The first in what will be my on-going “how-to” series, this step-by-step tutorial features Tombow dual tipped brush markers as the main art supply. This is a fun & easy method for creating background paper for your lettering and illustration projects. I have broken it down into baby steps so if it seems overly complicated, that’s the reason. I wanted to be sure that anyone could create this project, even if you have never worked with markers before.
Tombow markers are water-based, which means that you can use a watercolor brush to blend colors before the marker ink dries on the paper. This is what gives the final project that lovely watercolor look. Read on to learn how to do this simple project for yourself.
- Tombow brush markers in 6 – 9 colors
- A spray bottle for spritzing water
- 2 – 3 sheets of bubble wrap with bubbles in 2 – 3 different sizes
- Watercolor paper
- Painter’s tape or washi tape
- A protective surface for your table
- Heat gun or blow dryer
- Paper towels/kitchen roll
- A watercolor brush (optional, I use a Pentel Aqua Brush here)
- Paper trimmer (optional)
Step 1 is to always be sure your table surface is protected. I prefer to use paper that came to me as part of packaging. This is a great way to recycle & make use of the large sheets of paper companies use in order to protect the items they ship out to their customers. I flatten the paper on my table, fold it into quarters & store it for future use. Some of this paper is so nice that I will cut it into smaller pieces & use it as practice paper.
Step 2: use the painter’s or washi tape to “frame” your watercolor paper on all 4 sides while also being sure it is adhered to the protective sheet of paper. Be careful to place the tape on the watercolor paper so that you end up with 4 equally wide margins on all four sides of the paper. Unfortunately, as you can see in the photo I failed to do this correctly across the top of the paper. I will conclude with a quick & simple fix for this problem that requires the use of a paper trimmer.
Step 3: Choose the colors of brush markers you plan to use for your background colors. Keep in mind you will be doing some type of hand-lettering on top of the background, or perhaps a line drawing. Choose colors that will complement the theme & mood of your final piece.
I chose a total of 9 colors for my background paper, but you can choose 6. Just be sure you use the same number of markers for each step of the process. There are 3 steps involved when adding color to the watercolor paper s you will need 3 sets of brush markers.
When choosing colors, it is important to go from light to dark when adding color to the paper. Begin by choosing the 2 – 3 lightest shades of the colors you prefer for your background paper. For example, I began with a medium shade of yellow (# 985), a light shade of pink (# 703), & a light shade of lavender (# 685).
For the second batch of colors I then chose slightly darker shades of yellow (# 933), pink (# 743) , & lavender (# 676) . For the final 3 colors I chose a light orange (# 925), a magenta or dark pink (# 725) , & a dark royal purple (# 679) (my favorite color!).
Step 4: Beginning with the larger size of bubble wrap use the first set of 2 – 3 colors & add color directly onto the bubble wrap. I recommend you use clear plastic bubble wrap. One of my pieces is black & that made it very difficult to discern where I had added color & where I hadn’t, so that was mostly guess-work. If you use a clear bubble wrap it will be easy for you to see where you have added color so you can be sure not to miss any spots.
You do not have to cover every milimeter of the plastic wrap. Add color in a seemingly random pattern.
Step 5: Spritz water onto the bubble wrap you have just colored. I used the water spritz bottle that comes in the Tombow Blending Kit. I worked on an 8 x 8″ sheet of watercolor paper & I spritzed the bubble wrap 5 – 6 times. You do need a fair amount of water for this, which is the reason I recommend using watercolor paper that can hold water well. Depending on the size of paper you are working on you may be spritzing less or more water than I did.
Step 6: Carefully turn the bubble wrap over & gently lay it on the watercolor paper. Next, carefully put pressure on the bubble wrap with the palms of your hands. It’s best to use the palms of your hands, not your fingers. Using your palms helps to distribute the color more evenly on the paper. Be sure to hold the bubble wrap in place so it does not move around on top of the watercolor paper. Carefully press all along the bubble wrap until you feel you have pressed down on all areas to which you have added color. SLOWLY lift the bubble wrap straight up from the paper to reveal the color that is now on the watercolor paper.
Step 6A: (optional): At this point you may wish to use a watercolor brush to gently blend any pools of color. If you leave the pools of color alone they will dry darker than the rest of the impression made by the bubbles. This is an aesthetic choice so if you would like a more blended look with a bit of texture, use the watercolor brush as I did. I did not use the watercolor brush every time I added color to the paper. Again, this is an individual choice that is best determined by the overall look you’re going for with your background.
Important Tip: If you are using a watercolor brush to blend the color be sure to rinse it out in between blending each color, or as I am doing in this picture here, if you are using an Aqua Brush (a brush with a plastic handle that holds the water), then squeeze a drop or two of water through the brush & out onto paper towel. Dab the brush repeatedly onto the paper towel until it stops transferring color. At that point you are ready to move on to blending the next color. Repeat this step in between every color. It is normal for the brush tip to become stained & this will not transfer any additional color to the paper.
Step 7: Use a heat gun or blow dryer to dry the marker onto the paper.
Step 8: Wipe off the bubble wrap with a clean paper towel between each use. You will be using this same piece of bubble wrap in a few minutes with another set of colors so it needs to be clean or you will end up with a muddy looking background.
Step 9: Use the second set of markers you chose & color on the same size bubble wrap you just used.
Repeat Steps 4 – 8 (Step 6A is optional).
Step 10: Use the third set of markers you chose to color on the smaller size of bubble wrap. I switch to a smaller size of bubble wrap in order to fill in gaps & to add a bit of extra texture to the final piece.
Repeat Steps 4 – 8. Step 6A, although formerly optional, is now recommended at
this point in order to avoid creating pools of darker color in some areas, but not in others. If you prefer to keep some areas really dark with color, then simply do not use the watercolor brush to do any blending, or blend only in certain areas & not others. Darker areas can add interest to a piece, but it all depends on what you will be doing with the background.
Add clean water to your brush to blend the marker ink on the paper. Be sure to begin the blending process quickly and move fast before the marker ink dries on the paper. Lefties: begin blending on the right side of the paper, Righties on the left. This is to avoid your hand rubbing the marker & causing it to smear. Also, use water sparingly. It will go a long way & you don’t want to end up with pools of water resting on the surface of your design.
If you do end up with a lot of white space & this is not what you desire for the final piece simply use the watercolor brush dipped in clean water to blend the markers toward one another in order to fill in the white space. Remember to also blend the color completely outward toward the edge of the painter’s or washi tape. Don’t wait too long to do this because once the ink from the markers is dry it is very difficult to get it to move on the paper.
Here is my completed project. You can’t really see it here since I tilted the camera, but across the top of the background the margin is crooked. It dips down toward the right-hand side.
This can happen if you don’t manage to place the painter’s or washi tape perfectly straight on the paper. For this type of project I don’t require a white border so I used a paper trimmer to trim along all four sides. That’s an easy & quick fix to the problem of having a crooked margin. If you plan on framing the piece when it is completed be sure to keep all areas along the border clear so the piece can be matted without the matt covering any part of the final image.
I hope you enjoyed this step-by-step tutorial on creating a watercolor background with Tombow markers. If you try this tutorial, please contact me & send me a picture of your project. I will feature projects on a future blog post so you may end up seeing your piece here.
Contact me if you would like to commission a hand lettering piece, a floral watercolor, galaxy painting, or anything else. My commission rates are quite affordable and are based on the size of the final image. Prices begin as low as $25 for a 4×6″ piece.
Amazon USA Links to the products used:
Canson XL Watercolor paper (11 x 15″, I trim it down to size)
Pentel Aqua Brush, set of 4 in various sizes