Can You Use Copic Markers on Canvas?

Yes, you can use Copic Markers (or any alcohol based Copic dupes) on canvas, they behave differently to when used on paper but can yield very artistic results.

My experience details using a cheap, coated canvas from an art supply shop. The coating on the canvas allowed for reworking of the colour and more directional strokes.

The subject for this canvas was Lothar Götz’s Dance Diagonal – a colourful, geometric reimagining of the exterior of Eastbourne’s Towner Gallery.

Before diving in to using Copic Markers on this canvas, I sketched in the outlines of the gallery and the geometric shapes in pencil. In this instance, pencil worked well because there was so much ink and colour going in to the picture that in the end the line work was completely covered. This leaves an purely created through alcohol based ink, no fineliner needed.. I use Copic Markers with pencil lines a lot.

It Feels Strange

The first thing I noticed when colouring was the awkward way the pen handles on canvas. That glide when using the best paper for Copic markers was gone. This is likely because the canvas was bought pre-primed. A canvas is primed to seal and protect the surface, as well as make it more suitable for certain types of paint.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, the label on the canvas I was using was explicit about being built for use with acrylic and oil paints.

Text on the back of canvas reads: For use with acrylic and oil paints
The canvas I used was pretty succinct about the idea of me using Copics.

The treated textured surface of the canvas was pretty unforgiving. It looked I would be saying you can’t use Copics on canvas. My strokes left gaps, with white canvas showing through my initial lines of V06 (Lavender).

Copic Markers being used on canvas and showing uneven colouring.
Gaps in the early colouring.

Getting smooth coverage seemed tricky too. Layers seemed to appear quicker than usual, with particularly dark coverage where ink work overlapped. That natural blend I was used to was missing.

The Streaky Period

I went back to reworking the colouring, and after some effort there was no more white canvas showing through. As I progressed to bigger patches of colour a new problem emerged. Suddenly, every change in direction I took showed as a rough, amateurish stroke. It was unforgiving.

Copic inks looking streaky when used on canvas.
The issues of streaky Copic ink work on canvas.

The overwhelming sense was of it looking very amateurish. It felt like a waste of a perfectly good canvas and lots of precious ink.

By the time I had finished colouring the largest part of the building, I was ready to give up. It looked awful. The beautiful smooth finish I had come to love when using Copics was nowhere to be seen. It was like I was using cheap, school felt tips on corrugated cardboard.

This is looking dreadful.

When I introduced shadow, it doesn’t improve much, but there is something in the process. The way the grey agitated the yellow underneath was surprising. This lead to something later on, but it was further into the pit of despair before that.

Layering shadow with a darker copic on lighter copic on a canvas.
Layering two colours on canvas.

Completing the smaller sections of colour in the distance proved troubling too. Using the finer nib on the Copic Classic usually gives you a sense of precision and control. Not so on canvas, with lines feeling jagged more often than not. I used Classics exclusively on this piece, here’s a breakdown on types of Copic Marker if you need it.

Using the fine Copic nib to colour in small areas.
Using the fine nib on the smaller sections.

Can You Use Copic Markers on Canvas? The Rework is Key

As is visible in the image above, I was still left with fairly big gaps in colour coverage. So before I took on the sky (but not before getting a decent effect on the grey and dark grey windows) I went back to achieve 100% colour. This was where the magic happened.

I had caught a glimpse of something when I tried to layer grey on yellow, and when I went to recolour in earnest I realised just how I could turn this project around. Not only could I get sharp lines between colours while filling the white, I could change the entire texture of the block with the direction of pen strokes.

Showing how going over Copic Marker on canvas yields a fuller result.
More assured coverage, and a hint of directional texture, on the purple and pink segments.

With this, an idea was born. No more would I pursue circular strokes, or strokes designed to deliver single layer coverage to the canvas. Instead I would use multiple stokes to indicate the angle of the plane the colours are on, rather than the shape of the colour segment.

My next step was to load up these bigger segments with colour, ready for the the final stage. Then, before applying the final directional layer of Copic Marker, I filled in the sky.

The sky was an absolute pleasure. Using the wider chisel nib of a few different Copic Classic blues, and allowing small specks of white to show, it was easy to achieve a painterly effect of the blue Eastbourne sky.

Using the chisel tip on a Copic Classic marker to colour the sky on a canvas.
Using the chisel tip to paint the sky.

Directional Lines to finish

With the sky in place, I was ready to wrap up those walls. It couldn’t be simpler. All the work I’d done so far that felt futile was just building up a foundation.

Colouring in the direction of the plane as best as possible, one colour after another started to look more correctly textured. As they stacked up, I was becoming more and more pleased with the final product.

Showing how reworking copic colours on canvas results in a smoother and more textured finish.
Smoothing out the colours in accordance with their plane.

Some white pencil to pull out highlights and add sheen to certain areas of the gallery’s paintwork, and I was done.

It was a journey I was glad I didn’t give up on, and an end result I am quite pleased with.

A completed Copic Sketch of Diagonal Dance.
The finished work.

How to use Copic Markers on Canvas

Canvases can have a lot of different finishes, so result may vary.

However, the key for me was perseverance. Reworking colours in a way that would normally over saturate and muddy up paper yielded great results on canvas. The coated finish keeps the ink workable for longer, which is ultimately more forgiving and can give greater texture.

If you want the challenge of using your pens on even more surfaces, check out our list of Copic Marker Tutorials for ideas on working with Pencils and colouring on to fabric as well.