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Winsor & Newton Pigmented Alcohol Markers

August 18, 2016

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Above: Marker sketch made using the Winsor & Newton Alcohol-Based Pigment Markers on their special marker paper.

A week or so ago Wet Paint and Winsor & Newton (W&N) held a party to introduce Winsor & Newton's Alcohol-Based Pigment Markers.

Note: these are DIFFERENT from their Watercolor Markers. You can read a review of the Winsor & Newton Pigmented Watercolor Markers here.

W&N writes this about their product:

Using only the highest grade, lightfast, fine art pigments, there are over 105 beautiful colours to choose from. The unique White Blender places a limitless palette of tones and hues at your fingertips. 

There is also a clear blender—I know that because I was able to use it the night of the party.

It was a pleasant party with servers mingling and offering a variety of foods (I didn’t partake but all my friends said the food was great). The setting was a large warehouse space converted to gathering space. Art made with their markers was everywhere on display, and large tables had been set out with the complete range of markers available to test on large sheets of specially developed marker paper.

Thanks to Wet Paint and W&N for presenting this opportunity so that we could try this new product.

I sat down and started to sketch. It might not be time for the Fair yet, but my mind is already there. Of course I sketched a rooster.

Disclaimer: I’m not and never really have been a marker person. For health reasons I worked as little as possible with Pantone and other solvent-based markers. I preferred to work with color pencils and watercolor. Currently the only markers I routinely use are Montana and Molotow Acrylic Markers. (I use various ink pens like Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Brush pens, and various pigment liners, but I don't use those pens for coloring, though strictly speaking they are markers.) None of the pens I currently use have an odor (I don't use Liquitex Acrylic Markers as they have a pronounced odor). And the acrylic markers dry immediately, so it’s not unlike working with layers of gouache or poster paints. It’s really just a different type of paint applicator. 

The W&N markers work like traditional markers—you get the same sorts of strokes. They are alcohol based and you get the odor from that. If you work with Copic markers you already know what alcohol markers smell like—these seem to smell a little less than Copics. I was able to work for 30 minutes with them when doing my rooster sketch. I can't even stand next to an open Copic marker without getting a headache. I did go home from the event with a headache but I think it was from the loud music and not the odor.

If that alcohol marker odor bothers you, than these markers aren’t for you.

The difference between these markers and Copics is that W&W uses PIGMENTS in their alcohol-based markers. Your work will have some lightfastness. In fact they say on their website that the colors will last 100 years. I’ve got friends who do stunning work with markers and I’ve always wished they wouldn’t use a dye-based medium. I hope many of them change.

Each marker lists the pigments used to make the color on the barrel of the pen. (If you don’t already know how to mix pigments you’ll need to do a little research. But if you put the time in, having the pigments will take the guess work out of it!)

You can read a little bit about why I think it’s important to study color theory here. 

My Experience With the W&N Pigment Markers

W&N provided a specially developed marker paper for our use at the party. I have to say I loved that paper. It was toothy (in a minute way—you can see tooth in my sketch) yet smooth and it kept the pigment marker ink moving across its surface in a lively way. I spent 30 minutes reworking and reworking, and stroking over and over areas to bring up some contrast, to develop some textures, and to see what the markers would do. The paper never pilled and there was no bleed through. And despite how saturated I made the paper by loading it up with the marker ink the paper stayed flat—no buckling.

It’s an amazing paper.

As for the markers I found them wimpy in saturation on the first pass. I would like to experiment and blend them on rough paper to see what type of build up I can get, but none was available.

The ink dries but never becomes fixed. You can always move it around with the colorless or white blenders—or with other color markers. If you’ve worked in watercolor you’ll be familiar with the need for different methods of attack with a soluble medium. 

160812_WN_alcoholMarkers-RoosterDetailLeft: Detail of my rooster sketch so you can see the dabbing and smearing with my finger, etc. The fine point of the marker really does make a crisp line—see blue feathers at the base of the comb.

I found that I could move the ink around the paper with my finger (I was covered in ink when I was done), or with other markers. I also found that I could dot an area with the tip of a marker and then press with my finger and pick up ink to create texture (the rooster comb). That was fun. Also I was able to get my highlight back on the beak at the very end simply by using another color of marker, not the colorless blender. So there will be some back and forth that you’ll need to learn to cope with. 

The marker has two tips—a fine point (the dark blue I used for feathers at the base of the rooster’s comb) and the chisel point. You can see the chisel point strokes in the background and in the bird’s body. 

That’s one thing I didn’t like about the markers—the visible chisel strokes. My initial background I blended with my finger and that worked better than a blending marker. But when I added other colors and blended in I could never get back to the same texture—probably I had reached one limit of the paper. (And with any medium there’s some timing involved that further exploration will discover.) 

Note: in the displayed art, people more familiar with working with markers had devised ways to smooth out their strokes, so with practice and technique you could too.

I think this marker might be a lot of fun on Clapboard™ and hope people experiment on it.

I won’t be getting these markers because the alcohol odor is too overpowering for my sensitivities. 

Additionally, anything I can do or wanted to do I can already do with the pigmented supplies I currently use. The fun factor of these markers was not sufficient, the results were not unique enough or what I wanted to see, to cause me to invest in a new medium.

I also need to mention that I found the markers very comfortable to hold. At one point I had six or eight markers in my non-dominant hand and was switching back and forth effortlessly, capping and uncapping. It was very comfortable.

If you’re already working in markers, however, and alcohol based media isn’t an issue, you might want to check these out so that your work can have greater longevity.

Roberta Avidor’s Experience with the W&N Pigment Markers

Unlike me, my friend Roberta Avidor has for many years worked with markers as an illustrator and concept artist. She does things with markers other people only wish they could do. I was interested in her take on these new markers. (Click on the link in this paragraph opening to go to her website and see other examples of her work.)

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Above: St. Paul-based artist Roberta Avidor holding up the marker sketches she made at the W&N Pigment Marker party on their special paper.

Roberta admits that she has never used markers much in a blended way, so while that attribute is interesting to her, it’s not something that she explored and doesn’t feel a need to explore.

She works with Copic markers and likes that they are refillable. The pigment issue isn’t one for her. She works in watercolors and oils when making her gallery artwork.

Roberta thought the W&N markers smelled less than the Copics, but she thought that might also have been the result of working in such a large and open space.

While she liked the marker paper they provided, and like me loved that it didn’t buckle, she uses translucent marker paper for her marker work and can’t see switching.

Note: In the comments section you'll see Roberta wrote in because she remembered she hadn't mentioned the caps—it would be nice if the caps could snap on to the opposite end while you use the pen. I agree it would be a great feature.

Final Thoughts

If you already use Copic Markers and love working with markers and don’t mind, or have a way to get rid of the marker stroke, then you might want to try a few of these out and see if they work well for you. Why not go with pigmented media?

If you use watercolors, gouache, water-soluble crayons, and any number of other great soluble pigmented products, and you already have techniques that work for you I wouldn’t rush out and buy these markers. 

If alcohol marker smell doesn’t bother you  keep them in mind for when you want to test and play. Get a small set of 5 or 6 colors and some of their paper. Test them also on their special paper. Then test them on other papers you routinely use. Find out whether they do something marvelous for you. Check out their website where you’ll see all sorts of artists working with them.

And drop me a line to let me know what you’re doing with them!

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  1. Reply

    Good summary, Roz. One thing that would’ve won me over on these markers that I forgot to mention is that it would’ve been awesome if you could fit the cap from the end you are using onto the other end of the marker, enabling you to keep better track of the caps. You can’t do that with the Copics, either. You could do that with the now-defunct Pantone markers and I found that a real asset.

  2. Reply

    Roberta, thanks for bringing this up. I forgot to mention it as well. I don’t know why it is difficult for all pen makers to forget this feature, because it is a feature and something that anyone who really works with pens likes to have. And it doesn’t mean you have to have ugly pens either. Anything that allows us to work faster, easier, and not lose those caps is a plus.

    Thanks again for letting me pick your brain!

  3. Reply

    Sue, yeah, I understand what you mean. They don’t make a watercolor marker that I give a link to in this post—I wrote about them some time ago. I’m not a huge fan of them, but they do provide pigmented watercolor sketching.

    I prefer using the pigmented India Ink pens from Faber-Castell (Pitt Artist’s pens and brushes). They aren’t water-soluble, and I like that. But they come in neat colors and are great for lettering and doodling designs onto a page.

    And of course if you are a master of the medium like artist Don Colley they are so much more!

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