Are you killing your coloring?
I'd like to think that as we learn and grow, we stop making stupid mistakes.
But there's one common trait I see in all in my coloring classes and my art classes. Unfortunately it's a problem that many students never outgrow.
Artists call it "overworking"
And you know darned well, if a bunch of contrarian artists all use the same exact word for something, then it must be a serious problem!
It's a real battle for many people.
Overworking kills the beauty of your projects.
It kills them with love.
What is overworking?
Overworking is what you do at the end of the project.
You're sitting there with something gorgeous. You've colored it with all the skill you could muster.
And it looks great!
You keep on going.
And more on top of the more.
You should call it quits but your brain hasn't gotten the message yet. You're still going.
And going, and going.
In every project, you get to a point of diminishing returns.
When everything more that you do, everything new that you add-- it subtracts from the beauty, simplicity, and perfection of your project.
Overworking is everything you color AFTER you should be done.
How do you prevent overwork?
Well, that's a tough question.
Think about it, if Leonardo Da Vinci and his friends were worried about overworking way back in the 15th century...
...and I'm still talking about it today?
Then there aren't going to be any easy answers.
There are no magic spells, no handy apps, and no life hacks which will stop you from overworking the heck out of your project.
"Am I done?" is one of the hardest calls to make.
But you know me, I wouldn't write an article telling you all about a serious problem without offering some insight, solutions, or a class if it can't be explained in a blog post.
So let's take a look at the things I watch for as an art instructor.
Let me tell you what I see students doing- signs that they're done but don't know it yet.
6 signs you are overworking:
Hopefully you can catch yourself before you do them too!
1. The 43rd Fix
Copic loves to brag that you can go back and re-blend. Pencil companies boast that you can add 20 kajillion layers. Even watercolor manufacturers have started talking-up the ability to lift color for a second shot at perfection.
But paper is finite. It won't stand up to a ton of abuse. Every fix takes a toll on your paper.
It's okay to double back and try again but you can't do that forever.
And here's the thing-
Usually, the flaw isn't noticeable to anyone but you.
You're the one who made the mistake. You're the one with your nose hovering 2 inches away from the mistake. You're the only one obsessing about the mistake.
We're all standing 4 feet back wondering what the heck you're fussing about.
But guess what we can see?
We can easily see the area you re-blended so many times that it's now dark and sticky. We can spot the places you scrubbed raw with an eraser. And that glittery butterfly sticker isn't fooling anyone. We know you're trying hide the fix of a fix of a fix.
Look, I know you don't want to admit it, but after a certain point, it's not going to get any better. You can not fix everything.
Some mistakes are better left alone.
If you've fixed it three times and it's still not right, make your peace with it.
Don't kill your whole project over a tiny flaw.
Colorers have a very nasty habit.
When they run out of stuff to color, they go back and outline it all.
There's something that feels weirdly satisfying about tracing over an area you totally rocked the first time. It's like you're reliving the glory.
Think about what you do with a doodle pad when talking on the phone. Most people draw a square and then trace that square nine million times. It feels good.
People do that with their coloring projects all the freekin' time. They sit there with an odd smile on their face, running the pencil or marker over the area repeatedly.
Hey, snap out of it! Stop!!!
What's the quickest way to make something look fake?
Put a big ol' outline around it.
The Mona Lisa wouldn't look quite so hot if her nose and both nostrils were outlined in heavy black scribbles, eh?
If you're sitting there tracing the original line drawing, you're done.
Get up and walk away before you damage it further.
3. Air Flourishes
I joke with students about "Jaques" the stereotype artist. He's the starving artist guy who wears a beret, red neckerchief, and a handlebar mustache.
When Jaques paints, he waves his paintbrush around in the air, drawing lots of attention. He makes fancy swishes as if he's conducting the orchestra at the Kennedy Center.
Swish, swish and ooh la la!
Artists don't really work that way.
But colorers do. When I see a student making air flourishes, I zoom over to stop them.
You can't color well if you're approaching the paper with flailing arms.
The marks you make will be sloppy and out of control.
If you're waving your hands in the air, you are not coloring well.
For some reason, colorers like to go all Beethoven with their final strokes. Mad jabs and a few swoops feel like an artistic way to end the project.
But that's not joie de vivre. you're making big bold mistakes.
Stop. Just stop before you mess it up more.
Elephant with daisies and stars and little pink hearts floating around in the background!
That joke doesn't make sense, does it?
Neither does the card you just made.
Pointless decoration detracts from your coloring.
If you're doodling confetti dots, adding speckles and freckles, or if you are drawing motion lines behind your characters like you see in the comics... stop!
You are ruining your project.
Don't do that!
5. Extreme Highlighting
A lot of colorers end every project with a white gel pen.
A lot of white gel pen.
Look, you could spend weeks adding little white comma shapes to everything in your image. You could highlight the toes on a ladybug and each of her eyelashes too.
But you're not adding realism, depth, or dimension.
Over-highlighting is like scoring an own-goal. You're hurting the cause.
Not everything in life has a highlight on it.
And nothing in life has a white comma on it!
I'm thinking of starting a 12 step program for folks who love their gel pens just a little tooooooo much.
That stuff is getting out of control.
6. Day Dreaming
I'm going to give this unicorn card to sweet little Justin and he will love it so much! He'll sleep with the card under his pillow every night until he's 27 years old knowing that his Nana loves him...
Janet will be so touched that I was "Thinking of Ewe". She'll show this card to all our co-workers. Then the staff will cheer and carry me on their shoulders to the Chairman's office and they'll loudly demand that I be promoted to the head of a new Coloring Department where I'll make sheep themed cards for all the major holidays...
Uhm, yeah. If you're thinking about all that stuff, you're not thinking about what you're doing with the marker in your hand.
Distracted coloring is bad coloring.
People tend to hold off on grand plans for their artwork until they're sure that it's turning out well. We wait to see if it stinks before deciding to give it away.
So if you're thinking about what will happen after the project is finished, that's a big clue you're in the final stages.
But big dreams sap the brain power and concentration you need to finish strong.
So move away from the table.
Don't touch the project until you're back on earth.
there you go!
Six major signs that you're overworking the project.
You are damaging your awesome coloring by your inability to call it quits.
Knowing when to say when is a tough decision; but if you're obsessively reblending, outlining, waving your hands around, doodling, daydreaming, or highlighting the heck out of it, it's a pretty safe bet that you're done.
You've probably been done for a while.
While we can't rid the world of the overworking habit, you can learn to spot the signs in yourself. As you get to the end of a project, be aware of how your thoughts and movements change.
Don't let the cooling-off period be your downfall.