Marker Swatch Sheets

marker rendering for garden plan

In the last few weeks I've received several questions about how to choose colors when rendering a landscape plan in marker. In response to your excellent inquiries I've shared my own guidelines and steps below, plus created three marker color combinations that I've seen my students use or I've tried myself. You can click here to download the entire marker swatch set from this post, plus a longer list of suggested marker colors.

The examples I've given are using Prismacolor markers, but there are many options. Some of my students use Copic (which they love) and I've also used Chartpack when I don't want streaks (Chartpack does have a strong chemical smell though, so use these sparingly when in an enclosed space).  I've included a suggested list of colors for both Prismacolor and Copic in the downloadable .pdf mentioned above (Big thanks to one of my students, Heather, for sharing her Copic list).

When using marker you can get very detailed (by using a large selection of colors) or keep it simple (by limiting color choices).  I tend to stick to the simple side. I am a pen and ink artist, so use marker to simply give color to my ink drawings. I like to pick 5-7 colors that look great together, then only use those on the entire plan. 

Here are some overriding guidelines I follow regarding markers:

  • Use the lightest markers possible. The darker ones don't allow you to add detail or shadows.They are also less forgiving.

  • Don't buy sets of markers. Only buy individual ones. Sets will have many markers that you won't be able to use because they are too dark.Though individual markers cost more than buying a set, you will actually spend less hand picking ones that work best for you. If you purchase a set, then realize you can't use most of them, you'll end up buying the individual ones anyway.

  • Limit yourself to 5-7 colors on a plan. If you pick more than 10 colors your rendering will look cluttered and unfocused. Hopefully your original design is also focused, which will translate into cohesive color marker choices.

  • Make a swatch sheet to test your markers to make sure they look good as a group.

  • Once you have a color group you like, figure out what colors will be used for which parts on the plan (I explain my process for choosing colors below).

  • I typically don't render tree canopies if they overlap a planting below it.

  • You can add shadows on the plant with the same color you already used. For instance, I will render a shrub in green, let it dry, then add the exact same color on one side for the shadow.

  • For ground shadows you can use a warm or cool gray at 20-30%. Test this to see what works best with your color group.

  • Some markers leave streaks, so to keep your plan uniform, keep these streaks all in the same direction. I typically use a 45 degree angle. It's amazing what an impact this makes.The examples I've given in this post are not necessarily the neatest renderings, but because I keep the strokes consistent, they seem to work. Newer markers will leave less streaks. Also, if you work quickly, there will be less streaks.

  • Did I say to stick with lighter colors?!

Here are some steps I go through to pick colors:

1. Choose a lawn color first. I choose the lightest green possible. With Prismacolor markers these tend to be: chartreuse, lime peel, spring green or mint cream.

2. Choose 2-3 greens for shrubs. These should look nice with the lawn color you've already picked. Make a swatch sheet (I've included one in the swatch set you can download) and test them on the type of paper you'll be using. I tend to put warm greens together or cool greens together.  I might use one green for the evergreens and another for the deciduous plants, plus another for perennials (unless you prefer a brighter color for this, see #3). I never choose a different color for each cultivar.  It gets too cluttered.  As I mentioned above, I typically don't render tree canopies if they overlap plantings below.

3. Choose an accent color to use for the main flower colors you've chosen in your design. These are typically non-greens: blue, purple, pink, orange, yellow, red. You can use these accent colors on shrubs or perennials to show what colors you've included in your design.  Again, limit these to 1-3 additional colors. Your original planting design should also be focused to reflect this.  Make sure these accent colors work with the original set of greens you've chosen. If your accent color is white, you can leave that plant uncolored with a gray shadow or simply render it green.

4. Choose your hardscape color(s).  Are you using a warm brick or cool limestone?  Choose your color accordingly and again, make sure it works with the other colors you've already chosen.  You can add more tones to your hardscape color by letting it dry, then reapplying the same color over it to create a pattern or accentuate a texture (I did this with the square patio pattern in my examples). 

As previously mentioned, I've included the examples above, a suggested marker list, plus the swatch sheet below in a downloadable .pdf that you can access by clicking here.  An additional resource is a past post I wrote on rendering a plant symbol in marker. I hope you enjoy experimenting with marker!


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