioned above…each day I was experimenting and trying new things, adding lots of texture and doing way more layering than I would ever do with watercolour. Two things were a challenge initially – how to get soft colours for the background trees and how to get the dark areas dark enough.

Three other comments related to this photo:

  1.  I’m still working out what colours I need to carry with me so I’m not going to share my selection yet. As this is part of my walking kit (mentioned in yesterday’s article) I want to minimise the number of markers I’m carrying.
  2. I don’t have a fancy pencil case at the moment.
  3. I’m loving the friendly magpies who come to talk to me while I sketch. 🙂

Monday: Exploring the colours and different ways of making marks

Tuesday: My notes say that I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but in the end I was pleased with the result. I was happy with the layering for the background trees. I also discovered the option of layering markers over WCP.

Wednesday: Going a little crazy mixing pencil and markers. But as you all know, I’m in a big texture mood at the moment!

A colour chart exploring how I can adjust the hue of my markers by applying them over a layer of watercolour pencil (all these are Caran d’ache Museum pencils except for the Spring Green which is a Derwent Inktense). The markers are all Copic. Ha! there you go, I’ve just shared some of my colours with you! 🙂

Thursday: Another attempt at Monday’s view… still feeling as if I’m layering too much.

Friday: trying not to layer as much. Ah! that’s more like it.

While I was doing this sketch I realised that these are the same techniques as I’m using for my watercolour bush sketches (well, my ink, watercolour and pencil sketches). The only difference is that I’m substituting the watercolour for markers.

I’m really loving using two very different media back to back for the same purpose (ie. each visit to Lane Cove I’m doing a marker sketch during my walk, and then a watercolour sketch at the spot where I parked my car.) I think each type of sketches will help the other.

I’m having way too much fun!

Let me know if you have any questions about using these markers in the comment section below.
(And if you are reading this via email, please click on the article title link below and add a comment on my blog. Thanks!)



  • Georgy Evans says:

    So interesting! Your ability to switch media and experiment is really inspiring. Also your taking the severe Sydney lockdown as an opportunity to explore. Thanks from London, Liz!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Georgy!!!! I’m so thankful to have the bush nearby – it makes me so happy that the lockdown is not longer bothering me so much!

  • Betty Osborne says:

    Liz, I am following your Copic journey with interest! I have never use them in an architectural way so I come from a different perspective. The one comment I have about this particular article is that in some instances it seems to me you are not using new Copic pens but old ones. They last forever and it’s very tempting to keep using old ones! But in the instance of the sky it’s much better to have an alcohol filled pen that doesn’t make streaky lines in my view! They make an extraordinary range of colors so good luck in finding the darker end.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Betty – yes, these are all old markers – all of them are at least 9 years old! I did order some new ones and some refill inks but they hadn’t arrived in time for any of these sketches. Sometimes I like the texture created by the old streaky markers though 🙂 and I’m also layering over pencil. Into texture rather than smooth shapes at the moment (using these markers in smooth washes is something I did a lot as an architect but don’t care so much to do with my sketching) Will have to look for some more dark colours- thanks!

  • Jamie C says:

    I see that pale blue in the trees, like you did with colored pencil! The textures you achieve are great,a new not something I would have thought could be achieved with Copic, but your style and technique really shines through! Love these. I get a bit rigid thinking I can do things only one way, so it really is wonderful to see your play on the page!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Jamie – yes I am layering the same coloured pencils as for my watercolour sketches… and the markers do activate the pigment of the WCPs into paint at times.

  • Elaine mcgann says:

    I really like theMonday sept 30 and thurs drawings. I like the depth of those dark greens. You are so generous to share yourself with us. I m letting go more and more of needing to create something all the time. I m learning to appreciate just making marks and puddles of paint. So meaningful.

  • Ann Greitzer says:

    Hi Liz, I love your experimentation with markers! I use them exclusively with my portraits. Have you considered using a colorless blender pen to soften edges or blend colors? I can’t work without one, it is so versatile! It can provide a lovely wash-like effect. Love your work and your posts!!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Ann – I do have a blender but not used it yet. Right at the moment I’m loving working with the chisel tip and hard blocky edges!

  • manuela says:

    Thanks for sharing your marker thoughts and sketches with us. September 24 is a standout for me.
    I never seriously considered sketching with markers. You’ve inspired me to have a go.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Manuela – THat one is certainly a standout to me as well – it took all the other experiments to get there. Markers are great for sketching. Hope you try them 🙂

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