I just want to do flats
December 18, 2016 6:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for an analog art tool that will enable me to create large swaths of consistent flat value easily. Should I use charcoal, watercolor, markers, or something else? And how? (Examples inside.)

I can already do flats easily digitally, so I'm trying to replicate that experience in the analog domain. Specifically, I want to replicate the experience of using a large, angled Photoshop brush with color gray, opacity 100%, and no pen pressure.

I'm looking to create a look something like these drawings (with charcoal?) or these (with watercolor?). For the former, I've tried charcoal sticks, and they don't seem to create the beautiful thick and consistent stroke that that artist has—they're frustratingly dark on the edges and light on the inside. Maybe my technique is wrong? For the latter, it looks like watercolor, but can I actually use it on normal graph paper (and not watercolor paper) the way that that artist does? I also don't like carrying around watercolors, brushes, and water, but maybe a waterbrush would be more convenient.

I've tried using a moderately thick gray brush pen, but those aren't thick enough and the brush tip varies the line width. I think a very thick gray marker with a flat tip could work, but overlapping marker strokes tend to darken in a stipply way. By the way, I'm not trying to create value by crosshatching with thin lines (ink or pencil) or by using the flat of a normal pencil, so those are out.
posted by glass origami robot to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The first set of drawings look like conte crayon to me, but that's also my preference over charcoal. The second look like marker. For either practice is key in getting consistent, and with the marker the type of paper is going to play a large role. Try markers like Copic that are alcohol based- they tend to be less swampy. I think flat areas with markers are easiest with a blunt tip than a brush tip.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:54 PM on December 18, 2016

The first one looks to me like it was done with conte crayons, which are a compressed mix of clay and pigment. They'll give you a more consistent stroke, especially if you prime them by rubbing them on scrap paper until the edges are worn down just a little- this gets rid of the dark edges you were getting.

The second one could be watered down ink, or watercolor, or maybe marker. It looks like there's a little granulation in there, but that could be either from the watercolors or an artifact of the paper.
I've used Prismacolor markers to do swathes of grey for life drawing and gotten a similar effect- if you go over an area a couple of times the color evens out nicely. The Prismacolors come in a nice range of saturation levels in both warm and cool grey.
posted by Adridne at 7:08 PM on December 18, 2016

The airport ones are sketched with a medium black Sharpie and overlayed with a flat grey Sharpie.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:11 PM on December 18, 2016

I agree that your first link looks like conte crayon. Many artists on twitter are really responsive if you just ask them about their materials and tools, so I suggest reaching out. A lot of what you're wanting to achieve is just done through practice and getting used to your materials and adjusting your stroke and pressure and all that until you get what you want. Another big factor is your surface - you might find that carrying a small board so you have a smooth hard surface underneath your paper is worth it, or getting sketchbooks with rigid covers.

Neither of your links have it, but if you've got the budget and don't need it to be travel-friendly, try gouache. It's kind of like opaque watercolor and makes gorgeous flats once you get a handle on it. I've seen beautiful work done in grey values of gouache, though most of what you find on a quick google is going to be in bright colors.
posted by Mizu at 8:50 PM on December 18, 2016

Mizu: cool, do you have examples of what gouache flats look like?
posted by glass origami robot at 9:25 PM on December 18, 2016

The first is conte crayons on newsprint. These are probably big drawings. Just to give you an idea, 18"x24" is what I used to use. To get nice thick lines, you can use the flat side. They come in a few different hardness degrees similar to pencils and what's right for you depends on how hard you draw, humidity and paper type. Conte crayons work best on paper with some tooth. It's easier to control and less messy than charcoal but I wouldn't be remotely comfortable working on anything small enough to be travel sized.

The second one is alcohol marker and my favorite technique. Some pens will bleed like crazy with alcohol markers, so make sure you test first. I prefer Copic Sketch Markers with a brush nib. But I sketch super small and a chisel tip might be fine for you. If you're working significantly bigger, I'd suggest a Copic Wide. To keep it from streaking, I work slow. How slow depends on how fast the paper absorbs the color. I overlap the strokes over the wet edge because if I go over a mark once it's dry, it darkens. I plan my shape so I can minimize dry overlap, starting in one corner and defining my shadow in consistent strokes . I like to use thin smooth paper without a tooth for makers and I keep scrap paper behind the page to keep it from bleeding through.

Watercolor does require much thicker paper. Standard graph paper will warp and curl. The water brush failed to win me over as a marker is easier to carry, I can use cheaper paper, and I don't have to wait for it dry.
posted by SometimesChartreuse at 9:26 PM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also the notebook from the second link looks like a Moleskine, which has thicker paper than regular graph paper, so would take wet media like marker a bit better. If you haven't tried conte crayon yet, you'll probably like it more than charcoal - the added wax makes for a smoother lay-down of pigment. You can also use a sandpaper block to create whatever type of edge you want, with both charcoal or conte, which will cut down on the dark edge/light inside issue.

Alcohol markers like Copic and Prismacolor are a good choice, but having paper that's meant for the media you use is really key in having it work the way you want. Regular graph paper is not ideal for charcoal or wet media (including marker)

A flat waterbrush filled with a mix of black ink and water would give you the look you're after, but again, you'll need to use it on paper that can handle water -- Moleskins can handle some, but only really thick paper can take a lot without wrinkling, and even then you need to tape it to a board so it doesn't warp.
posted by ananci at 10:12 PM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mizu: cool, do you have examples of what gouache flats look like?

You can google around for more examples and there are plenty of in-process videos on yt and such, but I like these two people on etsy: bright botanicals, calm landscapes.
posted by Mizu at 10:50 PM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

1st link is definitely conte crayon (at least that I can see)--it's also my favorite lifedrawing tool, much more manageable and fun than charcoal, imo. Second link looks like marker on top of waterproof ink pen...I'd say the graininess probably comes more from the marker effect on paper texture. I don't think it's a sharpie, sharpies are super streaky. It looks more like a grey tombow or maybe a copic. I actually think getting smooth flats is much easier with a brush pen tip than a blunt tip, which is prone to streaking more. If it was a copic I'd say try the Copic Sketch markers, which have dual ended brush tips. Watercolor would have a much runnier edge.

You can get nice flats with watercolors but you would need thicker paper, though I agree that the second link looks like a moleskine. A bunch of my fellow artists are also currently into hobonichi planners. They use watercolors in them so clearly the paper can take it. Your sketchbook paper does not need to be THAT thick to handle watercolor/marker--I use watercolor in these all the time and they come in nice small travel sizes.

If you want to try flats with markers I highly recommend Copic sketch markers and Chartpak AD markers. Both aren't cheap, but are fantastic quality. And be warned, Chartpaks are super chemical-y and smell awful, but they are also my favorite because they are so juicy and you can get perfectly smooth color with them (they bleed a lot so they take a bit to get used to!). Here's something I did with chartpaks, for ex: drawing. A lot of people mistake them for watercolors. I hear what you say about brush tips not covering enough area, but if you use the right markers they can actually create nice flats and are more forgiving since they don't streak as much as flat tips do, kind of like replicating a "watercolor" effect.

If you want to do watercolors, travel sets are actually fairly convenient and can easily fit into a small bag. I carry this watercolor travel set and a water brush (seriously great investment, so easy to use and way better than carrying around a water container). That's really all I need for the on the go watercoloring. I would also recommend gouache, but more for super thick flat colors. You could use them in a more watered down wash method, but in that case they're actually trickier than watercolors because they dry in a more opaque, permanent way than watercolors do.
posted by sprezzy at 10:58 PM on December 18, 2016

Actually, the second link might be watercolor now that I look at some of the edges of the greys more closely--or some of the rougher edges look like they could be from a dryer brushpen/tombow tip. This looks more like watercolor, for example. You can def just ask, too. Sometimes it's more about the application than the tool, anyway.
posted by sprezzy at 11:05 PM on December 18, 2016

For the former, I've tried charcoal sticks, and they don't seem to create the beautiful thick and consistent stroke that that artist has—they're frustratingly dark on the edges and light on the inside. Maybe my technique is wrong?

That paper probably has tooth, and you're probably using a smoother paper. Try grey chalk pastel sticks from cretacolor or wax/chalk pastel Pitt Pencils from faber castell? Just bring a sample sheet to the art store.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:09 AM on December 19, 2016

Alcohol markers (e.g. Copic; I have some cheaper brand whose name I forget) are magic at getting big areas of consistent color without the overlapping dark spots. Art supply stores sell them individually; pick up one or two and see how you like them.

And the paper is important! Charcoal will look and feel sad on graph paper no matter how skilled you are. Even cheap sketchbook paper will be an improvement. Alcohol markers will play a little better with graph paper but can bleed through.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:28 AM on December 19, 2016

Soft pastels.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:36 AM on December 19, 2016

Spray paint?
posted by bz at 3:16 PM on December 20, 2016

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