5 Mistakes Beginning Copic Colorers Make (and how to fix them)

5 mistakes beginning Copic colorers make- and how to fix them | VanillaArts.com

beautiful coloring doesn't require Mensa membership.

No genius level I.Q. required! Coloring is a skill and because it's a skill, that means that coloring is completely learnable.

Everyone can learn to color well with Copic markers.

But there is a learning curve-- and how quickly you progress depends upon your ability to diagnose flaws or inconsistencies in your technique. Improvement is all about correcting the mistakes that stand between you and flawless coloring.

It's not about  talent, it's about self-diagnosis. Learning is the ability to clearly take stock of your results, see the flaw, narrow in on the problem, and make an appropriate correction.

I work with a lot of beginners

5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Either complete newbies or people who haven't had the time to be crafty in a while.

I also see a lot of similar technique problems. Let's face it, it's a marker. Short of inserting it into your left nostril and nodding your head to color, there are only so many ways to screw up.

So to help you diagnose what goes wrong when you sit down to color, let's look at a few common mistakes I see from beginners. Correct these mistakes and you're not a beginner anymore!

Problem #1:  swirl or zig-zags-

5 Beginner Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Smooth blending is all about intelligent ink placement. It's not magic, it's brains.

Many instructors place a lot of emphasis on their "special" color recipes.

But frankly, blending is not about the color of inks you select, it's more about how, where, and the quantity of ink you use.

Intelligent coloring requires you to control your ink application.

A smooth blend between two or even three marker colors requires that I get the ink down in even and predictable amounts. This is because it's easier to blend out a one-layer area than a three-layer area. Ink is stubborn and the more you lay down, the less it wants to budge.

5 mistakes beginner colorers make (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

You can not apply ink consistently if you're coloring in swirls or zig-zag strokes.

Here's an up-close look at of both kinds of no-no strokes:

I've outlined the areas in each stroke where there is extra ink. Remember, extra ink means a stubborn spot when you go to blend in the next color.

A touch down is where I started the stroke. Markers always give an immediate gush of ink at the beginning (plus our hand tends to hover there a few miliseconds longer).  Then every time the stroke overlaps itself, we get a double layer of ink.

5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

The left lobe of this heart was zig zagged. The right lobe has the swirls, this is one application of R27 but in some areas, it's several layers thick. It's very uneven coverage. 

When I add my next color, more swirling or zagging is only going to compound this unevenness.

The Ebeneezer Scrooge in me would also like to point out that you're wasting ink this way. You don't need 3 coats on the first application, bah-humbug!

The Fix:

 This is a flick.

This is a flick.

A controlled stroke pattern, one that is both regulated and consistent will improve your blending. For any marker with a brush nib, that means working with flicks.

5 Beginner Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com


When you work with flicks, you know exactly where the high and low concentration areas are. There's always a gush at the beginning and the ink tapers off towards the end of your stroke.

So when we color an image using flicks, unlike a swirl or zig zag stroke, we now know exactly which areas of an image have the greatest concentrations of ink.

5 Beginner Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

To give this heart a raised and three dimensional or puffed-heart look, I know I need to concentrate my shade (darker) colors towards the edge of the heart. I need less color in the highlight areas that are more central. So I've planned my flicking intelligently to place the highest saturation of my darkest ink (R29) on the outer edges.

5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

The saturation of ink softens as it moves towards the eventual highlight areas. Now when I introduce my next marker color, it will blend with a lightly saturated area rather than having to fight with heavy layers of R29.

Now I can come in with flicks of R27 and know the greatest amount of blending will occur right in the transition zones, not on the edges but in towards the center.

A smooth and easy blend (one that happens with very little work from you) relies on even coverage. To blend smoothly, I want an area in the middle that isn't super-saturated by either color.

5 Beginner Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com
5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

The key to this heart is that the edges are 100% saturated with R29 and as we move more towards the center, there is less and less R29 (and more of the lighter colors shining through).

Flicking allows that concentration of color, right where it's needed. If you're not flicking, you're left guessing where the high concentrations are.


Problem #2: Starting strokes in the middle-

I see a lot of people do this in demonstrations on YouTube!

We know we want the darkest color concentration and the greatest ink saturation towards the edge of the image, where it's naturally the darkest, correct?

5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

That's harder to do that if you start coloring in the middle of an object.

This is R27 and it's lighter in color than the R29 edge color. Technically, the R27 is in the correct spot here.

But I scrubbed it into the center, with no real plan for the edges. As a result, I built up a heavier layer of ink along the outside of the blob of R27. I call that edge build up a "wall". It's an area of thicker ink (more saturated paper)

5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

When I come in with the edge color, even flicked it in properly... I'm always going to be fighting with the original boundary wall that I made with R27.  Here it is up close. You can still see the heavy outline of R27 underneath the layer of R29. That area will never blend easily because of the wall.

The Fix:

This is one reason why I work dark to light.

I know, 90% of colorers and 4 out of 5 dentists recommend working light to dark but hey, I've never been a lemming.

If you work light to dark, chances are you lay down color right in the eventual highlight zone first. Unless you color the whole darned thing R22 (which Ebeneezer seriously frowns upon).

5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

So this highlight zone now has 1 layer of ink and a wall of heavier ink all around it.

When you add the next darker marker, it will overlap the edges of the highlight zone, right on the heavier area. So you'll blend a little harder on that wall which creates a new wall. The next color will over lap that zone... and so on outward.

When you work light to dark, the blending happens when you work your way back up to the light colors, recoloring everything and smoothing as you go.

5 beginner Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

If you're stacking your colors evenly on a  first pass, this is how it should look:

But instead, we scrubbed in the highlight color first and left a wall around it.

5 mistakes beginner Copic colorers make | VanillaArts.com

That means it take 2 coats of a darker pink to fight the wall on the highlight. You now have FOUR layers in some places and only one layer in others.  And at this point, you've only worked your way darker, you still need to work lighter again to finalize the blend.

5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Look at the incredible variation in the number of layers you have now that you've worked light again. You've got SIX layers in what is supposedly a lighter zone and only one layer on the outer edge where you need darkness. Is it any wonder your blend doesn't flow?

A smooth blend requires consistency in layers. You can't get that when you start in the center and you complicate your life by working light to dark.

Working dark to light and working from the edges inward saves time, ink, and heartache.

5 mistakes beginner Copic colorers make (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Now maybe you think I'm overthinking this. And I'll admit, drawing diagrams of microscopic ink layers does venture into overthinking territory...

Sure, it's a tiny 1 inch heart. When an image is this small, I'm not using a lot of ink, so who cares where I start?

Well, a lot of faces in stamp images are about 1 inch in diameter. And layers matter a lot on faces!

Start in the center of a face and you've killed off any chance you have at a smooth and even complexion.

Heavy build up can make or break the look of a face. If you put the blush and highlight colors on first, you are putting the most ink where you need the least.


Problem #3: Not building a dam-

Heart hairy edges.jpg
5 Beginner Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com


I teach all my students to flick but a lot of beginners have projects that look a little ragged or have hairy edges.


No matter how good you are, no matter how much talent you have, even the best professionals can't manage to flick from a consistent starting point.

Personally,  I've got a better chance of winning the lottery on the same day that I get bit by a shark than I have of forming nice neat clean outlines on my images if I only flick.

The Fix:

Hey! Remember when I said that coloring was all about intelligent ink placement? If we know the outer edge of our heart will receive a few coats of ink to get it dark enough...

Why not use one of our coats to sharpen the edge?

Yep, I build a dam into the edges of my image. Then no matter where I start those flicks, I know the dam will camouflage the inconsistencies. 

5 mistakes beginning Copic Colorers make (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com
5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

And here's the cool part, if you hit that dam while it's still wet, it's even less noticeable! So here's how I typically work: I outline a little and then flick inwards from that dam. Then I move on to the next section.

By always hitting the dam while it's damp with the exact same color of flick, the two strokes merge smoother and basically equalize. If you wait for the flick to dry, then you're adding one layer on top of another and it's not quite as subtle.


Problem #4: Overblending-

5 Beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

This is a problem I see more on the internet than I do with my students. Because frankly, I don't give them much time to overblend!

Overblending is basically putting waaaaayyyyyy too much ink on the paper. Most of the time, overblending happens when you see a flaw in your blending, so you go back and fix it. Then you fix the fix, then you have to fix the fix of the fix.

See where this is going? Nowhere good.

Some papers will start to seep and bleed along the outlines when they're oversaturated. On some marker or "layout" grade papers (used by Manga artists), you'll start to get an oily sheen where the ink is thickest.

On X-Press It Cardstock (my absolute favorite to work on), if you oversaturate, you'll get what I call Copic Jelly. Jelly is a puddle of concentrated ink that doesn't have anywhere else to go; it coagulates on the surface of the cardstock. The solvent evaporates and leaves the puddle sticky and streaky.

5 mistakes beginner colorers make (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

But bleeding edges and Copic jelly aren't the only things that happen when you overblend. When you over-smooth your blend, you actually loose color variation.

Here I've used the same 3 markers to make a blend. On the bottom, I blended and reblended, 3 times. Look at how flat it looks!

It's not only flatter, it's significantly darker.

5 mistakes beginner colorers make (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

R22 x 3 coats is more like an R25!

The Fix:

1. Work dark to light. The fewer times you have to go up and down the scale, the less chance you'll overblend.

2. If you are unhappy with a blend, stop working on that area and go color a new area. Moving on means that when you finally go back to evaluate the problem spot, you'll look at it with fresh eyes. Chances are, the blend isn't nearly as tragic as you originally thought.

3. Take a step back. I'm serious. The average colorer hovers about 2 inches away from their paper when they're analyzing a mistake. I know, I watch you folks cram up close and squint.

Here's a question: When you want to see if a pair of pants makes your butt look fat, do you stand two inches away from the mirror? How about when you check your makeup?

Whoa! Nothing looks good at at two inches away. EVEN FREEKIN' KATE UPTON LOOKS LIKE A HAG FROM 2 INCHES AWAY.

Step away from the paper.

Stand back. Can you still see the mistake from 2 feet away? Because unless the person who is viewing your card is grandma who forgot her spectacles, your viewer is going to be looking at your project from about an arms distance away. And things always look better when they're not under a microscope.


Problem #5: Coloring too slowly-

I see this problem develop when students finally understand what they're doing but haven't yet logged in many hours of practice.

They know how and where to flick but they still make frequent mistakes, so they slow down.

Maybe it's because they're overthinking the process. It's natural-- when your brain gets busy, your hand slows down.

Or maybe they figure if they color slowly they'll be able to correct any problems early in the stroke.

Whatever the reason, I'm a jack-rabbit colorer and I don't waste time dinking around. So seeing a molasses colorer makes me want to honk my horn at them. Beep-beep, hurry it up buddy!

But it's not just an I'm annoying Amy problem, when you color slow, you lay down a lot of ink. Therefore slow colorers easily cause themselves more problems than they're solving by going pokey-slow.

The Fix:

5 mistakes beginner colorers make (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Beep-beep! Hurry it up buddy!

Here is one stoke. One long and slow stroke. For the first peak, I went painfully slow. Look at how much it bled! The second peak was faster. The third peak was still slower than my average flick but not slow enough to make me honk my horn.

Now check out what speed did to the line color. That line isn't just fuzzy and weepy, it's several shades darker! If you're regularly developing Copic Jelly on the surface of your cardstock, maybe it's not how many times you're blending, maybe it's your speed!


So there you go- 5 common mistakes and 5 solutions

5 mistakes beninning colorers make (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Don't worry, there are lots more mistakes coming!

I sat down to brainstorm 10 and came up with a few dozen. I'll cover more beginner mistakes in upcoming posts. I've even got a list of intermediate level mistakes.

And hey, I'm not above the law either. I'll point the magnifying glass at myself and see what I come up with.

We can all improve at least a little, don'tcha think?


(psssttt... read about 5 more mistakes here)

1 Signature Teal.jpg