Copic ciao grey tones – a review

Happy New Year one and all!

I know that my first post of the new decade, on the very first day of 2020 is the ideal day for me to be setting out my own watercolour manifesto for the year or even years ahead, but I’m afraid that I have to confess that my manifesto writing is running a little behind schedule!

Instead, with Christmas only a week past, I thought I’d take this opportunity to relay my first impressions of one of my Christmas presents, a set of Copic Ciao grey tone pens, currently on offer from Cass Arts.

The Copic Ciao grey tone pen set

These were one of those heavily hinted at presents after I saw them while doing my own Christmas shopping. Prior to this I’d never seen them, but on first sight they instantly struck a chord with me!

Here’s a quick run down of them. They’re a set of five markers in different shades of grey, each with two replaceable heads, one a medium broad chisel tip for thick strokes and the other a brush pen style tip for varying widths. The set also includes a 0.3mm multiliner pen.

The double ended pens with chisel and brush tips

Now the reason these took my eye is that they seemed like the perfect solution to one of my perennial challenges – sketching! I don’t do anywhere near enough sketching, favoring instead to spend the limited time I have painting.

The range of tips

I have tried in the past some pencil sketching using a limited tonal scale, but usually fall to easily into the trap of too many subtle tones. These pens, with their fixed tones, seemed to offer a potential solution to my natural instincts.

Now I haven’t had much time to explore their full potential yet but, along with the addition of a white gel pen, I’ve done some initial playing around with them.

As I’ve been away between Christmas and New Year and somewhat cooped up inside, I’ve had to rely on my own paintings and imaginings as inspiration. All of the following sketches are done in a small sketchbook about 10cms x 14.5cms:

My first two notations using the Copic pen set
Flooded landscape sketch
Brighton station
Sketch based on a painting by the inimitable Edward Seago
Landscape sketch

Each of these was done in a matter of minutes and I really enjoyed working on them. Naturally it’s a lot easier to reverse engineer a sketch from a painting than it is to sketch as a basis for painting but, at this stage, it’s just about having some fun and getting familiar with the pens.

I really like the option of the two different tips as they enable a really wide range of mark making, allowing you to cover areas broadly and quickly, as well as to add more detailed and delicate touches too. This flexibility, along with the range of grey’s enables you to develop sketches that are both quick to produce and richly varied.

The ink is alcohol based and, one of the things that I particularly like is the ability to layer them, much as you might watercolour washes, gradually building from light to dark.

It is still early days but I think there’s the potential for these pens to provide an easy means of making small sketches and notations, which would only be a good thing.

Speaking of good things, I’m hoping that I’ll soon be able to get back into a rhythm with my painting once life settles back to a degree of normality after the festivities and New Year. I sincerely hope that this is the case, otherwise I’ll have to resort to reviewing my other Christmas gifts, and I’m not too sure how much anyone wants to hear about my new bicycle cleaning gadgets, or indeed the new exhaust manifold I treated myself to for my dear old ailing Volvo!

I hope that you’ve all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year and that you’re all brimming with enthusiasm and optimism for the year ahead.

Thoughts on Copic ciao grey tones – a review

18 thoughts on “Copic ciao grey tones – a review”

    1. Thanks so much for this and good luck – I find that I don’t use them as much as I should – I really ought to do more sketchbook work with them as they really help me to think through how I’d paint the scene.

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  3. I really like your blog. A pleasure to come stroll on your pages. A great discovery and very interesting blog. I come back to visit you. Do not hesitate to visit my universe. A soon.

    1. Hi Angelilie and thanks so much for taking the time to visit and have a look around, it’s much appreciated! I’ve had a quick look at your site which looks amazing and I’m going to come back again when I have some time to translate your posts into English (I’m sorry that my French isn’t as good as your English!) – merci beaucoup et bonne journée

    1. Happy New Year Jean and thanks so much for this! I’m finding them fun to play around with so far which is surely a good sign! Hope you’re settling nicely into 2020!

  4. Those brush pens seem very interesting, I might well get some myself at some point! It’s probably easier than watercolours or acrylic to establish depth – as you can use darker values to indicate closer objects.

    1. yes, you can either build up the tones by applying layers of the same lighter pens, (each new layer giving you a kind of half tone) or just be bold and go straight for one of the darker value pens. Hopefully if I can get into the habit of using them more reqularly, I’ll be able to share more sketches. (Well that’s the plan anyway!)

  5. Happy New Year John! Fantastic set, at first sight it seems to be helpful to understand and put down values – sketches, I take this and put it in the list of interesting things to try. For a new year pourpose I just ordered a book of John Ruskin to better understand drawing stuff and improve my technique. All the best fo 2020 John

    1. Felice anno nuovo Luca! so pleased you like the pens! Hopefully, if I get into the habit of using them regularly, it will really benefit my painting as I should be able to work out a lot of the problems in the sketch, and simplify a scene into the most important elements. (Well that’s the plan anyway!). I’m familiar with Ruskin but don’t have any of his books so I’d be interested to hear what it’s like! I’ll keep an eye out on your blog for a review of it! Al the best for 2020 Luca

  6. Happpy New Year to all of you! I just posted a reply but don’t know if it made it or not as it didn’t accept my email address??? SO, here goes another ‘reply’ in case. I got carried away in any event. John, I like your new gift and especially the small sketches you have done with your new Christmas gift! I have used similar pens before though have never mastered using my many sketch books faithfully. Because they are so small, I was taught to limit the number of greys to no more than 4. That makes sense to me since they are small sketches. I have a similar ‘set’ of pens hand picked, not in any set. Now in the US at least they’ve come out with both refillable pens as well as interchangeable ends. I just wonder how you keep them from drying out? I also am using GEL PENS in WHITE but just this week added a few favorite colors to my supplies, not tried yet. They all are acrylic so cover very well. In my ‘new style’ of painting abstractly, I am using a lot of line work or drawing, which effect I love, so such fine line pens are perfect. They cover anything including the darkest darks.
    I am finding that trying new things like theses ideas adds a wonderful freshness to one’s work from which more new ideas come. Even COLORS, John!
    I actually like your new sketches better than your paintings mainly because they are so FRESH and SIMPLE and LOOSE! Your of Brighton Station are far better that the paintings; in the first place the sCALE is far better in that the relationship between figures and engine are far more correct. If I didn’t know what Brighton Sta IS I’d assume the engines were taxis from the scale! Or at least mini-busses! Have FUN with your new toys!

  7. Happy 2020, John. Is the sparkly one by any chance some kind of masking fluid effect? I ask because some of the sketches seem to have lines which appear to be very white.
    I, too, like the idea of these. In fact I often use pen-brushes for life drawing and the Pentel ones can be had in black, grey and sepia. Unfortunately, the grey is pretty dark grey so doesn’t work as well as you gradation of tones seems to work. Yours, by the way, are going to run out of ink soon if you keep sketching at this rate. I have also recently discovered Uni-pin extremely/scratchily fine-line pens in a range of greys, which I also use for life-drawing with a great deal of frantic cross-hatching.
    I was expecting new year’s resolutions from you, of course, and I thought at first this was an ironic reference to your famed use of grey and a resolution to use even more of it! Well, it seems to suit you so more power to your elbow!

    1. Happy New Year to you too Rob! Naturally I am a little concerned that I may be vilified for embracing yet more grey into my life but it’s a risk I’m willing to take!
      The white lines that you can see are done with a white gel pen. I thought I’d use it like some may use the gouache (that I know you disapprove of) for adding in highlights, but I got a little carried away it on some of them. I do also have the Pentel brush pens and agree that the grey is disappointingly dark. I do think that the Pentel brush pens offer more expressive mark making, more akin to an actual watercolour brush and I like the idea of using them in combination with these copic pens – something I hope to play around with in the weeks ahead. Not sure how I’d cope with using any of these for life drawing! I think it would terrify me to be honest so hats off to you! All the best for 2020 Rob

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