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As I get more into the paper craft world, I’ve been investigating which marker system I want to invest in for both the near-term and the long term.  Markers are popular both for writing and drawing by hand, as well as coloring in stampings and printed digital stamps.

Alcohol-based Markers:

First and foremost, I needed to figure out what the big deal is about Copic markers.  They are everywhere!  Clearly they offer a huge range of colors, which can be really helpful for producing quick coloring.  This is why we’ve invested in a massive quantity of Reaper acrylic paints for painting our gaming figures – of course we can blend color, but when you want quick consistent results, having a large pre-packaged palate is incredibly helpful.

On the Nattosoup blog, illustrator Becca has done some extensive testing to compare all of the alcohol-based markers.  A craft discount retailer near me carries Spectrum Noir, and I have been curious about them, so I really appreciated her detailed comparison.  Copic Sketch vs. Spectrum Noir
She also compares Prismacolor, ShinHan, and several other popular Copic alternatives to the Copic gold standard.

The short summary is that Copic Sketch has a lot of advantages.  Blendable and refillable, with interchangeable nibs and a compatible airbrush system, Copic Sketch also carries the most hefty pricetag.  Which is why the alcohol-based alternatives are worth checking out.

But what about comparing the big apple to the big orange?

Watercolor Markers:

Tim Holtz’ Distress Markers are the big brand of watercolor markers that most paper-crafters talk about.  The color palette is no where near as large as Copic Sketch’s, but the colors can be faded and blended with water just as alcohol-ink markers can be faded and blended with a blender solution.  And of course, watercolor markers have a different possible range of techniques and effects that depend on the water reaction:  blooming, using wet paper, soft or hard edges, fading, washes, and transparency.

Since I have always wanted to invest more time into watercoloring, but never really had project ideas that would suit the media, incorporating watercolor markers into my paper crafting seemed like a great idea.  Plus, Distress markers are a fraction of the cost of Copics!  There are other brands of watercolor marker (here’s a review of Letraset’s Aquamarkers, for example).  But I already have (and love) several of the Distress ink pads, which use the same color palette as the Distress markers.  Ok, and admittedly,  I’m also somewhat sucked into the whole Ranger brand.  It started as a Tim Holtz designer-crush and it’s just spread to their stable of other amazingly talented signature designers.  Don’t let me gush, now!

Here is a great review and test of Distress markers that shows some of the techniques possible with Distress ink.

Maybe some day I’ll try out the alcohol inks, but for now, I’m all excited to use “aquamedia” (the cool term for water-based supplies ranging from water-reactive inks, to acrylic paint).

One big disadvantage of water-based media is that not all papers stand up well to the extra moisture.  Wrinkling, layers rubbing off, and even surface cracking if embossing is combined with wet media are all potential problems I’ve already encountered.  So far, I’ve had the best success with watercolor paper, but I hope to sit down and do some experimenting with wet media on different types of paper very soon.

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The gears are meshing

For my father-in-law’s birthday card, I knew I wanted to include florals, because he’s a gardener. But I also wanted to make sure it was a bit masculine in colors. Since he’s a machinist, tinkerer, and inventor, I thought I might include some steampunky gears.

This week’s Flouishes Timeless Tuesday challenge was to use a non-rectangular shape. I don’t yet have any large dies for base layers of cards, so I had to improvise a bit.

I had an embossed, sanded and shimmer ink-sprayed piece of Core’dinations shatter card stock that I had done as my very first embossing experiment. That became my base, and it thought that the Tim Holtz Picture Wheel die would both reflect both the embossed gear shapes and the overall rounded shape that I wanted to use.

I really enjoyed watercoloring the stamping with Distress markers. It worked so well that I’ve decided to invest in the whole set eventually, so that I can watercolor on lunch breaks or on the couch. While it’s certainly possible to color, as I have been doing, with the Distress ink pads, a brush and some water, the markers are way more convenient and portable. I just hope that the water brush markers work as well as using a regular wet brush. We’ll see!

I’d like to try the alcohol inks like Copics or similar down the road, because of their broader range of colors, but right now I don’t need to invest in a whole separate technique because there is so much to explore in the world of water-reactive inks. Besides, I’ve always been drawn to watercoloring.

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Ingredients: Watercolor paper, Core’dinations Shatter card stock embossed with a Darice folder and sanded, flowers and sentiments from Flourishes (Passion flower and Tag Lines), Distress markers, Distress ink, Archival ink, Tattered Angels Glimmer Mist sprays

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Learning: I really need some better ways to cut a shaped card base. I drew guidelines and everything, but I simply could not cut a curve smooth enough for my satisfaction. Fortunately the recipient was more excited about the flowers and the gears – which lead to us experimenting with die cutting and embossing his basswood scraps – fun!

Given all the trouble I’ve had with Distress ink on acrylic clear stamps, I was very pleased to find that Distress inks and markers worked so well on Flourishes’ photopolymer stamps. I had fun blending colors using a Distress marker directly on the stamp for the inside of the card.

Loving: I loved the finished colors, the strong browns contrasted with the rich purple. I loved the way the picture wheel shows little peeks of the background. And I was delighted to find a use for the picture wheel die which I think I picked up as part of a lot. I was also happy to have finally found a use for the embossed gears sample I had made a couple of months ago.

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Tropical blue

A while back, my group of work friends decided that we should bring back magnets as souvenirs whenever one of us went on a cool vacation. Just something to bring a little fun decoration to the ubiquitous metal filing cabinet. Since I had a baby over the summer, vacations aren’t really on my horizon for a little while. So I’ve had in mind making my own cool artsy magnets for my friends.

At first the question was format. The tag dies that I have are pretty small, so I decided an Artist Trading Card (ATC) would be a good size. I picked up some watercolor paper recently, thinking that might be a preferable medium for using Distress inks.

I started by doing some drawings, first in pencil, then in Micron. I don’t think of myself as much of a line art illustrator, my preferred drawing style is more about realistic shading, but sometimes I surprise myself with some decent cartooning. Maybe I’m getting better as I get older, or maybe I’m just starting to accept that my style is somehow cutesier than I intend!  Whichever it is, I think these came out really great! I colored them with distress inks (using a paintbrush on the stamp pad) and distress markers.

After that, I started inking up the background in zones of color, and sprinkling with water.

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I used the outside of a previously cut ATC as kind of a viewfinder to decide just where to die cut my four cards.  After I cut apart the four sections, but before I die cut, I used Perfect Pearls mist to add a bit of glimmer (I don’t think you can tell from the photos).

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I fussy cut my three drawings (the fourth friend’s card was based on a stamped sentiment rather than a “favorite thing” drawing). Then I inked along the cut edges with the side of the brush end of a black distress marker to take care of any imperfect cutting. Do other people do that? I know some people leave a stylish white border, but I felt like that wasn’t really me. I can’t be the only person to black ink the edges, but I haven’t seen other people mention it.

The rest was a matter of stamping and gluing. I put magnetic strips on the back when all else was finished. And there we have it, four ATC magnets!

Ingredients:    Watercolor paper, Distress ink pads, Distress markers, Archival ink, Micron pen (liner), white acrylic paint, Harlequin Tim Holtz layering stamp, Perfect Pearls mist, tiny key from 7 gypsies, fastener/brad from Tim Holtz

Stamps from: Tim Holtz Visual Artistry City Central (creativity sentiment, cityscape, stars), Scrappy Cat (travel/adventure sentiments) , Flourishes (flowers, distressed flourish pattern and “be happy” sentiment), Bo Bunny (French background text)

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Learning:  After doing such a vast quantity of holiday cards in such a short time, it was really refreshing to tackle something with more creative freedom.  I really enjoyed trying to capture my friends’ interests in a tiny art card.  I feel that using the watercolor paper was a big breakthrough since I have been gravitating towards wet techniques.  I love a good Clean & Simple card, but for non-card applications I am really enjoying the texture that can be achieved by layering inks, water, mists, dry-brushed paints, stamps, and so forth.  I feel like I am still finding my paper-crafting voice, but I think that this project has taken me a long way towards refining my style.

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Loving:  I really feel like this project made a lot of things “click” for me!  I can’t wait to do more artsy ATCs, they are such a fun size!  Also, I feel like for the first time, I got some of these cool Tim Holtz techniques to really work for me.  I really enjoyed the watercoloring with the Distress inks and markers.  I just loved watching the colors come together!

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Challenge:  Because of how well the beautiful blues turned out in my tropical vacation ATC, I feel compelled to enter this one in the “Blues” Challenge at the Simon Says Stamp Monday Challenge blog.  I loved looking at all the design team inspiration, because blue is my favorite color!!  This one is for a coworker who plans great vacations like a skilled travel agent.  I feel like I really nailed that tropical turquoise blue.  I hope it inspires her to dream of the next great destination!

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Poking, creasing, and getting inky

The Florishes Timeless Tuesday Challenge for this week was to “Score it, Pierce it, Color it“. I initially thought that would be quite easy, as I have a retractable pick, and just lately picked up a scoring board and a handful of Distress Markers.

First I stamped the snowman with Archival ink.

Then, I tried to do the piercing to look like snowfall. I don’t have a cork mat for piercing, but the back side of my scoring board has molded plastic supports which made it an unexpectedly good support for the card while piercing it. I was able to vary the hole sizes to look more like snow.

Scoring using the scoring board was a little trickier than I expected, as my scoring tool kept jumping the track, but I eventually made some lines that I was pleased with to provide a sense of foreground. Of course, I later had to re-score the lines after I ironed the card, but I am getting ahead of myself.

For the background, I inked my craft sheet with Weathered Wood Distress ink pad, spritzed with some water and smoothed the card front into the result. I dried it with my heat gun, but it was quite warped and wobbley.

I inked colors into my image with a combination of Distress markers, and Distress ink pads used like watercolors with a brush. Because the background was so textured, the scored lines weren’t showing up well, so I tried to run an ink pad, and then a marker over the raised surface hoping to pick up the raised lines. Neither worked the way I hoped, and I tried to make the inked lines look more deliberately sketchy, but doing do practically obscured the scoring.

Then I had to iron the card because it was so warped from all that watery inking! After that, I rescored my lines. Definitely a lot more process to this card than most!

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Ingredients: Distress ink pads & markers, Tim Holtz blueprints stamp, retractable craft pick, Martha Stewart scoring board, Archival ink

Learning and improvement: I now believe that texture details like scoring and piercing would have been more visible on a solid background. I think the scoring lines were too shallow for trying to drag the ink pad across them. I would try both texture effects again. I think I’ve also discovered that not all papers should be used for very wet ink treatments. I just used the front of the A7 card which seems like standard card stock. Next time I think I would work on a watercolor paper or other suitable surface, then mount it onto my card. That would give me more style options too, as I could mount a contrast paper underneath.

Loving it: I like how the colors turned out. Despite the fact that my background ink style sabotaged my texture efforts, I still think the overall effect is pretty. I like the sketchy, watercolor effect I got when coloring the stamp.