Letraset Aquamarkers

February 21, 2011

The post provides a product review.

Above: No this is not a painting made with Letraset Aquamarkers. This is a gouache painting made over a drawing made with the markers. It's in an 8 x 8 inch journal I made with now defunct paper (which always took watercolor even though it wasn't a watercolor paper). I've used gouache over the sketching. The writing is made with the lavender pen in this line, the same one I sketched with. Read more about all this below.

I like to sketch with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen or other pens and then paint in gouache over those sketches. Most of the time you can't even tell that there's a pen sketch under there.

Sometimes I like to try other markers and pens to see how they hold up to this, or to see what they can offer in the way of sketching options. So the other day when I was going through the Daniel Smith Catalog, and needed to make an order anyway, how could I resist spending some of my birthday money on the Letraset Aquamarker set of 12 water-based markers (with a free blender pen)?

Let me announce right now that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a marker person. Lots of my graphic designer friends started out using markers and never left off. Sensitive to smells I avoided all markers and always had other ways to get my work done—most specifically digitally.

I have Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Brush and Calligraphy pens in lots of colors and use them, but not the way they are shown used on their packaging. There you see pictures not only of sketches but full illustrations—nope, don't do that. I really don't like the way marker looks when it overlaps the previously laid down line. I use my pens from F-C for sketching and I'm happy with that. Typically I end up painting over the lines anyway.

You need to know however, that I don't use markers for "painting." So when I saw the advertisement for Letraset Aquamarkers filled with lovely "painted" images and copy which explained that they were waterbased (no smell there I thought), pigmented inks (oh, joy of joys), and blendable (be still my heart), the money flew right out of my pocket. Did I mention that they had a fine tip and a "brush" tip?

Here's what I found.

On all papers I used them on (watercolor papers included, and drawing papers that have taken all sorts of other wet media) I found that the overlapping of the strokes was awful, the blending with either water or with the blender pen was slow, tedious, uneven, and roughed up the paper. The "brush" tip is fat and solid and has no ability to provide stroke variation, unless you turn it on its side for a fat, uniform stroke. The fine tip is similar to the tip in the old Pantone markers (which may still be made, and I just realized I did use those, but for "airbrushing" with a special nozzle attachment to my air compressor, another long story). In other words that fine nib is equally inflexible.

I also found the color selection rather wimpy, almost all light tints that go on pale and when you do manage to wash them out are even more pale. I like my pigments to have Umph. (Hence my love of gouache.)

After finding blending didn't work at all for me I decided to just use these pens for lettering and sketching.

Believe me, it isn't often that you find a pigmented ink pen that doesn't smell and comes in lovely colors.

So if that's your only hope in regards to these pens, you're home free. These will be great fun to write with in your journals because they have "superior lightfastness and they're acid free too." (According to the packaging.)

As you see in the image opening this post, I decided to sketch with the pens and paint over them. I thought it would be fun to drag pigment from the inked line into my paintings.

SpanielMarkerB3190 Left: Here you can see the sketch before the paint was applied. The background strokes caused the paper to be roughed up. The blending pen didn't work at all on this paper. I left the background to be painted over. I'm not sure what the name of this dog actually is, but it's something like what I've jotted down.

After sketching this dog, I did in fact go over the sketch with gouache, drawing out color, covering other color, allowing some lines of color to show. It was fun and I know I'll have fun using the pens up in just this way, and also for writing. But I won't repurchase them because: I'm not a marker person.

Now, if you are a marker person I have one more thing to say. I was ready to write off these pens, but I'm testing a new sketchbook with plate surface paper. Since these pens were on my desk I picked one up and worked with it on that paper, and WOW! (More about the sketchbook later this week.)

On plate paper the pen overlapped its own line in a more pleasant manner and blended well with water. I didn't even try the blending pen I liked the water blend so well.

So, if you are a marker person and you like to work on plate surface paper, these might be just the pens for you.

Be honest with yourself when purchasing these pens—are you a marker person or not? The honest answer to that question might just save you some frustration, or bring you a whole lot of fun.

110214SpanielDetail Left: Detail of the final painting shows at points A, B, and C, where I left some lavender pen line showing, where I teased out some color from the pen line for shadow, and where I used pen line as the first step in a base for building dark color, respectively. You can also see in the rendering of the eye (these dogs have bulging eyes hence the visible sclera) that I have used the lavender ink lines as part of the undershading in the pupil, left it for eyelid definition, and shaded the pupil on the lower side. Most fun, however, was B, teasing out the line's color to mix with my zinc white gouache for a shadow. Schmincke gouache. (Since it was important to me that you see detail I left this sliver at 300 dpi. It's not larger in size that the full images at lower resolution so you should be able to see some fun detail and not have trouble opening it. If you do let me know and I'll post a lower res version.)

  1. Unsure of what “plate surface paper” is, I googled and I believe it means hot press drawing paper, as in Strathmore 106 pound drawing paper with a plate finish. Could plate paper also be some kind of printing paper? I love the way your posts stretch my art vocabulary!

  2. Reply

    Jeanette, plate in this context refers to a smooth surfaced paper. It can be any type of paper, watercolor, drawing, Bristol. Some printing papers also have plate surfaces.

    The term comes from the process of manufacturing paper. The paper is pushed against a smooth surface at some point if a plate surface is desired.

    Similarly the word “felt” to describe a paper’s surface comes from the fact that some papers are pressed into felts in the finishing steps and then those papers literally take their surface texture from the felt they were pressed into.

    Vellum as a surface designation refers to something that is toothier than plate, i.e., not smooth, with some texture, but not rough, and is typically used for drawing papers. It comes from Latin for veal and it was the calfskin that people once used for making books in the manuscript days.

    Parchment is another such word that has earlier origins than our current paper uses. It also refers to skins used to write manuscripts on. I thought it was always sheepskin or goat skin, but Wiki (which I checked before I blathered on) says superior grades of parchment are vellum. Hmmm. I don’t know. I find much that is not correct in Wiki, but this gives you a general idea of the long history of words used in these ways.

    To get back to plate, because the paper is pushed against the flat, smooth surface of a plate like element, i.e., large flat bit of metal, called a plate, well you get the idea.

    Often paper manufacturers now simply say smooth instead of plate, but the paper I was referring to, which will be the feature of a later post, actually retains this designation. And I tend to use the word plate, out of habit, when discussing smooth paper anyway.

    The paper on which I was drawing and painting as the example in this post was NOT PLATE, and so wasn’t really suitable for what I’d hoped to do with the markers.

    Hope this helps. Thanks for asking.

  3. Very enlightening! Thank you! I share your idea that parchment could not be vellum (since it’s not made from sheep or goat skin) but am willing to keep an open mind.

  4. Reply

    I’m not a ‘marker’ person, but do love your dog painting, and the close up of the eye was very helpful. I noticed that you teach tracking classes, I used to do that when I lived in Atlanta. Trained several dogs to their TD’s and helpful (as the lost person) someone else train their dog for the TDX (that was a lot of work but worth it). Your willingness to share all your knowledge is so refreshing. I am wading in slowing with the gouache, so far I’m liking it… now I’m wanting my colors 🙂

  5. Reply

    Tracking with my two bitches was one of the true joys of my life and I miss it. Teaching helps me stay connected at least a little bit in these dogless times. I think everyone who has a dog should train with the dog to track because it’s such a great bonding experience. I just would love for everyone to have that experience.

    When something changes your life profoundly it’s hard not to share it with people, whether it’s tracking or gouache.

    I’m glad you’re enjoying your gouache!

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