It’s amazing what you find when you get your head out of the ground

I have been going through my markers. Particularly, the greyscale ones. I have to expand upon my second-to-last post, where I spoke about Copics. While Copics are very expensive, I tried them out again today, and I can see why people would pay that amount for them.

In comparison to my other greyscale markers, these being Tombow Dual Brush Pens (the water-based version) and Faber-Castell PITT brush pens (also water-based, but water-resistant when dry, whereas Tombow Dual Brush Pens’ inks still flow if re-wet), the difference between each shade of grey is most consistent with the Copics. In addition, the Copics have some of the palest tints of grey I have ever seen — although some of these are too pale for my scanner to see.

You can see below, a scan of Copic Cool Grey #10 to #2, plus black (#100) and Special Black (#110), the last of which is basically just a more neutral, less blue-leaning black. Copic does note that Special Black is slightly less intense than their regular Black.

A value scale from black to light grey, worked in Copic markers.
Looks like I’ll have to revisit how to edit out stray marks…along with removing color data.

Comparatively speaking, the other two greyscale marker kinds I have, stop at a mid-grey (Tombow N75 and PITT Big Brush 232): about a C5, if I match it up to the Copic Cool Grey value scale I made (above) — where I edited out C1 and C0, as they were essentially invisible in the scan. I had to pick a cutoff threshold while preserving what I could of the values of the rest of the range. I think I got it pretty accurate, but it’s pretty safe to say that my screen isn’t set up the same way as yours.

In comparison, Copic gets way lighter, with C4 to C0: though I have little idea what C0 is used for, as it isn’t even visible to the eye (maybe, blending?). C1 is only barely visible to the eye.

The above image was the best I was able to get of the swatch tests I did today, with my scanner and image-editing software. I decided to focus on the Copics to give you an idea of the value range of the Cool Grey series. I do have scans of both the Tombow Cool Grey line and the Pitt Big Brush Cool Grey line…but both are heavily biased towards darker values, and not easily usable, if one wants a full range from black through midtones, to faint and clear. (Remember, I have art supplies from around six years ago; it’s possible that the value gaps have been closed by now.)

For future reference, to get (mostly) everything visible, on scanning the above, I had to set Brightness at -100, Contrast at 0, and Gamma at +3.0; then apply another Brightness adjustment of +25, and a Contrast adjustment of -50, after scanning. I also applied an Unsharp Mask at the scanning stage, before I learned that it probably wasn’t helping.

And yes, it is better to scan these things, than photograph them!

I’m not sure whether the choices I have now, in grayscale markers, are due to what my art stores stocked, or what I bought, or whether the ranges really did peter out at the pale end. In any case, I’ve had to discard some today (not the Copics; they were fine), due to the fact that they were drying up. (I can see the case for Copics being refillable, here.)

I do clearly remember not being able to find all the hypothetical versions of either Cool or Warm Grey in PITT brush pens. I think I found fragments of each range, with the majority of the pens available being extremely close to each other in terms of value (a.k.a. lightness or darkness), most of them being a middling dark or very dark, even though they were (technically) different inks. Then there would be a jump to some lighter value, with nothing (at least, no achromatic grey) in between. The spacing between the greys (at least, the Cool Greys) in Copics is much more regular (or was, when I bought mine).

As regards Tombows, I have the six shades from N15 (black) to N75 (a medium-light grey). Looking online, it seems that there are lighter versions of these — and two of them in the same hue range (N85 and N95) — but whether I’ve actually seen them in reality, is a different question. It actually looks like a bunch of the lighter Tombows have hue differences in addition to value, which is…just, not ideal, if you’re looking for standardization.

So the Copics appear very good where it comes to the regularity and standardization of ink mixes (which is reminding me of the regularity of bead sizes produced by Miyuki in their Delica brand: a wide color range and high level of accuracy in bead size and shape, mean that Delicas are better for some forms of work, than others: it depends on what you intend to make, whether they’re worth it). This could either swing for or against the artist, depending on the intended use and intended outcome of the art.

If the art is to be scanned into a computer, then one may very well want standardized tones with little or no color input, in order to gain a better idea of what the final product is going to look like, at the stage where colors (or tones) are being laid out. As I can see today, however…the paper matters, as well. (It may well also be that the scanner, and the scanner settings, matter; I’ve spent a good part of today, tinkering with these.)

I’m finding a lot of artifacting around the centers of my swatches, which tells me that the scanner is picking up grains of color. I can see them myself, on looking at the front of the paper: it’s not entirely a trick of the data. Looking at the back of the paper, I can see where the paper was saturated and where it was not-quite-so. If I’m correct, the darker flecks mark the places where the ink penetrated deeper.

I might be able to get around this by scanning the image in as a .TIFF and not a .JPEG, in the first place. Image compression could lead to the artifacting; and .JPEGs are a “lossy” compression mechanism, meaning there is no recovering what came before: I’d just have to scan it in, again. I also may be able to modulate the flecking by using a lighter marker (like a C1, C0, or 00) to fully and evenly saturate the paper and distribute the ink…

If, however, the artist is looking for varied shades of grey, and it doesn’t matter at all what the digital value of the grey is — for instance, if one has a Fine Art application where permanence matters, or where something is meant to stand alone and not be reproduced — then there are less expensive, more varied, and more archival alternatives to markers. Ideally, a person would have access to both…but not everyone actually needs, both.

Today I was using a Deleter NEOPIKO pad to test these out. What I can say: the brush nibs on both the Copics and the Blick Studio Brush markers felt very smooth on this surface; and neither of them bled through to the second page. The NEOPIKO pad is specifically designed for alcohol markers, meaning that in using the (water-based) Tombows, the surface became slightly distorted. I should let you know, though, that Tombows now have an alcohol-based line called ABT PRO. I haven’t yet tried them; I only came across them by accident while trying to look up the color range of the Tombow Dual Brush Pens.

I have some other Marker papers I can try: I haven’t done it yet because I’ve been screwing around with the digital end of things and investigating weirdnesses. There’s really no way to know how this stuff is going to work, without actually trying to do it and seeing what happens.

There may also be some way to finesse the use and scanning/digital retouching of the Copics and Blick Studio markers that I’m presently unaware of, as I have not used alcohol markers extensively, in the past. Anyway, I should note here to both experiment with the touch and saturation of the markers into the paper, and also to try out the two or three marker papers other than NEOPIKO, which I have and are still being produced, and see if anything turns out any better.

I’m hoping that I actually will be able to color my sketches by hand, and not totally depend on an image-editing program and tablet, to be able to do it in any serious way (which involves selections, and layer masks, and fills, and whatever else — though I just realized that if I made a layer mask…I may be able to paint over it with the brush tool [for a hard edge] and blend out the resultant soft edge).

But, you know, it is always a possibility that I could do sketches in pencil and lineart/inking over those sketches, black-on-white (which would be why the paper is translucent, I’m thinking), then transfer the work to the computer, arrange the pages, and add in transparent layers of color…or something like that. I’m not sure if the page composition comes before or after the coloring…but I’d have to learn to use page layout software, regardless.

I think that might be one of the only ways to preserve a clean white (or transparent) background, as well, while preserving all the distinct tones on top of that background. (If I turn up the Brightness to 100, I lose most of my work.) There should be a way to turn all the white in a scan to transparency (.PNG), however, and then put in a white (or other-colored) background behind it.

Yeah, I’m getting flashbacks to the Digital Arts program that I ended up migrating away from, for the regular Art program…but now that I’ve got some drawing and painting skills, why not migrate back in?

If you’re going to ask me if I’ve ever done all of this before, I would have to say that I can’t recall doing it — although I have sketched directly onto a tablet (not my favorite thing — I’m used to working larger, and I appreciate the feedback of traditional materials more than stylus-to-tablet), and I have made inked linework and transferred it in by scanning…I think?

I’ve also played around with transparent .PNGs before — not that it’s my absolute favorite thing to do…but that’s probably because I don’t understand everything about why the program does what it does (e.g. keeping an enclosed area of white, white, instead of turning it transparent like the rest of the white). Though, hey: now I’m getting flashbacks of Art Alive! for the Sega Genesis (which I played with — a lot — as a kid). 🙂 Not to mention the Paint program on the computer when I would be at work with M, as a kid…

As a note: I’ve now tried scanning things in as a .TIFF file; and the individual speckles in the middle of the swatches, have resolved into paper texture! The .TIFF is huge; however, I can see it being of use to scan and store finished (or nearly-finished) work. (I use the term, “nearly finished,” loosely.)

It’s getting pretty late; maybe I can knock out my second night of getting to bed by 10:30 tonight? (HA!) The principle of the thing is to try it though, right?

And yes, this took me 8 hours to write, again…I gotta do something to keep track of my time…

Oh! The other thing I realized is that adding in colors digitally, could save a lot of money, on colors: the major drawback to illustrating with markers is, of course, having to buy the markers. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to drop a lot of cash on a lot more Copics (other than possibly a more neutral or warm grey series)…which might become an issue if I illustrate by hand, in full-color, as I had hoped. With the computer, though…I’m much more secure with black-and-white and greyscale. I can take something that’s monochrome and easily add in transparent colors on top of it, and experiment with them, to my heart’s content.

I did take Color Dynamics, though the class was made for painting (subtractive color), not digital art (additive or subtractive color). I may be able to retake the class again, and this time focus more intensely on Digital Art (they’ve added this bit in since I took it) — or, experiment on my own, and do some reading on color spaces for Graphic Arts. No, I don’t totally understand RGB: not yet.

The last thing I’ll mention here is that it has become apparent to me tonight that it is very possible to work in the field of Digital Art, remotely. This is a big thing I’ve wanted for this stage of the Pandemic…and it does make sense to give it a try! After all, if I’m working on my own, I’m building skills — and not everyone will have those skills; even to the point I’m at, tonight, where I’ve had to run multiple images through the wringer to try and troubleshoot them.

There’s also the possibility of working with graphics in Digital Archives…

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