My Love Affair and Subsequent Breakup with Copic Markers – a true story by Meghan Hetrick

I couldn’t think of a title, so I went with cheesy.  You’re welcome.

Anyway, on to the reason for this quick post (quick being a relative term, as I always end up droning on for longer than necessary):

In the past 48 hours, I’ve had three separate conversations regarding why I switched back to watercolor (mainly gouache, but I’ll talk about watercolor in this post since it’s by far the more accessible medium) after seemingly “mastering” Copic markers.  I know there are a bunch more folks out there wondering too, and considering all three conversations happened on three separate social media platforms, I thought it’d be easiest for me to just do a blanket post that I can point people at, because this is a question I will always answer and this is a way to save me some time when answering the same thing repeatedly (update while writing this: we’re up to four times being asked!)

There are a number of reasons:

  1. Cost
  2. Ease of Acquisition
  3. Portability
  4. Legacy
  5. Boredom

Let’s go into these into more detail so you know where I’m coming from here.

Cost

A – The initial investment for Copics is cost prohibitive to many.  At an average of $6-8 each marker, plus the refills which average about $5-$9 each, an initial batch of 24 colors (your primary ROYGBIV and gray/black, and a dark, medium, light shade of each so you have value range) plus refills will run about $364-$408.  For about $150, I can get an entire set of Cotman watercolors (or rather, every color you’ll ever need), some sable brushes, and some ridiculously good stock to work on.  The brushes, if you treat them well, will last you a lifetime, and watercolor is by FAR the most bang for your buck for mediums, because a little bit of watercolor will go a LONG long way.  Seriously.  I have tubes I bought a DECADE ago, and I’m still working through them.  Which brings me to:

B – Watercolor doesn’t ever “dry out” like a marker does.  It’ll solidify if you leave it in open air for a bit, but the magic is that you just add water and bam, you’re back in business.  Contrast that to some of the markers I have here that I haven’t touched in a few months, and they’re damn near useless because the tips have hardened/crystalized.  They’re stored properly, but the air tight seal/satisfying click when a cap is on, well, that wears down over time and eventually the markers don’t seal like they should and they subsequently dry out.

C –  Copics are fucking expensive when you use them like I do.  I like to have a very painterly look to my work, which requires me to saturate the stock I’m working on to a point of ridiculousness.  I run through ink like an Epson printer, e.g. I am CONSTANTLY refilling these markers.  Yes, having the refills on hand helps offset some of the initial cost quite considerably, as I’m not constantly buying new markers, but it’s not an equal tradeoff to something like watercolor.

Ease of Acquisition

Serious sounding phrase just to say that Copics can be a giant pain in the ass to get ahold of at times, especially such as when you’re in the middle of a deadline and a marker runs out.  Rarely can you just run to Michaels (or your local art/craft store of choice) and be able to pick up the EXACT color you need and get right back to work.  Usually, you need to order that thing, and when you do you’d better—

Hope that they’re in stock.  Seriously.  There was a period of about a year where Copics, especially refills, were CONSTANTLY out of stock.  I haven’t checked to see if they’ve gotten better, but JFC, no, I’m not waiting two months to finish a damn piece because I can’t get that one specific color I need that also can’t be made by mixing other colors (I DID get to a point where I was making my own gray refills, because I couldn’t get ahold of the proper ones).  Almost all the watercolor paints I use I can walk into just about any decent art store and get exactly what’s needed.

Portability

Copics are obnoxious to travel with.  They’re heavy, they take up a lot of space, and if you screw up even slightly while packing them for a flight, they have a tendency to explode.  And refills are a special kind of hell, because they’re alcohol based and TSA folks don’t seem to really like seeing a whole bunch of alcohol containers coming through (that’s my experience at least), so they need to go in your checked bag, which is subject to temperature and pressure variations, which can cause a whole bunch of fucked up issues.

Contrast that watercolors, where I can just throw a pan tray of colors, a couple of brushes, and a pad of paper into my tiny ass purse, and I can set up *anywhere* to work.  No questions usually asked either, because if TSA folks see that stuff, they can generally extrapolate “artist” vs “possible alcoholic or likely terrorist.”

It’s also a LOT easier to set up at shows, again because I have minimal stuff with me.  It’s a trick getting people to not knock your water container over, but I’ve gotten past that for the most part by bringing water brushes with me (a brush pen with water in the reservoir instead of ink).

Legacy

This is something I don’t think a lot of people realize: while Copics are technically archival, in that they won’t eat through and destroy the stock they’re used on, they are absolutely not lightfast.  What this means is that if someone wants to display this artwork anywhere, they have to invest in UV protective coverings, otherwise these things will fade in a stupid short amount of time.

From http://www.theenchantedgallery.com/lightfast.html, a treasure trove of info. They did the hard work for me.

I’ve experienced this same thing myself, though I just got pissed and threw the color guides out instead of keeping them for learning purposes.

I didn’t know this when I first started using Copics.  I fell into the fad like a number of other folks, but once I realized the problem, I was not okay with it.  My art is NOT cheap, and if someone’s going to be dropping $2k on a piece of art from me, then I damn well want to make sure that the piece they get looks just as good 10 years from now as it did the day they bought it (as much as possible, at least).

There’s a deep other side to this, in that I can’t have kids, so my art is my legacy.  I want this stuff to last damn near forever, and with Copics, that won’t happen.  That’s not everyone’s case, but it’s definitely a factor for me.

Boredom

This is absolutely an individual thing for me, but bluntly, I got bored with Copics.  I like being challenged with a medium, because I like the process of learning.  Once I get to a point where I can immediately figure out how I’m going to approach a piece with a particular medium, then it’s time for me to go play somewhere else for a bit.  Again, that’s me, and I know not everyone enjoys that process, but I sure as hell do, LOL.

Closing Thoughts

That should just about sum everything up, really.  You can do some gorgeous work with Copics, no doubt about it, but for long-term use, I just don’t see the value in them anymore.  To me, they represent a fad where some people looked at art they admired, realized that it was done in marker, then went OMG I NEED TO USE MARKER TOO, and it just snowballed from there.  They’re not junk though, and they do have their uses, especially in production art where longevity isn’t as much of a concern, or on things that won’t readily accept a wet medium (sketch cards, for example).  

The biggest selling point for most is convenience.  You don’t have to know much about mixing colors to use them, since the colors are already ready to go in the tube.  Also, you can get the same color every time, and not have to worry about your first batch not matching the second.  That’s where markers shine.  But for someone who DOES know how to mix colors, or even better, knows how to manipulate the batch matching issues (for example, uses the variations in tones to create texture), then markers are really kinda pointless for all but some very specific projects.

The image above sums it up perfectly: They’re a *design* tool, not a *fine art* supply.

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