Alcohol Markers for Coloring: Options for Various Budgets

I initially resisted alcohol markers, even though so many colorists raved about them.  I didn’t like the way Sharpies smelled, and thought they were all like that.  I found a small set of Bic Mark Its and they had much less strong odor, so I got their largest set.  They blended well and I liked the results.  No streaks like I got with water based markers, and different colors blended well into each other.  The paper didn’t pill and the colors were nice and bright.  I colored this page (from my book Coloring Gifts: Gifts of Encouragement, also available as an electronic download) with Bic Mark Its:Colored with Bic Mark Its Alcohol Markers The largest Bic Mark Its set was only 36 colors, and I loved the way they blended, but I wanted more range to work with.  After asking around and doing some research, I decided to try a small set of Spectrum Noir markers.  Like Copics (which are very expensive) Spectrum Noir  markers are dual tipped, refillable, and you can replace their nibs – but they are a more affordable price point than Copics.  Like Copics, they have a large color range (more than 200), you can buy them individually, in small sets of six or sets of 24.  The sets do not overlap, so you can build up your collection slowly over time without buying duplicates.  So I tried a small set.  And I really loved them!  It had so many colors to choose from and they also blended beautifully.  This page (from my book Simple Mandalas, also available as an electronic download) was colored with Spectrum Noir markers:Colored with Spectrum Noir Markers from book Simple MandalasI’m slowly building up my collection of Spectrum Noir markers.  They have expanded what I can do with markers and there are a lot of colors to choose from.  But I was left with a small budget set with limited colors, and a high end set with lots of color choices, but nothing in between for everyday coloring.   So I tried one of the mid range alcohol marker sets, the Sketch Set of 80 Alcohol Markers by Arrtx.  They have a good range of colors and they blend well.  They have numbers and this is what the colors look like sorted by number: Arrtx Sketch Markers 80 ColorsOf course, to be able to use them, I spent some time sorting them into colors and made a new color chart.  Arrtx Sketch Alcohol Markers Sorted by ColorAs you can see, they have a decent range of colors in the pinks, reds, blues, greens, and browns.  The only thing they seemed to be a little short on are purples/violets.  I used them to color the page below (from my book Coloring Gifts: Gifts of Encouragement, also available as an electronic download.) They were juicy (not one dry marker in the batch – I have heard that has been an issue with markers in this price range) they also blend well, and they come in a handy carrying case with labels on top so they are easy to store or take with you.   They are also dual tipped – have a broad tip and a fine tip. They are not refillable.  I recommend them as a good set of mid range markers for coloring.  I also made the color chart above into an electronic download for anyone who’d like to use it.  It’s available with my other electronic downloads. Arrtx Sketch Markers Set of 80 with color chartThe paper you use makes a big difference for alcohol markers.  Some paper, like office paper, is more likely to bleed outside the lines.  I color in the books with alcohol markers and they work fine, but whenever I print out or copy pages for coloring, if I’m using markers, I choose Georgia Pacific Premium Cardstock, in white, 110 lbs.  If you look closely, this paper has two sides: one is smooth (ideal for markers) and one that is lightly more textured, I use that side for pencils, or for markers with accents or additional shading in pencil (always add after the marker is completely dry!)  Remember to store your alcohol markers on their sides so they will last longer, especially these dual tip ones, otherwise one end will have too much ink and the other will be dry.  For the Arrtx makers, I just zip the case closed and set it on its side when I am finished using them.  And of course, alcohol markers bleed through paper, even cardstock, so always have an extra 2-3 sheets of paper behind whatever you are working on to avoid any permanent marker stains.

Grayscale Coloring Tutorial: Basic How To

One of the questions I hear most often is how to color grayscale, so I took photos and notes of my latest colored page as I worked on it to try show you what I did.  Grayscale Coloring Tutorial: How To Color Grayscale


For this grayscale tutorial I will be using a copy of Arentine H. Arendsen’s Dutch Flowers: A Vintage Grayscale Adult Coloring Book and a set of 72 Schpirerr Farben Coloring Pencils.
I colored directly in the grayscale coloring book.  I slipped a couple of pages behind the page I was working on to keep from having indentations in the page beneath, so that I could color it without issues later.
I would recommend pencils or markers for coloring grayscale, but not gel pens (I’d say gel pens if you’re really good at shading with gel pens.. there is a person who is coloring this book with glitter pens and doing a gorgeous job) but to start out I’d suggest you try pencils or markers that are somewhat transparent so the darks can show through.  I prefer to color grayscale with pencils, but some colorists add base layers in markers and then add more color with pencils.  There is no one way to do this, use whatever media you are most comfortable with, this post illustrates what I did for this page.

Materials - Grayscale Coloring Tutorial

Grayscale Coloring Overview

Some people are intimidated by coloring grayscale .  Grayscale coloring pages are pictures with the shading already figured out for you.  Try not to overthink coloring grayscale.  You can  try coloring it with just flat colors and be done (letting the darks show through), or add more pressure in the dark areas if you want more pronounced shading. Some think it’s supposed to be hard, be but it’s actually easier than coloring line art because the thinking about shading has already been done for you.

Getting Started

There are several ways to color grayscale.  What I do is I pick an area and a color (light, medium, dark), color the darker areas first, then add a layer of medium color (either the same color with less pressure, or a lighter shade) over the medium gray areas, then add a very light or no color over the light areas.  I work lightly and don’t press too hard so I can keep layering and build up color slowly.

Light Medium Dark Pencils - Grayscale Coloring TutorialHere are my three colors, I will be using Light Yellow (40), Bumblebee (50), and Vanilla Flower (80)

I start by adding a layer of Vanilla Flower to the darker areas of the flower I am coloring. Color Darks First - Grayscale Coloring Tutorial

Here is what it looks like after I colored the darksDarks Colored - Grayscale Coloring Tutorial

Then I used the Bumblebee pencil and added a light layer over the dark, and also extended beyond the darks and colored some of the medium shades of gray.Medium color next - Grayscale Coloring Tutorial

Next I’ll go over the darks and mediums with the light color (Light Yellow) and extend beyond the colored areas to add more color to the flowers.  I left a little white in the lightest areas.Adding light colors - Grayscale Coloring Tutorial

Because the three shades I used were very similar, the flower looks a little flat.  To add depth and interest, I pick a couple of colors that are nearby in the color wheel.  I picked a brighter color, this orange pencil (180) because it’s a dark color, I went over the darker areas.  They really pop after having it added.  Add a pop of color - Grayscale Coloring Tutorial

The orange is bright, so I tone it down a little with a more neutral shade to continue to add depth.   I used this Maple (110) pencil to help blend the orange into the flower and add a golden hue.  I sometimes err on the side of going too light with the pencils I start with because it’s always easier to add more dark colors to a coloring page than it is to remove them.Adding depth - Grayscale Coloring Tutorial

Next I will start working on the other flower on the page.  I wanted to make this one pink, so I pick my dark, medium, and light colors.  I used Magenta (250), Carnation (260), and Pink Lemonade (270)

Light Medium Dark - - Grayscale Coloring Tutorial

I start by using the Magenta pencil and coloring in the darker areas of the flower, working gently with a light layer. Color in the darks - Grayscale Coloring Tutorial

Then I added the second color (Carnation), again going over the darker area first, and beyond it to cover the medium gray.  Adding medium color - Grayscale Colroing Tutorial

Next I added a soft layer of the next color, Pink Lemonade over the darks and mediums and beyond.  I worked to add a very light layer and colored with less and less pressure to fade the color to white in the lightest areas of the flower.  Add lights - Grayscale Colroing Tutorial

For my next part of this page, I started work on the stems and buds.  for these type of flowers, the flower stems are a different, warmer color than the leaves.  so I add a warm color as a base color, I picked this Yellow (60) pencil and went over the darker areas.  This layer will help add warmth to the subsequent layers.Add a warm color - Grayscale Colroing Tutorial

Then I started adding some greens, I chose this warmer, Olive Green (580).  Add the medium color - Grayscale Colroing Tutorial
I did soft layers and added a little more and a little more each time, another warm green, cypress tree (590). A little more color - Grayscale Coloring How To

To liven up the colors, I picked a pretty Lime Green (570) and added it as my light color over all of the stems, adding less pressure to the lightest areas of the image.  Add the light color - Grayscale coloring how to

I moved on to the rest of the stems and leaves next.  I picked this Olive Green (580) as my dark and added a soft layer to all the darker areas of the leaves and stems.  Adding dark to the leaves - Grayscale Coloring How To

Here is a closer view of the picture above showing how I colored the darks on the stems and leaves.  Close Up - How to Color Grayscale

Next I added my medium color over the darks, and beyond to the medium grays and very lightly over the lights.  I used Apple Green (560) Adding medium to the leaves - Grayscale Coloring How To

The leaves were looking good, but the color looked flat.  So I added a layer of Lime (570) green to all the leaves and stems to add depth and more interest.  It perked up the leaves considerably!  Add some interest and perk up the colors with a light color

Next I added a little more contrast to the darks and depths to the color of the leaves and stems by adding some Cypress Tree (590) to the darks, adding more pressure to the darkest areas, and a little less to the other darks.Adding some darks for contrast - Grayscale Coloring How To

The main page is colored.  I went back and added a little color to the yellow flower, and added this color also to the warm parts of the stems and buds to add emphasis to the warmth of those parts of the picture.  I used some Light Yellow (40) to go over the yellow flower again and add more depth to the colors.  I added more pressure to the darker areas, trying to define the shape of the flower petals.Adding some warmth - Grayscale Coloring Tutorial

Then I went over the flower again to add a little more definition to the lighter areas of the petals and make sure they were distinct.  I used a light, warm color, Wheat (020) for this, and also added a layer to the warm areas of the stems and buds.  These light layers add a nice depth to the colors add realism, and keep them from looking flat/canned.Lightest lights - Grayscale Coloring Tutorial

I then colored the background.  Although this was a flat background, I used a gradation of four different colors from top to bottom to add interest: Blue Lagoon (470) on top fourth of the background, adding less pressure at the bottom of the layer, then slowly blended the second quarter of the background into a swath of Cerulean (460) across the background, next I used Summer Sky (450),  and segued into Cobalt Blue (440) at the bottom.  To add more interest I added a little bit of Deep Blue (420) to the very bottom. The finished page - - Grayscale Coloring Tutorial

The background is a large flat area and shows more texture.  One thing that could be done to soften the texture is to add some alcohol to blend the colors.  You can find more information on how to blend colored pencils in my post about colored pencil blending.

So there you have it, a breakdown of what I did to color this page.  This was my first time using Schpirerr Farben pencils  and they worked well for grayscale, I was able to make multiple light layers and they did not feel gummy or sticky.  They work well for blending and layering.  I will test them on line art next to see how they perform.

This grayscale book is not as detailed as others I have published, like Arthur Rackham’s Fairies and Nymphs.  That book has images with small details, and I had to make sure my pencils were sharp when coloring pages from that book.

You can try this page with different media, but what I’d recommend is that you pick something that is fairly transparent so the shadows show underneath.  The beauty of this type of coloring is that the lights and darks are already figured out for you.  Give it a try and let me know how it works for you!  Grayscale Coloring How To - A Basic Tutorial

Black Widow Coloring Pencils

I have been hearing about Black Widow pencils for a while, but being who I am I was skeptical about them, not sure they’d live up to the hype.  I recently received a set as a gift and am no longer skeptical.  Loved the vibrant colors in these highly pigmented pencils, how they layered beautifully, and how easy they were to blend.  They are soft, but not too soft.

I had to test drive these pencils when I received them, so I colored this page from my book Coloring Gifts: Gifts of Friendship.  I went a little crazy with the colors but I wanted to test as many pencils as I could.  This page is done with colors from the original Black Widow set.  I fell in love with the pencils and am now the happy owner of all three sets, I have photos of sample pages of all of them below, scroll to see them all.

Black Widow pencils are available in three sets of 24 pencils (the original Black Widows, a Scorpion set and a Cobra set), each set has different colors for a total of 72 colors as of today.   They are available on Amazon
Black widow pencils
Scorpion pencils
Cobra pencils Widow Coloring Pencils

The above page is from Coloring Gifts: Gifts of Friendship, and it’s colored with the original Black Widows

Black Widow Colored Pencils
This page above from Coloring Gifts: Gifts of Friendship was colored with the second, Scorpion set

This page above is from Simple Mandalas, and I colored it with pencils from the third, Cobra set.

The Colorist Palette Reference Book

Colorist Palette Reference Book - Test and Chart Your Favorite Color CombinationsI was working on a coloring page recently and concerned about adding a new color to the page because it could clash with the others. I did some thinking after the page was done and came up with an idea for a new book, I haven’t seen anything like it but I think it’d be a useful tool to have. The Colorist Palette Reference Book. This book works as:
– a place to keep track of your favorite color combinations
– to test drive new media
– to help you remember what supplies you were using if you have to pack them up and put them away before you finish coloring a page
– to test and practice new techniques before you work on a coloring page
– to experiment with new palettes to see if the colors play together nicely
– to keep track of colors you used for a coloring page
Colorist Palette Reference Book Test and Chart Your Favorite Color CombinationsThe book itself has 48 full size pages in 12 different designs. There is a small simple picture on the top half of each page and the bottom has space for swatches for either color and/or media that you are using or blending or notes. The image does not have to be colored fully, it’s just there to see how the colors go together or for you to try new techniques. There is blank space too for notes about which coloring page you used the particular palette, media, or technique on. It came out of my own needs as a colorist, so hope it will be useful!
I have posted a thumbnail of the cover, a sample page, and finally a thumbnail with all the designs in the book.
It’s now available on Amazon,  Amazon UK, all other Amazons and will soon be available with free worldwide shipping via Book Depository. Let me know what you think!
Colorist Palette Reference Book - Test and Chart Your Favorite Color Combinations