I’ve always liked the idea of markers, but any time I’ve actually got my hands on some, I can never really get them to do what I want. I suppose it’s because I’m used to being able to blend things like you can with paint, but I always had trouble getting smooth gradations between two colours, or even smooth layers of one colour since the markers always left ugly marks any time the strokes overlapped. I was also put off by the fact that most markers aren’t permanent, meaning that anything I did that came out well would have to be hidden away in a drawer rather than being displayed where it would fade.
While wasting time on YouTube a month or so ago, I came across a video of an artist using Winsor & Newton’s watercolour markers, which I hadn’t even known existed. Rather than just being marker pigments, these were supposedly actual watercolour paints in marker format, which could be used straight on the paper or washed to create subtle blends. They looked like they’d suit me a lot more than other markers I’d tried, and because I’d sold a lot of old, unwanted art supplies on eBay, I had a bit of money extra money lying around, so I ordered the 12 colour tin of watercolour markers to try for myself.
The 12 set comes in a lovely silver tin (I suspect it’s aluminium) with the Winsor & Newton logo embossed on the lid.
Along with the 12 colour set, I also ordered four additional colours: Cadmium Orange, Quinacridone Magenta, Burnt Sienna and Payne’s Grey. I am used to having most of these colours in pan sets and I figured I might as well make sure I had all the colours I wanted (I normally don’t buy an orange paint, preferring to mix it, but since these are markers I wanted to reduce the mixing I would have to do on paper where possible).
Here’s a colour chart for the 16 colours I have.
Like a lot of markers out there, Winsor and Newton watercolour markers are double ended; one end has a fine point like a pen or texta, useful for precise marks and fine details, while the other end has a larger nib shaped like a brush point, enabling wide or varied strokes. They are big, chunky markers, and as long as the lids are on, they won’t roll around your table thanks to a little wedge of plastic on one of the lids.
Pigment information is provided on the side of the marker, and it’s worth double checking this before you buy markers if you’re used to having the same colours in traditional watercolours, as many of them are actually hues or mixtures of multiple pigments. Yellow Ochre, for example, is usually just made from PY42 or PY43 in most brands, but the marker version consists of PY42, PY83 and PR179. For this reason it is also worth doing some lightfastness testing on them as, though they are from a reputable manufacturer and consist of mostly artist grade pigments and are most likely more permanent than regular markers, they may not necessarily be as lightfast as artist grade watercolours you’ve bought in tubes or pans (that being said, the back of the box for the 12 colour tin does claim they are lightfast, so who knows?).
Not surprisingly, the watercolour markers aren’t quite as strong as traditional watercolours, but they are very close. I was disappointed with how light Alizarin Crimson Hue was, as even Permanent Alizarin Crimson (which is usually a hue to represent the fugitive Alizarin Crimson) is much darker and deeper in other brands, and Dioxazine Violet wasn’t quite the deep royal purple I am used to.
The Winsor & Newton watercolour markers feel more or less the same as regular markers when used straight on the paper. They lay down smoothly and evenly, with none of those annoying overlap marks. When the marks are fresh, they dissolve quite easily, though if the marker has been allowed to dry, it takes a bit more scrubbing. In fact, on one piece where I got distracted half way through and had left the marker to dry for a full day by the time I was able to come back to it, it was very difficult to get much of the colour to move when I applied a wet brush to it. When washed, some of the colours seem a little weak in relation to the amount of solid colour applied, but most remain strong and bright.
Because the colours go on strong, it can be difficult to get paler hues unless you use water with them. One of the main ways I used these markers was by outlining the area I wanted to colour with the marker, and then using a wet brush to drag the colour into the main area. Another way you can get a more diluted wash is by wetting the paper first and then scribbling over it with the marker. Though some of the water will absorb into the marker tip when you do this, it doesn’t ruin it; simply scribble with it a little to work the water out of it and it will soon return to its full strength.
If you miss the ability to mix the markers like traditional watercolours, there’s a way around that. You can ‘scribble’ on your palette (seems to work just as well with porcelain or plastic) to deposit a decent amount of pigment, where you can either add lots of water to dilute it, or mix in another colour by scribbling next to it with a second marker and then blending the two with your brush. The colours aren’t quite as strong when you do this, but you can still build up to a deeper colour by glazing more layers over it.
Here’s a little painting of some fuchsias I did with the Winsor & Newton watercolour markers.
If you buy these expecting them to be exactly like normal graphic markers or traditional watercolour paints, you will most likely be disappointed. They really are a blend between the two mediums, and the flexibility they offer makes them well worth trying, whether you want them for adding detail to studio work or you just want a portable watercolour sketching set for travelling. If you don’t want to shell out for a full set, at least buy one or two colours to try them for yourself. I really like the Winsor & Newton watercolour markers and will definitely keep using them, but I’ll reserve them for sketches and fun drawings than for serious, realistic paintings.