Copic Wide Portrait Tutorial with Ryan Spahr

Posted On: 02/16/15

Ryan Spahr is one of our featured artists for the #WinterWIDE promotion we are running all year. Ryan's remarkable use of the WIDE marker is unique in style—and maximizes the qualities of markings possible with a WIDE marker.

Ryan also takes great advantage of empty WIDE markers and uses Various ink to create his own markers beyond the 36 standard available colors.


Here is a step by step walk-through that outlines my general process for creating a portrait using mostly Copic Wide markers. This was a commissioned piece. It helps having the client send a good quality photo.

DogT1.jpg I start with a rough sketch on the paper. My paper of choice is Borden & Riley's Paris Paper. I cut the surface down to 11 x 14 and rough in the general shape of the image. At this point, all I want are basic forms and correct proportions.

Typically, I begin with either a Copic Classic Neutral Gray (N1) or Classic Cotton Pearl (E00). I want something really light that won't been seen in the final product. Everything else, except for the finishing highlights, will be done with Copic Wides.

DogT2.jpg Okay, now the fun stuff. I find myself executing each portrait I do in a slightly different way. Sometimes I will start with the light values and work up to the darks and sometimes the other way around.

I felt it best here to start blocking in some of my dark forms first. I jump straight to Black (100). I'm not too concerned with detail here, just laying down black where i want my darks. I will use every edge of the wide to get the marks I want.

These markers are very versatile. Experiment on some scrap paper and see what works for you.

DogT3.jpg The client wanted some blues incorporated into the picture. I place these in the background and also work some into the foreground to try and achieve some color harmony.

What I like best about using the Copic Wides is the ability to layer color on color. Again, this is something that takes some practice and experimentation.

Here, I used layers of Sky (B24), Manganese Blue (B34), Cool Shadow (BG10), Lime Green (G21), and Robin's Egg Blue (B02) to begin creating a background.

The Robin's Egg Blue isn't a standard issue wide, but you can buy empty Wide markers and fill them with whatever color ink you want.

DogT4.jpg I continue to block in the background and continue layering my blue hues. I make a point to work all over the canvas and not get bogged down on one particular area. This keeps the piece fun and dynamic.

You can see we're starting to lose the original sketch lines. This is good. The color and values I put down will define the edges.

DogT5.jpg Once I am reasonably happy with my background, I start to focus on the subject.

The background isn't done yet, but as I said, I want to keep bouncing around the image to keep things lively. I like to throw in the most saturated color I see in the picture first.

I can always go back and tone it down with an appropriate neutral tone. Here I start bringing in Cadmium Yellow (Y15), Fuchsia ( RV09), and Rose Mist (R83) -- the latter two are Wides I made from empty markers and Various Ink Refills.

DogT6.jpg On to the grays. I'm using mostly the Warm Grays for my subject, and Cool Grays in the background. This will help pull the subject forward. I will use the full range of both Gray sets throughout the process of the drawing, (W1-W9) & (C1-C9). I use every edge of the wide markers here again, making everything from large broad strokes to thin quick dashes.

DogT7.jpg I continue layering in my grays as well as incorporating more black into specific areas and to define the more detailed areas.

DogT8.jpg I want to bring more blue into the foreground, so I use the edge of my Wide to create some marks that are are interesting, but not distracting.

I also start to focus on the eyes here. Eyes are always important in portrait work.

I'm using layers of Lipstick Natural (E04) and Burnt Umber (E29) to build up the form of the Iris.

DogT9.jpg Once I'm happy with my foreground, I start to layer the full range of Cool grays into the background to create more interest and definition. I use a White Acrylic Ink Paint Marker to make opaque highlights.

DogT10.jpg I add more texture with the Warm Grays, Burnt Umber, and White Paint Marker. I keep my mark making quick and deliberate, covering the image until I achieve the look I am going for.


Here's the finished image. I try not to get too concerned with detail or making it look exactly like the photo I'm working from. For me, it's more about capturing the essence of the subject. The keys to this piece are patience, experimentation, layering, and creative mark-making. I hope you found this informative. Feel free to contact me with any questions, comments or commissions. Happy mark making!

Find Ryan Spahr online

The Black Shrine
Instagram // @old1eye
Tumblr // @old1eye

Tags: #WinterWIDE, Dog, How To, Illustration, Inspire, Ryan Spahr, Wide, Wide Markers, Edited, Guest tutorial, Portrait,