One Tiny Thing to Improve your Copic Coloring: Buy the right freekin’ paper!

 
Simple steps you can take to immediately improve your Copic Marker blending- Copy paper is not Copic paper. Good blends are more than skill, you also need the right paper! | VanillaArts.com
 

“Hey folks, what paper should I buy for Copics?”

I see this question a lot on marker discussion boards. And usually eight to ten very nice and well meaning colorers respond with:

“I love frog paper!”

“Hammermill is awesome!”

“I”ve been buying coverstock for twenty years now and it’s the best!”

“You can’t beat the paper that I found stuffed behind a dumpster in the alley  off 53rd Street!!!!”

Okay, maybe not that last one… but honest to Betsy, I want to stab myself in the left eyeball with a flaming marshmallow on a sharp stick every single time someone recommends the wrong paper for Copic coloring.

Yes, I said it.

The wrong paper

Office grade copy coverstock is the WRONG, WRONG, WRONG paper for Copic coloring.

I always preface these One Tiny Thing articles with a warning that there are no amazing tricks that will instantly improve your coloring with zero effort on your part.

There are no marker life-hacks.

But that’s not entirely true.

There is one thing which absolutely, positively, and most assuredly will improve your coloring instantaneously.

Simple steps you can take to immediately improve your Copic Marker blending- Copy paper is not Copic paper. Good blends are more than skill, you also need the right paper! | VanillaArts.com

Use the right freekin’ paper.

Let me ask you this:

How many races would Dale Earnhardt have won if he’d decided that Coca Cola was cheaper than gasoline?

Would Michael Jordan have dominated the basketball court if he had worn six inch peep-toe stilletos?

How far would Neil Armstrong have gotten in a space suit made up of duct tape and Hershey’s Kiss wrappers?

Ohhhhh… so some things are not interchangeable?

Huh. So you totally understand that to do something well, you need the right tool for the job?

And yet you still try to blend Copic Markers on paper designed for computer printers?

Paper is a tool

In fact, I firmly believe that your choice of paper is far more important than which brand of alcohol marker you use.

The paper is more important than the marker.

You can get good results from the worst markers on great quality paper.

Marker paper and marker cardstocks are designed for use with marker inks.

It’s not a case of finding a paper which doesn’t bleed through or get feathery. Lots of papers are thick enough to prevent bleed through and there are a ton of papers which do not feather. That doesn’t make them good for Copics.

Marker paper is more than thick and smooth.

Quality marker paper facilitates blending.

On the right paper, you don’t have to do the blending. The blending happens automatically. 

Specialty Marker paper and cardstocks don’t just allow you to blend well, they actually make the blends happen.

Students who come to me with blending problems often assume it's something they're doing wrong. In most cases, a simple switch to marker formulated paper solves at least half of their blending problem.

Paper is incredibly important

I can’t state that firmly enough. Your choice of paper is the number one thing affecting the look of your blends.

Paper is more important than your marker selection.

Paper is more important than your blending combinations.

It’s more important than your application technique. 

It’s more important than artistic talent.

Simple steps you can take to immediately improve your Copic Marker blending- Copy paper is not Copic paper. Good blends are more than skill, you also need the right paper! | VanillaArts.com

Paper is a vital tool. Substandard paper gives you inferior results.

Look, I get it. You’ve shelled out a bunch of money on Copics. You’ve blown your budget and you can’t stand to think about spending another fortune on paper.

Here’s my advice: suck it up and spend some money on decent paper.

When you purchased the markers, you essentially signed up for the cost of the correct paper.

And you won’t get a lot of sympathy from me about marker paper prices given that I routinely shell out four to five times that cost for my watercolor and illustration papers.

Good paper is worth every penny

Artists are very particular about paper because we’ve learned from experience that the price of paper is part of the cost of doing art. We’re willing to pay for good paper because we see how it improves our process and our projects.

Colorers don’t get that life lesson quite as fast because they’re generally not coloring multiple projects every single day. And because most colorers never try anything other than inappropriate computer paper, they don’t realize how much easier blending can be.

how would you react?

Let's say your dumb cousin Jimmy called you up and asked to borrow your dog. Someday he wants to race in the Kentucky Derby but he can’t afford a horse yet. So he wants to ride your Labradoodle until he scrapes together enough money for a thoroughbred.

I feel like that sometimes when I’m talking with people who will complain all the live-long day about their blending problems and yet they won’t switch to a better grade of paper.

“But what if I try a different marker combination? Or what if I take more classes? Or what do you think of that tutorial that recommends coloring upside-down by the light of the full moon?”

Simple steps you can take to immediately improve your Copic Marker blending- Copy paper is not Copic paper. Good blends are more than skill, you also need the right paper! | VanillaArts.com

Or how about if you get the correct paper to go with your markers?

Scrapbookers understand that some decorative papers are better than others. I’ve been told by more than one cardmaker “Don’t get those multipacks of paper from the dollar store. They’re not as nice as the good stuff!”

I’ve also heard from colorers and art journalers that you have to be careful about the paper quality in coloring books and journals.

So why do so many people not make the same connection about Copic Markers?

Why do so many colorers wholeheartedly recommend the wrong type of paper for marker coloring?

Copy paper is not Copic paper

When you recommend frog paper, you’re essentially saying “This is the best of the worst kind of paper. But hey, enjoy!”

I’ve got a few other articles about paper here in the Studio Journal. The links are at the end of this article. I encourage you to read them and think about the paper that you use.

Selecting a proper artist grade marker paper is essential to the quality of your projects.

Unfortunately, these great papers usually cost more than computer paper. That's because paper for copy machines and printers is a low-grade paper that's designed to be inexpensive and disposable.

If you’re cheaping out and selecting copy paper based on it’s bargain basement price, then you need to beware. You aren't getting the great deal you think you are. There are hidden costs-

You are using extra ink to smooth your blends. 

You are starting over more frequently because of unfixable mistakes.

You are paying for it emotionally every single time you crank out yet another mediocre looking project.

Part of your blending problems have nothing to do with you. It’s the paper.

Using the best marker cardstocks and papers available is One Tiny Thing you can do to improve your coloring.

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Let's Talk about Copics: Is abundance killing your art?

 
It's not how many Copic Markers you own, it's understanding how to best use your collection! Why abundance stunts growth. | VanillaArts.com
 

We are extremely fortunate

It’s rare in human history for people to have enough free time to practice hobbies. It’s also unusual for so many people to have the financial means to invest in good quality art products for those hobbies.

Heck, it’s only in the modern era that good quality art products even exist.

So yes, you were born at the right time and under a lucky star.

But is this abundance a good thing?

Now I’m not suggesting that we go back to the days of painting with mud paste on cave walls. But let me explain a bit of what I’m seeing recently…

I’ve got students who own more good quality art supplies than I do.

And they don’t know how to use most of it.

It's not how many Copic Markers you own, it's understanding how to best use your collection! Why abundance stunts growth. | VanillaArts.com

Before you jump to the conclusion that I’m jealous or that I’m some sort of art dictator, banish that thought entirely! I love the fact that artist grade products are easy to acquire and I’m thrilled that good information is  readily available on the internet, in shops, and in classes.

Viva la freedom!

But here’s the thing- a lot of people are emotionally invested in owning ALL the best items.

It’s the owning that rocks their socks, not the using.

They’re obsessed about a medium just long enough to collect all the materials and then something fresh starts trending and they’re off to collect everything that’s new in that aisle of the craft store.

People have thousands of dollars of art and craft supplies and yet most aren’t producing anything of worth.

Owning all the Copic markers will not make you a great Copic artist

Owning all the colored pencils in the world doesn’t tell you what to do with them.

Collecting every color ever made doesn’t improve the look of your projects.

Abundance hampers growth.

Yep. I’m serious. I think owing all the Copics or all the Prismacolors stunts your ability to learn and to improve your artistry.

For a long time, I had 24 Prismacolor pencils

Yep. I went through art school with just two dozen pencil colors.

Now granted, I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to use my pencils because they kinda frown on using colored pencils in an Oil Portraiture class.

But looking back, I only had a few tubes of watercolors and fewer tubes of gouache. Same with oils and acrylics. And sure, part of the reason was that art school is darned expensive but I wasn’t the only student working with a very limited palette.

It's not how many Copic Markers you own, it's understanding how to best use your collection! Why abundance stunts growth. | VanillaArts.com

Necessity is the mother of artistry?

That’s not too far off. 

When you work with a limited number of colors, you get to know the product really, really, REALLY well. You learn how to manipulate and manage your colors to get the values and saturations that are needed. 

To go all zen master on you, you become one with the medium.

That doesn’t happen when you own 358 colors.

If you had 358 kids, you’d barely know their names much less how they behave under normal and abnormal conditions.

You also don’t get to know your products when you spend only two weeks using them before you bounce off to the next crafty medium.

And I’ll also extend this thought to cover to those of you buying multiple brands of colored pencils or every kind of marker ever made. You can’t learn a product’s ins and outs if you’re also using four other products at the same time.

Owning everything gets you nothing

A lot of people are using some amazing products on a regular basis and not learning anything in the process.

Remember when I said that art school required very few colors? I wasn’t kidding. One class used only four colors- Titanium White, Ivory Black, Cadmium Red, and Yellow Ochre- and we were painting human figures with realism! I learned a ton of things in that class and 22 years later, I still use that information every day.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Well, there are a lot of people wasting money buying more supplies than they need.

And there are a bunch of people having pity parties because they don’t own enough supplies to “make anything good.”

The swan image shown here used 12 markers. Four of those markers were used on the background, they’re not on the swan.

So that’s 8 markers for a swan and I could have easily dropped another three without you noticing. 

And those eight markers are the same markers I’ve used on tons of previous images. They’re not swan colors, they’re colors I use on many other things.

It's not how many Copic Markers you own, it's understanding how to best use your collection! Why abundance stunts growth. | VanillaArts.com

You do not need a lot of supplies to color well

What you need is a good understanding of the supplies you own.

There are giant holes in my Copic collection because I haven’t purchased the colors which I know I’ll never use.

And while I own the entire line of several brands of colored pencil, the vast majority of those pencils sit untouched because I rarely have a need for some colors.

And that’s not unusual for artists. Yes, you’ll meet some color hoarders who own absolutely everything but most artists use the same colors over and over in everything they do. In fact, the majority of us are a little OCD about using just our favorite red and no other red will do. So you could buy out Dick Blick for us and we wouldn’t appreciate it much.

I want you to take a good look at your color collection

This isn't for inventory purposes. I don’t want you to count your colors like Scrooge McDuck.

Instead, I want you to take a good hard look at what you own and ask yourself “do I really understand how to use all this?”

Rather than running out to buy more green pencils because you want to color botanicals and you don’t yet own the magic combination…

Maybe consider the fact that it’s not the supplies you’re missing, it’s the product knowledge.

There’s a big difference between owning everything and understanding everything you own.

Which category are you in?

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Free Digi Club: "Scarlet Geranium", a FREE Copic friendly digital stamp for coloring

 
Get your FREE copy of the "Scarlet Geranium" digital stamp in July 2017. Join the Free Digi Club for a new stamp every month! | VanillaArts.com
 

Floral Fireworks!

"Scarlet Geranium" is my latest Copic coloring image; it's completely free to Free Digi Club subscribers from now until August 2017.

No strings, no spam. It's simply a free image for you to color.

Subscribers to the FDC receive one free image every month, delivered right to your email inbox.

Get your FREE copy of the "Scarlet Geranium" digital stamp in July 2017. Join the Free Digi Club for a new stamp every month! | VanillaArts.com

My digital stamps are ideal for Copic marker coloring but they also work great with colored pencil and even watercolor. My stamps are full of wide open spaces to blend and celebrate pretty color. There are no distracting texture marks to get in the way of your creativity!

That's what the "Vanilla" in Vanilla Arts Co. is all about. I give you the vanilla base, you add the hot fudge, the sprinkles, the whipped cream, the Copic ink, and lots of leaves!

 

Watch me color Scarlet Geranium:

Want the full Scarlet Geranium lesson?

"Scarlet Geranium" is the July/August 2017 online Copic coloring lesson for Marker Painting Basics. Beginner level class with challenges for intermediate and advanced students. | VanillaArts.com

Join the Marker Painting Basics class!

Marker Painting Basics lessons are perfect for beginners or self-taught intermediate level marker artists who feel like they've missed out on some of the key elements of coloring.

Scarlet Geranium is over 2 hours of video based instruction which includes interesting sidebar discussions on how to build fences to increase your coloring accuracy.

The best thing about Marker Painting Basics classes is that they're NON SEQUENTIAL!

"Scarlet Geranium" is the July/August 2017 online Copic coloring lesson for Marker Painting Basics. Beginner level class with challenges for intermediate and advanced students. | VanillaArts.com

You don't need three months of experience to understand the One Tree lesson. Each monthly lesson stands on it's own as an independent learning experience.

You can join the class at any time without feeling lost. You can drop out when life gets hectic and rejoin when you're ready and you won't be behind. Every lesson is new to everyone, every month!

Happy coloring!

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What price would you pay for a perfect Copic Marker Blend?

 
Do you obsess about silky smooth Copic Marker blends? Why your quest for the perfect blend is killing your depth and dimension. | VanillaArts.com
 

Remember that feeling you had when you first learned to ride a bicycle? The speed, the wind in your face, the feeling that you’d fly to the moon if you could just pedal fast enough. You probably spent the entire summer riding up and down the street. That first burst of freedom is pure joy.

Copic colorers experience the same thing when they finally pin down the mechanics of smooth blending. And once we get a taste of it, we’re hooked. We will blend and blend and blend… just for the sheer happiness of it.

I’ll admit it, even after years of marker experience, I still love it when a satin smooth blend appears. It’s a special kind of satisfaction.

But at what price?

Yes, there’s a price to be paid when you blend.

Most colorers don’t even realize they’re paying for blends. They’ll blend all day long- smoothing and re-blending their projects repeatedly without recognizing the damage they’re doing to the overall image.

Your quest for the perfect blend sacrifices color value

Yep. Every time you blend, you loose some of the deep dark color that is essential to realism.

The more you blend, the more value you loose.

What is value?

Value is a measurement of the strength of a color. You can’t say “light” or “dark” because light and dark are relative terms. Lighter than what? Darker than what? Is dark yellow darker than light blue? 

Lighter or darker is an opinion.

Not value though. Value is a exact way of measuring the strength or visual potency of a color. Now I’m not talking theoretical art terminology here. You use color value measurements all the time; you just don’t realize it. 

Do you obsess about silky smooth Copic Marker blends? Why your quest for the perfect blend is killing your depth and dimension. | VanillaArts.com

In Copics, the last number on the marker cap indicates the value of the ink color. Copic has computer measured the strength of that color and they’ve told you where it rates on their value scale.

That last number is consistent across all the color families and it sets up a relationship between colors that you might think are completely unrelated. A Y38 is the same value as a BG78 because they both rate an 8 on the value scale. R17 measures the same value as E77 even though they’re from completely different color families.

Value is important because capturing accurate values are one key to realism. In order to make something look rounded and three dimensional, you don’t just need shade, you need shade that’s deep enough and potent enough to simulate depth. If you skimp on the values, your shaded areas aren’t strong enough, and that flattens out your coloring.

And as I said before, blending robs your project of value.

Why?

Because we blend with our middle and lighter Copic markers.

In Copics, a low last number indicates a higher level of colorless blender in the ink. Colorless blender destroys value. E33 has far more colorless blender in it than E37. So when I hit that E37 with a low value brown marker to blend it out, I’m moving some of that level 7 color around to make the entire area feel lighter and less potent. The more you blend, the more that E37 starts to look like E36 or E35.

That’s important!

You may have used a dark marker but it no longer carries the original value after you complete the blending process. Once you’ve blended it, it’s no longer as dark as it once was. You have removed some of its value.

This is a serious problem for a lot of intermediate level colorers who tend to be obsessed with blending. They’ll blend and reblend their areas, chasing the thrill of a perfect blend…

...and then they wonder why all their projects look flat.

Blending kills value.

Do you obsess about silky smooth Copic Marker blends? Why your quest for the perfect blend is killing your depth and dimension. | VanillaArts.com

Blending also kills contrast

Contrast?

Contrast is the difference between two values. There is very little contrast between E33 and E34, the colors are too similar. Conversely, there’s a lot of contrast between E33 and E39.

Artists care about contrast. The most pleasing images feature contrast AND a good range of values within that contrast range. 

The Iced Joe illustration shown here uses markers that end in 9, 7, 5, 4, 3, 1, and 0. That’s almost a full range of Copic values from the darkest parts of the coffee to the palest gray of the glass mug. Realism relies on value and a balanced contrast range.

But think about what would happen if I started obsessing about my blends. 

If I hit my coffee browns (E89 and E59) with lots of E35 to improve the blend, that lighter marker will eat away at my level 9 browns, lowering their values to maybe 7s and 6s. Even though I used E89, it won’t look like E89 anymore. 

And it won’t look like black coffee anymore, it’ll look like chocolate milk.

Middle value washouts happen when you blend so darned much that you equalize the values between your lightest areas and your darkest. 

You chase away the value and you ruin the contrast in the attempt to create a perfect blend.

Blending flattens your projects because it decreases values and equalizes contrast. And I hate to put you in a box, but 90% of the time when someone comes to me with the old “why does my coloring look flat?” question, it’s a case of an intermediate level colorer who blends the heck out of every project. 

Your new skill is also your downfall.

Do you obsess about silky smooth Copic Marker blends? Why your quest for the perfect blend is killing your depth and dimension. | VanillaArts.com

You can’t keep blending without paying the price

Some amount of reblending is good but when you overwork your coloring in the quest for the perfect blend, you waste all the dark ink that you originally applied. “One more try” can be the kiss of death for depth and dimension.

Here’s the other problem: 

When you over-lighten the color of an object in the blending process, it not only flattens out, but sometimes people can no longer identify what the object is anymore. 

I can’t tell you the number of coffee projects I’ve seen where the coffee was peanut butter brown. I’ve also seen a lot of pink apples and yellow pumpkins. The colorer may have started with coffee brown, apple red, and pumpkin orange but when they blended the project to death, they killed off the color identity. Mis-colored food is confusing, unappetizing, and unrealistic.

Now I’m not saying that you should never blend a second time.

Instead, I want you to be aware that additional reblending passes will eat away at your value and contrast.

Knowing is half the battle. 

If you’re aware of the damage your’e doing, you’re less likely to keep doing it. Mindfullness helps curb your tendency to reblend and smooth an area for the third, fourth, or fifth time.

In the long run, that perfect blend means nothing if you’ve lost your values.

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