pens & markers for mixed-media work

Pens. And markers. Well, anything we can hold in our hand and make marks with – when it comes to finishing a page, we go for those slim tools to help us doodle, outline, and write. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent more than five minutes in the writing instruments aisle at your local office supply store just drooling over all the colorful options.

But then, you try to write over spray paint or pastels and the black line begins to fade and then, in an anticlimactic spurt, the thing dies. No amount of scribbling furiously while coaxing the thing on in an increasingly angry voice can bring it back.

And it had so much potential.

Over the last few years, I’ve experimented with every sort of pen I could find, chucked many, and kept few. A lot of that has to do with my old habit of writing in wet paint (as I was too impatient to wait for it to dry), but it’s paid off. I now have a relatively small pencil case with a few – but reliable – writing instruments that work in just about every situation.

The Sharpie.


An oldie but goodie – you shouldn’t discount this marker just because it’s not “artsy;” it comes in just about a kazillion colors and marks on just about anything. Except oil pastels. They will kill these markers before you get a sentence written, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to get that much out of one. Don’t try it. It also has problems on spray paint – it’s the slick nature of these two paints that just doesn’t agree with the Sharpie. Oh, and don’t use in glue when it’s wet. That’s a rule for all these – don’t suffer for your impatience as I did.

Elmers Painters.


This is quite possibly, the best white marker I’ve ever used. It usually doesn’t have clogging problems and will write on anything – including pastels and spray paint. But be warned – the other colors suck. Don’t waste your money; get the white and try a different pen for any other colors.

Staedler Pigment Liner.


I adore these pens. I have them in most sizes, and use them to ink illustrations or write over paint. The nibs don’t break or become hard as easily as the Sakura Microns, and are pretty reliable. I don’t use these on anything other than paper, gesso, or paint because I don’t want to tempt pre-mature death.

Sakura Micron.


Ahh….another great pen that’s popular, the Micro comes in many more colors than most pigment liners (including the Staedler) which is why they’re so popular with scrapbookers and illustrators. While the range of colors is fun, I’ve found that the nibs get hard after awhile and you have to write with the pen straight up and down after awhile. But they’re lovely when they’re new. And they do have a navy one, which is my favorite color. ;)

Fabre-Castel Pitt Artist Pens.


These are lovely. I haven’t used the finer tips since one pushed into the barrel a few years ago (and I thus discovered different ones), but I have the brush pens in every color. If you want to do a quick drawing with the look of watercolors, these are for you. They’re fun to doodle with AND don’t bleed through the paper. The brush tip black WILL write on just about anything, and is my preferred way to draw/doodle/write on spray paint.

Sakura Gelly Rolls.


The ones pictured here are Glaze and Moonlight. These are awesome pens that are great for mail art! The Moonlight pens are paint pens and work fabulously on dark paper/paint. If you work slow, you can get the flow even on other stuff.



Here’s a double-tipped one, but you can also get packs with just fine tipped solid colors and metallic (you can’t get the metallic in the double tip). These have wonderful coverage and write great over paint and gesso, as well as magazine cut outs. The only thing is, you have to do 2 layers or more because they’re more opaque than the Sharpie Poster Paint markers. But they’re fun, easy, and are great for doodling.

Sharpie Poster Paint.


These are fricken’ fantastic. Wonderful, paint-like coverage, several different tip-sizes and colors, and, with the exception of the extra-fine tips, flawless. I love these and use them all the time for doodles or even to “paint” a page when I can’t pull out my paints. If you are using one and it stops working, just take the tip out and flip it around – messy, yes, but will fix your problem instantly. These also accept replacement tips, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to use ‘em! They, however, don’t work on spray paint well, and pastels “clog” the felt tip. I like the extra fine and medium tips for detail and coverage, respectively. However! Hobby Lobby carries a few colors, Michael’s doesn’t – Blick is the only chain I’ve seen all the colors at, and that was only the downtown Chicago store.

Bic Mark It!


I just got these as the pack was pretty pastel colors. They work a lot like Sharpies, and I feel the only difference, really, is the colors. And that they only come in one tip size (I think).

Koh-I-Nor RapidoSketch.


OMG. I found this on clearance while out with Retro Girl and HAD to grab it. Think pen and ink without having to dip the pen every forth letter. This pen, since it’s just pure waterproof ink, writes on ANYTHING. The lines are sharp, the flow is fantastic, and…heck. Spend the money and get it if you want to write over stuff in black ink. It’s worth the investment.

Uni-Ball 207 Gel.


If you can’t get a RapidoSketch, get these gel pens. They come in various colors and are the smoothest pens I’ve ever used. And I’ve used a lot. They will write on most things – smooth surfaces like spray paint and pastels might give them a little trouble. You have to wipe off the tips every so often.

The short version? Play around and find what you like; pens are personal, and everyone has their own opinion.  Hopefully, though, this will help save a few pens from untimely deaths...