One Tiny Thing: Improve your Copic coloring- Watch your Speed

One Tiny Thing to improve your Copic coloring- watch your speed! Realistic coloring, realistic advice. Learn more at

As I warn you at the start of every One Tiny Thing article, there are no magic potions or tutorials written by sassy blue genies which will turn you into Rembrandt.

But there are some very real and effective steps which you can take today to immediately improve the look of your coloring.

They aren’t silver bullets but they're the next best thing.

Today’s Tiny Thing to is to watch the speed of your coloring

Now when I say speed, I’m not suggesting that we pull out a stopwatch and measure how fast you color.

Speed or lack of speed is not what kills the look of a project.

The problem is inconsistent speed.

Inconsistent speed?

Yep. Like the little old lady on the highway who goes 45 miles per hour for a while, then switches to 90 all of a sudden, but settles in at a comfy 22 just as you’re both approaching your exit ramp.

Yeah. Most beginner and intermediate level colorers do that. Only you don’t realize it because I’m not all up on your bumper yelling “Get off the road, ya old bat!”

One Tiny Thing to improve your Copic coloring- watch your speed! Realistic coloring, realistic advice. Learn more at

Oh my gosh!

This section looks hard.

So I’m going to color...

very carefully.

I’ll go...

very slow...

and that might...

help to...

limit the number...

of mistakes I make.

Slow and steady.

Watch what I’m doing.



Oh. So. Very. Careful.

Yahooooooo! Now I’m at the fun part because I’ve colored stuff like this a million times and I love these Copic markers and they’re my very favorite colors and this is turning out great and wouldn’t it be cool if all my projects were this easy and I think I'm starting to hyperventilate and Holyhedgehogs I’mhavingsomuchfunrightnow myheadisgoingtoexplode!!!!!

Dear friends, that is the kind of thing that screams loud and clear in your final project.

Your viewer may not know a Copic from a cobra but they can tell immediately which areas you colored fast and which areas you colored slow.

Not kidding. We can see it.

When you color in a manic-depressive fashion, it’s very obvious. 

Inconsistent speed immediately overpowers all the other smart choices that you made going into the project. You could use the most amazing color palette, the best blending markers, the best techniques, and you could color better than anyone else in the world…

But your Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde speed will overshadow it all. It doesn’t matter how amazing your talent is, what the world sees is inconsistency.

Why is it so obvious?

Let’s take a closer look.

When we color slowly (which we all do when we’re trying to be careful), we push more ink into the paper.

More ink results in:

  1. visible starting and stopping marks on every stroke
  2. bleeding edges
  3. loss of texture
  4. dark patches and oil slicks from paper over-saturation
  5. blending more than necessary and loosing your middle marker color in the process.

Even worse, something most folks don’t ever stop to think about- coloring slowly darkens the look of any ink at least a full step.

So you’re using an R20 marker but the strokes you make are really as dark or darker than an R21 or R22. Slow and careful lines are noticeably darker than fast lines.

Coloring like a tortoise is like cranking up the volume on the radio. It’s doing everything much louder than it needs to be.

Okay, now do a 180 with me

When we jackrabbit an area (which we all do when we’re having fun), we skimp on ink.

Coloring fast results in:

  1. streaky zones and sketchy strokes
  2. choppy areas that remain unblended
  3. weird texture in inappropriate places
  4. flat and lifeless coloring
One Tiny Thing to improve your Copic coloring- watch your speed! Realistic coloring, realistic advice. Learn more at

Speed coloring looks sloppy. When we get excited, it’s like pushing the fast forward button.

When you combine both problems- loud and fast, into a single project, it's confusing.

Mozart might have been a genius composer but no one enjoys listening to The Magic Flute ramped up and amped up. You really thought we wouldn’t notice the same kind of mixed signals in your coloring?

So what’s the solution?

How do you better regulate the speeds at which you color?


Notice that the question I just asked wasn’t “How can you speed up?” or “How can you slow down?”

That’s because your speed isn’t nearly as important as the difference between your slow speed and your quick speed.

Becoming more consistent overall is the key.

So how do you better regulate the speeds at which you color?

The solution is mindfulness

Speed demoning is an easy fix.

You can fix a Dale Earnhardt Jr. problem on the fly. When you get to the fun stuff, watch for those natural lead foot tendencies and tell yourself to slow down. “No speeding tickets for me today!” is usually enough to bring the excitement under control.

One Tiny Thing to improve your Copic coloring- watch your speed! Realistic coloring, realistic advice. Learn more at

It’s much harder to solve the molasses problem. It’s going to take some mental exercise on your part BEFORE you begin color the difficult zones.

“Here’s the hard part, the thing I dreaded. How should I handle it?”

Mentally rehearsing the process before you put marker to paper will help the process feel more familiar when you do the actual coloring.

Or do a dress rehearsal. You can pretend to color the area without a marker in your hand. I like to hover and do a few practice strokes in mid air. Whatever you need to do to trick your brain into thinking “hey, I’ve done this before, this is easy!” will help to speed up your hands.

What you don’t want to do is think through every single stroke as you are making it. Over-deliberation shows up in your coloring.

So I pinch myself when I find that I’m speeding and I coach myself through difficult processes before I do them for real. Both techniques help to equalize my coloring rates and it keeps my projects from looking schizophrenic.

Guess what else helps?


Did you pick up on the fact that a lot of this article was written in the first person? I used a lot of I and me when describing what to do.

That’s because I speed up and I slow down- just like you do.

Yep. Even the pros are still sadly human.

Experience is the only difference.

Because I’ve been coloring objects for forever and a day, the difference between my tortoise and my hare is less noticeable.

After decades of drawing and painting, there are very few things I haven’t colored. So my slows are not as slow as yours. Experience limits panic.

And because I’ve pretty much seen it all, I no longer get piddle-my-pants excited over the fun areas. So when I do color faster, it’s not as noticeable as when you speed up.

Practice. Not just practice but an abundance of practice helps to even out your highs and lows. 

So when I recommend that people color stamps not once or twice, but over and over and over…. It’s not just technique that you’re working on. You’re also working to improve your speed consistency.

Pay attention to your speed

It’s one tiny thing you can do today which will improve the quality of your finished coloring.


Let's Talk: Gosh, There are a lot of Copic Marker classes out there right now...

Not all coloring classes are equally good. Tips for finding great Copic Marker instruction. |

You're doing it right…

You did not jump into Copic Markers blindly.

You read the blogs. You researched colors, paper, and storage. And you did all that before you made the big purchase.

Now you're reading every tip and tutorial you can get your hands on. You're watching videos and printing step-by-step guides-- you are eager to learn!

Not all coloring classes are equally good. Tips for finding great Copic Marker instruction. |

And yet everything you color still looks a little... well... childish?

So you upped your game. You took classes at a local shop or you purchased an online course from your favorite blogger.

And sure, you made some nice projects, met great people, and had a little fun with colorless blender. But when you're sitting by yourself at the kitchen table, just you and that notebook full of blending recipes and printed tutorials... you still feel lost.

You don't know where to put the shadows, where to put the highlights, or even which colors to use.

Feeling doomed to a lifetime of copy-cat coloring?

You are not alone. Most Copic colorers only color well when they're sitting in a classroom or watching a demonstration video.

But once you’re on your own? Meh.

The problem is not you, it's the coloring education system (or the lack thereof).

Anyone can call themselves an instructor. I see it a lot; someone posts a decent looking project on Instagram or Facebook and at least one person will comment, "Hey, you should teach!!!!"

And so some of them take that literally.

Now before I get anyone’s feathers all a’fluffle, I’m not pointing the finger. I’m not trying to insult anyone.

But there is a growing problem right now in markerworld.

There are a lot of people giving classes, a lot of people setting themselves up as education resources…

Sigh. I’m having trouble saying what I want to say.

Let’s try it this way…

There is a GIGANTIC difference between being a good colorer and knowing how to teach.

The glut of self proclaimed Copic experts has real life consequences for folks shelling out hard earned cash. People are spending a lot of money, not just on classes but on the required supplies for each class. 

And a lot of students are paying for classes that really only lead to needing more classes.

Many coloring classes are basically show-and-tell sessions. They're not teaching, they're demonstrating.

Students can only get so far watching demonstrations.

Eventually you hit a brick wall, when you've seen it all and yet you understand nothing.

So if you’re someone who just likes to color and spend time with other people who like to color… well that’s one thing. If that’s you, no problem. Stop reading right now because you’re in a class for the atmosphere and you already know if you’re in the right class.

But some of you want more

You want to learn and grow. The rest of this article is for those of you who are frustrated over classes you’ve taken before. You don’t want to get burned again.

Not all coloring classes are equally good. Tips for finding great Copic Marker instruction. |

Read onward if you’re one of those hopeful colorers who wants more than what they’re currently getting.

Because you want to learn and grow, you need more than social coloring sessions. You need a teacher who knows how to teach.

So how do you find a good instructional class?

What should you look for in a good teacher?

That’s a loaded question.

You can’t tell the good'uns from the bad'uns going by Copic Certification because right now, anyone can get certified. All certification says is that someone paid for the official class and they sat in a conference room for a few hours.

There is no minimum skill qualification to become Copic certified. Everyone who comes in, leaves with a certificate in their hand.

So the question remains, how can you tell if your instructor is a teacher or a just demonstrator?

Here's my suggestion:

Ask the instructor for the lesson plan.

A simple question, right?

What is the goal of this class?

“I’m here to show you how to color this “Happy Heart Balloons” image from The Happy Heart Stamp Company!”

That’s a demonstrator.

Or maybe the goal is to teach you how to use a colorless blender to create heart highlights. Or they’re showing you how a special red heart marker recipe.

That’s a little different than what a teaching-teacher who wants you to learn would say.

Teachers have specific lesson plans.

“Today, we’re learning to add subtle warmth to metals.”

“Today we’re looking at how highlights change from matte to shiny surfaces…”

“Today’s lesson is an introduction to layering objects for depth."

Notice the difference?

The demonstrator is showing you how they colored one stamp.

The instructor shows you how to handle a condition or a situation.

A demonstration is good for a single stamp. If you're intuitive, maybe you can apply that lesson to a few stamps that are similar. But if you want to color other things, you have to sign up for other classes.

True instruction is good for more than just a stamp. Real lessons are applicable to the wider world. And if you’ve got a really good teacher, you can apply your new knowledge to more than just markers. Good concepts and real technique will translate to colored pencil, or watercolor pens, or mixed media collage, or heck… it might even work with real paint.

Look, I know finding a great teacher is tough

You may live in a remote area. But actually, population doesn’t have much to do with it. There are large metropolitan areas that don’t have a teaching art store or good paper crafting shops.

Some stores rely on demonstrators to push product sales. And hoo, boy! A focus on sales certainly decreases the odds that the store is employing a good teacher. 

Not all coloring classes are equally good. Tips for finding great Copic Marker instruction. |

So I get it, live classes might be impossible to find where you live.

And the internet?

Well, that’s like shootin’ it out at the O.K. Corral, and dad-gum’it! You’re blindfolded too! 

If the course is hidden behind a paywall, how can you tell that there’s real instruction and lesson planning at work?

All I can say is: ask.

For live classes and for online courses. You are allowed to ask.

If the answer to your question is not provided in the course description, then ask the instructor directly. 

I’m more than happy to give potential students more info. That’s part of the job. 

No answer? Don’t like the answer? Don’t take the class.

I’ll even tell people when they’re not right for one of my classes. 

And don’t make the mistake of thinking that I’m unique!

All good instructors want to create a great learning environment. Selling you a class that you don’t need or aren’t ready for defeats our personal mission. 

Sure, I want to earn money, but popping you into a class that you’re not ready for? Well, that makes your money the hardest money I’ve ever earned. It’s sooooooo difficult to teach someone all the skills they’re missing PLUS help them keep up with the rest of the class. Good instructors want you in the right class for your skill level.

Lesson plans, class goals, and upfront honest discussion

Those are three signs that you’re dealing with someone who wants to help you learn.

It’s okay to ask questions before you take your next class. 

It’s not just your money you’re saving, it’s frustration too.

Ask. You are worth it!


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Let's Talk: The Secret to Amazing Coloring

The secret to amazing coloring isn't what you think it is. Improve your Copic or colored pencil coloring with this one secret. |

Are you a fixer?

Readers of my weekly Vanilla Beans newsletters (subscribe here) have heard me mention the fixing process in the last two issues.

Yes, I’m a fixer.

But so is every other professional artist I know.

The secret to amazing coloring isn't what you think it is. Improve your Copic or colored pencil coloring with this one secret. |

Fixing flaws, making adjustments, and making corrections is part of the artistic process. Nobody throws paint at a canvas and calls it perfect.

Artists labor over their artwork. Sometimes the adjustments are major, like adding a tree to balance the composition or painting over something that detracts from the focal point.

But the vast majority of fixes are so minor that you’d hardly even notice them.

I’m constantly fiddling with the temperature of things. I’ll add warm colors over the top of an object when it feels too cool (because cool colors tend to recede and feel far away). And I’ll cool something off when it feels too bright and boisterous.

I play with depth too. I push things deeper by adding more dark, desaturated colors or I’ll pull them forward by lightening and brightening certain areas. I almost never get depth right the first time, it’s a process rather than a single step.

I also reshape things a lot, especially with botanicals. I’ll round off the edges of things or loosen up the outline if that’s what’s needed. I’m rarely happy with the original way that I draw anything; shapes always morph as I work my way through the project.

Wise people know that everything in life requires some form of adjustment. 

Are you a color-it-once kind of person?

I hope not.

It’s the equivalent of a race car driver who refuses to pit for fuel or a singer who knows the microphone isn’t working but continues to sing softly anyway.

Who does that?

Colorers. That’s who.

There’s this weird mindset within the coloring community that coloring is a one-and-done process. Once you color an area, you’re done with it forever.

The secret to amazing coloring isn't what you think it is. Improve your Copic or colored pencil coloring with this one secret. |


So wrong it makes my left eye twitch…

Trying to get everything right on the first pass? Wow, that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself.

But I can’t blame you. Tutorials never seem to mention the “go back and fix that thing you just did wrong” part.

And coloring bloggers and video makers try to present themselves as amazingly awesome coloring super-stars, so the parts where they screw things up often gets edited out.

I guess I can’t fault folks for thinking that they’re not very good at coloring when almost every Copic colorer you’ve ever seen pretends that they do things right every time and every step of the way.

The truth is...

...the good stuff really only begins to take shape when you go back and perfect things. 

In the beginning stages, you color on white paper. Your colors will change as you build up more and more intense color throughout the project. There’s no way to predict how strong something needs to be at the beginning of a project. You absolutely have to go back and make value adjustments later- it’s part of the coloring process

Shapes change as you color the spaces around them. I usually do floral leaves before I color the petals. I almost always have to go back and reshape the leaves, especially when they overlap a blossom. Refining shapes is part of the coloring process.

Sometimes a shape isn’t what we thought it was. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve colored something as background, only to find out later that it was actually a flower petal or a lock of hair. You can’t skip that kind of correction. Correction is part of the coloring process.

And lastly, sometimes I look back and realize that some of my blends look choppy. As you work your way through any project, your blending gets better and smoother as you get into the groove. So it’s natural that you may need to go back and smooth the first few things you colored.

Are you sensing a pattern here? Smoothing your blends is also a part of the coloring process.

And yet in the coloring community, no one wants to admit this stuff.

But artists? Hoo boy, we mess up all the time and most of us will gladly talk at length about all the corrections we make. We kind'a take pride in rescuing projects that were heading southward... "man, I fixed the heck out of that area over there!"

The difference between a mediocre artist and a great artist is that great artists fix and adjust the mediocre stuff until it looks great.

Fixes are essential to making great projects

The secret to amazing coloring isn't what you think it is. Improve your Copic or colored pencil coloring with this one secret. |

I’m a better colorer for making these changes.

I’m an honest colorer for admitting that I do this. It serves no purpose to pretend that I got it right from the start. Hey world, I almost never get it right from the start!

So the next time you’re knee-deep into some online tutorial or internet video, don’t beat yourself up for not coloring it all perfectly.

There are steps missing from that tutorial. They are not showing you everything.

Correcting and adjusting… we all do it.

You should do it too.

It’s okay to go back and fix things. In fact, it’s vital that you go back and fix things.

What’s the secret to amazing coloring? 

It’s as simple as going back and making adjustments.

Beginner Copic Coloring: Shading Yellows

Learn to shade yellow and orange without making mud! Beginner Copic Marker lessons. |

Do you hesitate to color with yellow?

A lot of people do.

In traditional Copic blending, most colorers have been taught to shade with a marker that is two to three digits higher than your main marker color.

So Y15 would be shaded with Y17 or Y18 and YR12 might be shaded with YR14 or YR15.

But anyone with at least one working eyeball can tell that this simply doesn't work for yellows and light oranges.

That's because there's more to shade than darkness.

Let me repeat that for you- there is more to shade than simply coloring something with a slightly darker marker.

When you step up a marker number in Copics, what you're getting is a more saturated version of the same color. Saturation refers to the strength or the value of a color. To put it in really simple terms- Y15 and Y17 are the same exact ink, the only difference is that Y15 has been "watered down" or diluted with more colorless blender solvent.

So a higher Copic is MORE saturated, meaning it has more pure ink color in the mixture.

But that's not how shade works

Learn to shade yellow and orange without making mud! Beginner Copic Marker lessons. |

Shade is the opposite of saturation.

Shade is an area of DE-SATURATION.

Look at any object around you right now, it doesn't matter what thing you choose, it could be a pen, a mug, or your computer keyboard. All objects have areas of shade on them and all shade is color that has been de-saturated with gray.

The color in shady areas isn't darker, it's grayer.

I don't know why Copic teaches shading differently. I don't know why so many instructors teach students to saturate their shady areas rather than desaturate them.

And it's a complete mystery to me why so few people notice the problem.

Until they try coloring yellow...

The shade version of yellow is not more yellow

I think a lot of people sense that something is wrong with the Copic system when they get to yellow. You can almost get away with shading blue with more blue or red with a darker red. But adding more yellow to yellow simply looks wrong.

So a lot of people avoid yellows all together.

And then there are the mud makers...

Every once in a while, I'll come across a tutorial or a project photo where the colorer has tried to find a solution to the yellow problem.

They'll try using a muddy yellow like Y28 or they'll try a browish yellow, like YR14.

And a very few, rebel kind of folks try adding warm grays to their yellow mixes.

All three of these solutions kill the sunshine. Your yellows get muddy instead of retaining that sense of joy and purity.

Yellow is a fragile color. It's tender. It can't withstand a lot of desaturation and still retain it's yellowishness.

Learn to shade yellow and orange without making mud! Beginner Copic Marker lessons. |

Join me for a class on yellow

My live beginner classes will learn to shade yellow with ease.

This is a lesson that works on everything from bananas to little baby ducklings.

You can shade yellow accurately and artistically without sacrificing its sunshiney, optimistic nature.

We're shading Y35 in class but I'll also demonstrate how the same technique works with several of the pure yellows.

This is an incredibly practical lesson... but it's a fun technique too!

Three May sessions:

Remember When Scrapbooking in Macomb, Michigan:

Learn to shade yellow and orange without making mud! Beginner Copic Marker lessons. |

Wednesday, May 10th from 1 to 3:30pm

Thursday, May 11th from 6 to 8:30pm

Lesson: Shading Tender Yellows

Stamp: Daffodils by Power Poppy

Medium: Copic Marker & Prismacolor Premier Pencils

Skill Level: Absolute beginners through intermediate colorers. No drawing skills necessary.

RSVP: Call 586.598.1810 to reserve your space or to order the class stamps or Copic Markers.

Bee Creative Retreat in Oxford, Michigan:

Wednesday, April 26th from 6:30 to 9:00pm

Same as above

RSVP: Purchase your space here. Sorry, no walk-ins.


Join me for a celebration of yellow

But hey, we can still make mud pies if you want! It'll just have to wait until after class.

For live class updates and the latest class supply lists-