Three Cheap Ways To Make Trendy Types Of Art

Well, I thought that I’d write a proper instructional article since it’s been a few days since I last wrote one. So, for today, I’ll be looking at a few interesting artistic trends and telling you how you can re-create them in your own art without spending a ridiculous amount of money.

1) Vivid “retro-style” palettes: I’m not sure what the technical name for this trend is, but this style of colour palette been a feature of my art style for over a year. It looks a bit like this:

“Stage Lighting” By C. A. Brown

“Bus Stop” By C. A. Brown

Initially, it was something that I learnt from a really set of “Doom II” levels called “Ancient Aliens“. However, when preparing an article a couple of days ago, I realised that another game I’d played a couple of years earlier called “The Gift” also contains a couple of examples of it too. Then, when I saw the first “Guardians Of The Galaxy” movie a few months ago, I was delighted to see it there too.

Although influenced by the 1970s-90s, this style of palette seems to have become something of a slight trend in the 2010s and it’s really easy to re-create.

For starters, try to make sure that bright green, orange, purple, blue, yellow and/or red appear in your art. Then, (and here’s the clever bit) make sure that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of your picture is covered in black ink, paint, pastel etc… These dark areas make the rainbow colours stand out by contrast and gives them that retro-style vividness too.

If you’re editing scans/photos of your traditional art using image editing software, you can also enhance this effect by decreasing the brightness levels slightly, increasing the contrast levels heavily and increasing the colour saturation heavily.

In most editing programs, this can be done by looking for two options called something like “brightness/contrast” and “hue/saturation/lightness” in the program’s menus.

2) Marker pen-style art (for less!): If you look at art videos on Youtube, one art medium that you’ll see a lot are alcohol-based markers. However, even small sets of no-brand alcohol-based markers can have eyebrow-raising prices if you’re on a budget.

So, what’s a good, and slightly cheaper, substitute?

Well, you can use an older art medium in a very slightly unusual way. This technique won’t make art that looks exactly like marker pen art, but it’ll look very vaguely similar – if slightly less bold. Without any digital post-processing, it looks a bit like this:

I’ve used this example before, but this is an unprocessed (except for cropping) scan of the picture. It’s closer to the original painting, but slightly more faded due to the limitations of the scanner.

Get some cheap watercolour paper (the more absorbent the better!), a wet paintbrush and some watercolour pencils (which, unless you buy fancy brands, cost far less per pencil than a set of markers costs per pen). Then apply a decent amount of pressure when using the watercolour pencils. Really saturate the paper with pigment. This will make your art look like a bold pencil drawing.

Then, lightly moisten your paintbrush (the less water the better!) and very gently go over your art with the brush, being sure to clean the brush between going over differently-coloured areas. The less pressure, the better. The goal here is to add just enough water to convert the pigment into paint, but not enough to turn it into more traditional “watery” watercolour paint.

The cheaper and more absorbent your watercolour paper is, the better this effect will look! Absorbent paper stops the paints from sliding around/ running into each other too much, although it does carry the risk of the paper becoming over-saturated with water if you aren’t very careful about the amount of water you use (again, less is more!).

If you want to make your art look even more like a marker pen drawing, then either buy a cheap waterproof ink rollerball pen (they’re about £2-4 each) and make a line drawing on the page before you begin painting. Or, if this is outside your budget, just wait until your painting dries and then go over the dry picture with a non-waterproof ink pen.

If you’re editing scans/photos of your art digitally, then just use the “brightness, contrast & saturation” trick I mentioned earlier to give your watercolour pencil art even more of a “marker pen” style look. Like this:

This is a digitally-edited version of the picture I showed you earlier – with digital alterations to the brightness, contrast and colour saturation levels.

3) Digital-style art (without graphics tablets or expensive programs): Digital art is more popular than ever these days. However, if you watch any Youtube videos about it, you’ll often see artists using an array of fancy high-end graphics tablets and expensive professional programs. But, you can make digital-style art with a pen, a piece of paper, some basic electronic equipment and a free open-source program.

As long as you have a computer (even a low-end one) and either a digital camera (even a phone camera) or, even better, a cheap scanner – then you can make some really cool digital-style art at a low cost. This is a technique that I initially heard about in this “making of” page for my favourite webcomic (“Subnormality” by Winston Rowntree) – but you don’t need the commercial image editing program that Rowntree uses.

Anyway, start by making an ordinary line drawing with pens and paper (being sure not to leave any gaps between areas that are going to be different colours). Once you’ve done this, you can then add the colours digitally.

You don’t need an expensive image editing program to do this! You can even legally download a totally free, open-source program called “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program) -which has versions for Windows, Linux and Mac. This program has many of the basic features that commercial editing programs do and is reasonably user-friendly too.

Anyway, how do you turn a photo/scan of some line art into something that looks like digital art?

Firstly, open your line art in whatever program you use, find your program’s “cropping tool”, “snipping tool”, “crop tool” etc.. (the icon for this feature usually looks like two diagonally-overlapping “L” shapes. But, in GIMP 2.6, the icon for it looks like a scalpel/craft knife) and cut away any unneeded background things, like the scanner bed or anything in the background of your photo.

Then look for the “brightness/contrast” option in your editing program and lower the brightness levels and increase the contrast levels until your art looks suitably bold. Like this piece of line art:

This is a piece of line art that has been cropped. After this, I’ve made it look bolder by decreasing the brightness levels and increasing the contrast levels. I think that most programs have an option called “Threshold” that does something similar to this too, but I haven’t really tried this.

Then look for an area selection tool in your program. The icon for this tool will often look like a magic wand of some kind. It allows you to select any self-contained segment of a picture. Here’s an example of the tool (called the “Fuzzy Select Tool”) in GIMP 2.6:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Most image editing programs have a tool like this. It’s incredibly useful!

After you’ve selected an area, you can use a number of your editing program’s features to add colour. For example, in GIMP 2.6, the easiest way to do this is to just use the “bucket fill” tool (after selecting a colour by double-clicking on the “foreground colour” square at the bottom of the toolbox menu).

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Adding colours digitally in GIMP 2.6. This is super-simple, since you can just use the “bucket fill” tool to add colour to the areas you’ve selected with the magic wand. You can also choose the colour by clicking on the squares in the menu to the left of the picture.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Five Basic Things To Remember Before You Use Watercolour Pencils For The First Time

2017 Artwork Watercolour pencil basics article

Watercolour pencils are one of the most awesome art mediums out there. If you’ve never heard of them before, then they’re basically just coloured pencils, whose lead is made out of watercolour pigment. What this means is that they will turn into watercolour paint when you go over your drawing with a wet paintbrush.

They’ve been around for literally decades, although I first heard of them in autumn 2013 and only started using them after Christmas 2013.

Not only are watercolour pencils considerably more practical (and ten times less messy) than traditional paints are, but they also combine the best elements of both drawing and painting. Since I come from something of a drawing background, these pencils allowed me to become a painter without having to re-learn literally everything.

Still, if you’re new to watercolour pencils, then here are some basic things that you should probably know before you start using them:

1) Use the right paper: Since turning a drawing made with watercolour pencils into a painting involves going over it with a wet paintbrush, the paper needs to be able to handle getting wet. Normal printer paper doesn’t really do this very well, and it’ll become crinkly when it dries and/or it might disintegrate if it gets too wet.

As such, you’ll need to use watercolour paper. It doesn’t matter which type you use – since even the cheapest and thinnest types of watercolour paper will often work well with watercolour pencils, for the simple reason that you’re adding less water than you probably would if you were making a traditional watercolour painting (eg: you’ll probably just be gently sliding the paintbrush over the pigment, rather than using more painterly techniques like “wet in wet” etc..).

In fact, cheaper types of watercolour paper can often be better for the simple reason that you’ll be less hesitant about using them for practice paintings etc…. Plus, they often come in sketchbooks (rather than as loose sheets of paper), which is often far more convenient to use too.

2) Use the right pens: Likewise, if you’re also including ink drawings in your watercolour pencil artwork, then don’t use normal ballpoint or fountain pens! Most types of writing inks are water-soluble, and they will turn into a horrible, smudged, blurry mess when you go over them with a wet paintbrush.

As such, look for drawing pens that contain either waterproof or “water resistant” ink. They can be a bit more expensive than writing pens can be (eg: they can cost £1-4 per pen, depending on where you buy them and how many you buy at a time), but they mean that you can add watercolour pencil to your ink drawings without worrying about the ink smudging.

3) Use the right brush: This is all a matter of personal preference, but you need to find a brush that works well for you. Although I used an old set of traditional paintbrushes (of varying sizes) when I started out with watercolour pencils, I quickly moved on to using an inexpensive medium-tip waterbrush instead.

If you’ve never heard of a “waterbrush” before, it’s a type of paintbrush with a water reservoir in the handle (which can be squeezed gently to release water onto the nib). What this means is that you don’t constantly have to keep dipping your brush into a pot of water when adding water to your watercolour pencil art. Although, obviously, you’ll still need to wipe the end of the brush between different colours.

Still, there are some painterly effects that are more difficult to do with a waterbrush than they are with a traditional brush. But, if you’re just adding colour to drawings with your watercolour pencils, then a waterbrush is often a lot easier, more portable and more convenient than traditional brushes are.

4) Use a backstop: If you’re using cheaper watercolour paper and/or a watercolour sketchbook, then get a large piece of cardboard that you can slide behind the page before you add water. With cheaper papers, this stops small amounts of water seeping through the page and damaging whatever is undeneath it.

Plus, if the cardboard sheet is larger than the page, it allows you to paint right up to the edges of the page without worrying about getting paint on the edge of the sketchbook and/or anything nearby.

If you’re using loose sheets of watercolour paper, then you’ll probably need to find a board or a desk (that you don’t mind getting messy) which you can attach the paper to with a low-adhesive type of tape (I’m not sure what exact type of tape you need to use, since I always use sketchbooks. But, I’ve seen footage of artists using something that vaguely resembles masking tape or medical tape in art videos on Youtube).

5) Don’t fuss about brands: If you’re just starting out, then the important thing is to actually start painting with your watercolour pencils. As such, don’t fuss about what brand of pencils to use. Intead, just make sure that you have all of the colours of pencil that you need and/or have the pencils you can mix to make the colours you need.

Yes, different brands of watercolour pencils behave in very slightly different ways and there are slight colour variations between brands, but they will all allow you to make watercolour paintings.

If you’re just starting out, then the most important thing is to get as much practice as you can – so, if you have to use cheaper pencils, then use them! Most of them will work just as well as more expensive ones will (although the paint may be slightly thinner or more watery in consistency) and you will be able to use them a lot without worrying about “wasting” expensive pencils.

The only other thing that I’d recommend is to look for loose black watercolour pencils. If your art is even slightly gloomy, then having extra black pencils (since many watercolour pencil sets only contain one) is an absolute must!


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

“Similar” Art Mediums Can Be More Different Than You Think – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Different art medium article sketch

Well, the day before I originally wrote this article, I reluctantly ended up trying out one of those trendy “adult colouring book” pages which are all the rage at the moment.

Personally, I found it to be pretty much the opposite of “relaxing” (it was like making art, but without any of the fun, creativity or imagination). However, this article isn’t a rant about colouring books – it’s an article about art mediums. It’s an article about how “similar” art mediums can actually be very different.

One of the strange things about this colouring page was that it wasn’t printed on watercolour paper. In fact, it was just printed on ordinary paper – which meant that I had to use an art medium that I hadn’t really used much since late 2013/ early 2014. I am, of course, talking about ordinary colouring pencils.

Back in the day, this used to be my art medium of choice. In fact, I once foolishly wrote an article talking about how they were “better than painting”. Of course, I wrote that article before I discovered watercolour pencils.

Watercolour pencils are like colouring pencils but, since they turn into watercolour paint when you go over them with a wet paintbrush, they also include all of the advantages of using paints too. They are objectively superior to ordinary colouring pencils in almost every way, other than the fact that they require that you use a specific type of paper.

Yet, there I was, sitting in front of this page and using an old set of colouring pencils that I hadn’t really used properly in about two or three years.

The really interesting thing that I noticed when colouring in this trendy pre-made drawing was the fact that I instinctively used the colouring pencils in a very different way to how I used to use them when they were my favourite art medium.

For example, when I wanted to colour part of the picture orange, I didn’t just pick up an orange pencil (like I used to). Instead, I first went over the area with a yellow pencil and then went over it lightly with a red pencil, almost like I was mixing paints. Yes, I knew that pencils could be blended back in 2013, but I didn’t really do it that much. These days, I did it without even really thinking about it.

Likewise, adult colouring pages are renowned for including lots of tiny fine details. A few years ago, I would have loved this. But since I’ve only been using watercolour pencils to add colour to my drawings over the past three years or so, I instinctively took a very different approach to these parts of the picture.

Since you can’t really use paints for adding colour to super-fine details in drawings, I found that I was automatically separating the picture into larger areas and filling these areas in with a single colour. Just like I would do if I was using watercolours.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad. One of the things that really surprised me was that I still found myself automatically using all of the knowledge about colour theory and shading that I’d learnt over the past year or two when filling out this colouring page.

The interesting thing was that when I first discovered watercolour pencils, I thought that they were “just like colouring pencils” but that they allowed me to produce something that looked more like a painting. I thought that they were a way for me to keep my pencil drawing skills, whilst also being able to call myself a “painter” at the same time.

However, over time, I learnt more about the medium and realised that I could do things with it that I couldn’t do with ordinary colouring pencils. This happened so gradually that I didn’t even really notice the change in the way that I make art until I returned to the old art medium that I’d abandoned a couple of years ago.

So, yes, changing the art medium that you use – even to something that looks very “similar” and requires similar skills – will also change the way that you think about making art. All in all, this is a good thing – but it was still somewhat shocking.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Seven Very Basic Things I’ve Learnt From Using Watercolour Pencils For Three Months

2014 Artwork Watercolour pencils three months sketch

[Note: This article is aimed at absolute beginners, so I apologise in advance if I end up stating the obvious for most of this article]

Well, it’s been a little over three months since I got my first set of watercolour pencils as a Christmas present. So, I thought that I’d share a few very basic things I’ve learnt from using these pencils.

In case you’ve never heard of them before, watercolour pencils are basically coloured pencils which turn into watercolour paint when water is applied. Basically, you colour a picture with the pencils and then go over it with a wet paintbrush. So, if you can draw, you can also paint. It’s the best of both worlds.

Anyway, here are seven very basic tips for using watercolour pencils.

1) Always use watercolour paper: I’m still not sure exactly why you’re supposed to do this (it’s something to do with watercolour paper being stronger than normal paper and not crinkling too much when it dries), but you should always use watercolour paper when you’re using watercolour pencils.

One of the downsides of this is that watercolour paper is more expensive than ordinary paper. So, unless you’re planning to hang your work in a gallery for several centuries, don’t be afraid to go for the cheapest watercolour paper you can find when you’re starting out.

Generally, it’s probably best to go for watercolour sketchbooks than buying loose sheets of watercolour paper (I don’t know, if you’re in the UK, the cheapest one is probably the 48-page “Boldmere Field Sketch Book” from a shop called The Works).

2) Start with the lighter parts of the painting when adding water: Unless you change the water you use for cleaning your paintbrush extremely regularly, then it is usually best to start adding water to the lighter parts of your painting first in order to prevent them from being “muddied” by either the water you’re using or from leftover paint on your paintbrush.

3) Always use waterproof ink when drawing: This one is pretty obvious really, but non-waterproof inks will usually tend to run and smudge when you add water to them. So, always use waterproof ink. As a general rule, if the word “waterproof” isn’t printed on the side of your pen, then don’t use it with watercolour pencils.

4) Use coloured pencils or ink for borders: If you are painting a darker area next to a lighter area, then be sure to draw a solid 3-5 mm border around the edge of the lighter area in ink or ordinary coloured pencils (depending on the colour of the darker area) before colouring in the rest of the darker area with watercolour pencils.

This is because painting, by it’s very nature, is a lot less precise than drawing – even if you use a very fine brush, then there is still a risk of smudging. Drawing a border first helps to prevent this.

Plus, as I mentioned in another article, ordinary coloured pencils can be extremely useful for adding fine details to watercolour pencil paintings too.

5) Don’t be afraid to mix colours: Since watercolour pencils turn to paint as soon as you add water, it’s very easy to mix colours with them. All you have to do is to go over the same area of your picture with more than one pencil.

Yes, it takes a bit of practice and experimentation to work out how to mix colours well (and I’m still learning how to do this) but this allows you to create pretty much any colour that you can imagine.

6) Use a variety of brush sizes: Again, this is fairly obvious, but when I started using watercolours, I always used a larger brush. Surprisingly, it took me about a month to realise that – for a lot of what I was painting – a smaller brush can work a lot better. So, don’t be afraid to use different brush sizes when you’re painting.

7) Use a backstop: When I’m painting, I usually put a large sheet of cardboard behind the sketchbook page that I’m using. This prevents the water soaking through the paper onto the page behind it and it also allows me to paint up to the very edges of the page without worrying about getting paint on any of the other pages.

Plus, after a while, you’ll end up with something that looks like this too:

And I'm sure that this could probably be passed off as a work of modern art of some kind or another..

And I’m sure that this could probably be passed off as a work of modern art of some kind or another..


Sorry that this article was so basic, but I hope that it was useful 🙂