Let's Talk: Is Your Coloring Flat? Why you need to own lots of ugly Copic Markers.

Is your coloring flat and lacking in depth? Why you need to own lots of ugly Copic Markers. | VanillaArts.com

Do you have depth problems?

It's a common complaint I hear from new Copic Marker students.

I've tried and I've tried. I've taken classes and I've worked through every tutorial I can get my hands on. I own a lot of markers and I keep trying new blending combinations... but still, everything I color looks flat!

Part of the problem is the learning process. Free tutorials can only teach you what the blogger is willing to give away for free. Which usually isn't much and it's almost always relegated to how they colored one particular stamp.

But honestly? The source and true underlying problem is glaringly obvious when I ask to see what markers the person owns. This is photo is fairly typical; most people only own the beautiful colors.

Is your coloring flat and lacking in depth? Why you need to own lots of ugly Copic Markers. | VanillaArts.com

It's fun to buy pretty markers

Copic newbies buy markers in small bursts, carefully selecting only the best and most beautiful colors.

Oh! That's pretty! I like that red and the purple... I should get a pink? That one's nice. Let's get a green too!

You did the same thing, didn't you? When every dollar counts, you select the colors you love most. That's completely logical. I get it.

But then you get home and find that you can't color anything because you only own two greens, a bright yellow, fire engine red, and three pale violets.

So you head back to the store

Because the internet said that you should buy markers in blending combinations.

And the internet never lies, right?

So you plop down more hard-earned cash to purchase two markers to go with each of your existing markers. You start buying Copics by number, one step up and one step down. Perfect little Copic approved blending combinations.

Now you feel special because you own lots of markers; enough to need a special box and to fill out lots of rectangles in your inventory chart. And hey, look at all the blending trios! Aren't you clever?

But you still can't color much because you haven't done a thing to remedy the fact that you're STILL sitting there with only green, yellow, red, and violet markers.

You can't color bears, you can't color Easter baskets, you can't color chickens, or sailboats or monkeys or piglets or rainbows or ice cream or that funny stamp with smiling underwear rolling around in a little clothes dryer.

then you get smart

You take your stamps to the store.

This weekend I'm going to color the bear. I need a brown bear combination. No pretty colors, just a brown trio!

About now is when students usually hunt me down for help. They own over a hundred markers and still can't color much. And it's all flat. No depth. No dimension. Just pretty colored flatness.

Is your coloring flat and lacking in depth? Why you need to own lots of ugly Copic Markers. | VanillaArts.com

If you want dimension, you've gotta get ugly!

I colored this C. C. Designs image using just pretty colors. I used a couple nice skin tones, some lovely hair colors, a few cute pinks and two dreamy blues.

Then I did my usual colored pencil magic over the top. I added all the texture I normally would. But again, I only used pretty pinks and blues and one Copic approved Sepia Multiliner.

Boring. Snooze fest. Unimpressive.

What's missing?

Is your coloring flat and lacking in depth? Why you need to own lots of ugly Copic Markers. | VanillaArts.com

Neutrals! Desaturated Colors! Muddy Tones!

You know, the colors that you skipped over because they're not very pretty?

I'll buy a few grays someday... but first I want to own all the cute colors.

Here is Bunny Twila again. I used all the same colors as the first shot, but this time I added the grunge.


Completely different.

It's important to understand that depth is a trick of the eye, a false sense of spacial distance. The look of distance doesn't come from using a darker marker. It's not the dark pink that makes the inside of Twila's bunny-rabbit ears look deep and inset.

Instead, the central ear looks deep because I muddied up the color by putting some gray underneath the pink. Then I added some Indigo Blue pencil on top. Gray? Indigo? On pink?

The inside of her ears is not a pretty color anymore, but it does look pretty darned dimensional. If you want objects to look deep or recessed, you have to shade them and that's different than coloring them with the next level of pink.

Is your coloring flat and lacking in depth? Why you need to own lots of ugly Copic Markers. | VanillaArts.com

Copic makes 44 gray markers

And they have a ton of pseudo grays hiding in amongst the other color families.

And I'll bet that even if you own some of them, you're not using them.

You have to make a little mud if you want to get dimensional. That means choosing grays or other colors that deliberately clash with your pretty markers.

Underneath your sunshine yellows, there needs to be a little violet. Under your skin tones, you gotta have some sleep-deprived-eye-bag blue. Reds need more than burgundy to look shaded. And don't get me started on the wonderful relationship between orange and purple!

If all of this sounds foreign to you, you are not alone

Is your coloring flat and lacking in depth? Why you need to own lots of ugly Copic Markers. | VanillaArts.com

Free tutorials don't cover this stuff because it's not something you can explain in four paragraphs and a few tut photos.

And frankly, most Copic instructors don't understand desaturation well enough to teach it. Ask 'em why some artists use bold violet on faces and you're not likely to get a correct answer.

It's easy to include a gray marker in a free tutorial, especially when you saw someone else use the same recipe and it magically worked for them. So why not pass it on in your blog readers too? 

It's much harder to explain why it works or to give readers advice on other similarly effective colors. 

A student asked me what Copic Markers I use most

Here's the list.

Not what you expected, eh?

You would never know from this list that red is my favorite color. You can't tell that BG11 appears in almost all my color palettes or that I go through YG03 like it's water. And my list here isn't muted because I only draw and color drab or uninteresting things. I use these markers on everything from freelance human anatomy and technical illustrations to my hobby botanicals.

And yet, these are the markers that sit in little mug on my desk. They rarely go back into my marker storage unit. There's no point in putting away something I'm going to use again soon.

My most used markers won't win any beauty contests. Thhey're not the stars of the show but they are the supporting cast of every image that I color. Every single one.

I use this weird raggle-taggle group of ugly markers to push the beauty queen colors deeper, farther, and stronger. These are the colors I use to create dimension. I don't use them to color, I use them to color my colors.

And I can teach you too.

Join me in a coloring class where we push colors to a whole new depth

You'll never look at color the same way again.


One Tiny Thing: Improve Your Coloring Immediately- Fill Your Marker

One Tiny Thing: You can improve your coloring today- refresh your markers | VanillaArts.com

I'm not a big believer in abracadabra style tips and tricks.

Changes and improvements usually require a bit of blood, sweat, and that stuff that leaks out of your eyes when the ASPCA commercials play.

But sometimes there really are easy things which we completely overlook- because they're so simple.

Here's another installment of the tiny thing series

Otherwise known as "Amy points out the little things some of you are not doing..."

Once a month, I point out one small thing, one mind-numbingly easy step that you can add to your coloring routine that will allow you to color better forever.

Last month, we talked about why it's important to identify every element in your stamp image BEFORE you begin coloring. Today we tackle a brand new Tiny Thing:

Refill your Markers

I know it's dumb for me to even mention this, but stick with me here. I'm not going where you think I'm going...

I'll bet for 99% of us, the top reason to purchase Copic markers instead of another brand is because Copic Sketch, Ciao, Original, and Copic Wide markers are refillable.

If you're like me, you actually used refill-ability as the primary justification for splurging on a luxury marker rather than going with a standard marker.

"Jinkies! they're totally refillable!!! So in the long run, I'm saving tons and tons of money!"

That's what you said, way back then. But let's be honest now...

How many Copics have you actually refilled? How many Various Inks do you own? How many of your markers are more than 2 years old and have never been refilled?

Have you ever refilled your Copics? | VanillaArts.com

I'm not just talking about your favorite go-to markers, the ones you use in almost every project. I'm including the pumpkin orange markers that you mainly use in the fall and the pine-dark greens that only see action in December.

Of all the Copic Markers you own, what percentage of them have been refilled?

If you're a normal crafter, I'm guessing it's a fairly low number.

"But, but, but... my teachers and my favorite blogs... they all say that you don't have to refill a marker until it squeaks!"

You won't hear that kind of nonsense from me. Here's the low-down and dirty truth:

  1. Some markers always squeak- call 'em the squeaky wheels, they never shut up!
  2. Some markers never squeak- these are the martyr markers that will die before they complain
  3. By the time a marker squeaks, you've been coloring at less than full power for quite a while

Skills & technique can only get you so far

Let's say that tomorrow, you decide not to tie your shoes. You head off to work or run errands and your sneaker laces are flapping in the breeze. Just because.

What could go wrong?

Well, for starters, you're going to move at grandma pace, especially after you stumble for the fifth time. You'll be lucky not to break your face when you run down a flight or two of stairs. You might even miss a big staff meeting if your meandering lace gets stuck in the elevator door.

But I'm willing to bet that the last thing you'll do is to berate yourself, "Geeze, I'm sooooo bad at walking!"

I'm also guessing that you won't surf the internet for tutorials on how to walk better and you won't price out unicycles as an alternative mode of transportation.

It's the shoelaces, not you.

The condition of your tools matters too.

You can be the love child of Rembrandt and Picasso but if you're using dry markers, you aren't going to be cranking out any masterpieces.

Every time you use a weak marker, you are deliberately deciding not to tie your shoes.

Copics need adequate juice to blend properly

BG57 to Y38.

If you've got enough ink in the mix, even improbable sounding blends are possible.

Here, I've feather blended BG18 into Y35. I'm not sure when you'd ever use this blending combination, but with enough moisture, you can blend any two markers.

Moisture. In markers, that means solvent. Your coloring needs to be ooshy, gooshy and wet to give the pigments a chance to get cozy and mingle.

Solvent is like Barry White music. To make a blend, ANY BLEND, the pigments need to get romantic and really looooove one another.

Mmm hmmmmm, baby.

Low-ink markers have no sex appeal.

But here's the problem, Copic Markers do not come with a see through window. There's no level markings, no handy-dandy fill gauge, and there's no ADT alarm system that makes your desk lamp blink Def-Con 3 red until you refill your marker.

Instead, you have to pay attention, you have to know your markers. Copics are 358 little children and you are their mother.

Unless you are magical, your marker projects all use ink

3 Reasons why my markers need refilling this week | VanillaArts.com

I colored the same large image three different times last week.

These images are each 8.5" wide.

That's three big reasons why my BG53 and BG57 markers are now low on juice.

Barry doesn't like it when my markers are dry.

No, baby. Noooooo.

Neither marker is squeaking yet. As I said above, by the time a marker cries out in pain. it's already past it's prime.

As a good marker-momma, I know my two babies are hungry. If I'm to continue coloring at top level, I must refill them before I can expect good results from either maker. To continue using them half-full is the equivalent of not tying my shoes for the next few projects.

I have a mug where I stash markers that need refreshing.

Did you catch that?  I don't even call it refilling. I refresh my markers... because having to refill them means I am not being good to my precious little Copic babies.

This weekend, or when I have a few spare moments, I'll refresh all my sad mug markers that need attention. It's much easier to refresh a bunch at a time than to stop everything I'm doing to freshen and clean just one marker.

Keep your markers topped off, fresh, and juicy

Mmm hmmmm, baby. Make Barry happy.

It's One Tiny Thing you can do today which will improve your coloring immediately!


One Size Fits All? Internet Coloring Tutorials Can be Misleading

A method that works for your coloring idol may not work for you! Why? | VanillaArts.com

I love not having to try-on Blue Jeans anymore!

It's so wonderful to go into any store, pick out six different pairs of pants, and not have to try any of them on.

Perfect fitting jeans- every time. No matter what I grab, it all fits!

Yep. Thanks to the new One-Size-Fits-All technology that Levi's is now using, fitting rooms are totally a thing of the past.

2, 4, 6, 8, or 18... it no longer matters. It's One-Size-Fits-All from here on out, baby! And here's the cool part. I'm a woman who's 5'6" married to a man who's 6'4"... now we can share the same pants! It's like double the wardrobe as long as he doesn't mind a few sequins on the back pockets.

Wait... that's not real?

It was all a dream?



Now Think about this for a minute:

  1. Your sister makes amazing chocolate chip cookies
  2. Your friend from work just gave you a recipe for killer chocolate chip cookies
  3. Mrs. Fields sells yummy chocolate chip cookies

Your head didn't explode. All three things can be equally true.

There are several ways to make a pretty darned good cookie.

one size doesn't fit all

This isn't a shock to you, is it?

Nope. And if the popularity of Life Hackers and other tips & tricks sites is any indication, we're all in search of ways to improve the way we do things. Heck, my Facebook feed is full of gif videos about how I've been tying my shoes all wrong and how to cook a whole chicken in under 15 seconds... recently it seems the internet is all about finding new ways to do the same old stuff.

Different is good. We like different.

So why then, do you beat yourself up for not being able to duplicate the techniques used by the Copic Goddess you've subscribed to on YouTube?

Isn't she the possessor of the one and only magically correct way to color something?

Gotcha there, didn't I?

Levi's doesn't make one size fits all jeans and YouTubers don't make one method fits all videos.

I know. Bummer.

There are millions of ways to skin a cat

Strawberry Tea, a lesson in coloring realism | VanillaArts.com

Disclaimer: I have never skinned a cat; I've never tried. I have never looked at my cat and wondered what she'd look like sans-skin. Where in the heck did that phrase come from anyway?

Anyway... back to coloring.

I color in the way that makes the most sense for me:

  • I work from dark to light
  • I rarely use markers from the same number family
  • I usually use two stroke patterns
  • I underpaint or overpaint shade colors with gray, purple, or blue markers
  • I rarely highlight with markers
  • I add details and texture with colored pencils

And these are the methods I teach in my classes.

But here's the thing- I don't expect my methods to work for every student.

You live in a different body than I do. Your muscles move your hands and fingers differently than my muscles do. Your eyes see things differently; your brain processes information differently. We have different styles, preferences, and most importantly, we have different goals for our coloring.

There is absolutely no reason to assume that we should color the same way.

I find that about 1/3 of my students require something different. Maybe we change their grip or the stroke direction. Maybe we adjust the color palette, the number of passes, or the order of passes.

Of the remaining 2/3 of students who do closely mimic me, every single one of them will take my method and slowly modify it over the months and years as they perfect their own unique technique.

Millions of cats...

A good teacher will show you more than one way to do something. A great teacher will watch what you're doing and tailor solutions based upon your unique situation.

Ultimately, the goal isn't to learn THE ideal technique, it's to find YOUR ideal technique.

You're a unique person, why would you assume that your ideal technique would be right off the shelf (or straight off an internet tutorial)?

So ease up on yourself!

Your YouTube or Vimeo Idol is demonstrating one way to color. But I can guarantee, it is not the only way to get the job done.

If you can duplicate what an artist is doing, then bonus points and a gold star for your forehead; that's just ducky.

But remember, all coloring videos are a performance.They are not showing you the one and only, end all-be all, ultimate way of coloring. It's a way of coloring.

Videos are great and I'm not trying to knock them. I've learned a ton about what (and what not) to do via videos. But keep it in perspective. It's a free video.

Learn from your favorite internet colorer, but do not feel pressured to perfectly mimic someone else's technique or approach.

Free tutorials are sometimes a hit and sometimes a miss. And oh boy, I've seen a heck of a lot of bad information on YouTube!

If something doesn't work, the fault is either in the YouTuber's technique or their presentation. It's almost never you.

Use the stuff that works and trash the rest.

Now if we can just get someone to develop those magical pants...

Q&A: 10 Ways to Kill a Copic Nib

How to Ruin or Destroy your Copic Marker Nibs | VanillaArts.com

It was Miss Scarlett in the library with the candlestick...

No, maybe it was Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the wrench.

Ah ha! I've got it now...

It was Mr. Prismacolor in the studio with an alcohol based solvent!

Yeah, my Clue game board is perhaps slightly different than yours.

But the point is that we've got a dead Copic marker nib and someone is definitely to blame.


Frankie has a question:

You mentioned to be careful of using Copics with some ink liners that they can ruin the marker. So my question is what other things will ruin the marker? Can graphite pencil ruin the marker tip? What about color pencil, will the wax ruin it?

Here's my brain-dump on the subject:

Meaning it's a loose conglomeration of personal sorrows combined with things I've heard from students...

First we need to distinguish between the dead and the unfortunately maimed.

Copic Replacement Nibs | VanillaArts.com

A dead Copic marker nib is one that has been damaged beyond repair and needs to be replaced.

You can do that? Yep, they sell replacement nibs and you can do surgery on your marker, right from home. Also, if your local Copic retailer offers refilling service, they can do it for you. Many Copic instructors also offer the service to their students.

By the way, a "nib" is a fancy-pants technical term for the tips of your Copic marker.

An unfortunately maimed Copic marker nib is one that is ugly but still perfectly serviceable.

So what will kill or maim your Copic nibs? Let's run through my list of unfortunate accidents:


1. Stamping with the wrong ink pad- 

Copic ink has an alcohol based solvent. If you stamp with an ink pad that uses a similar solvent to stay moist and juicy and then color over it with a Copic marker, you most likely will reactivate that ink. The first clue that something is amiss will be that your marker starts to smear the stamped lines. At that point, you've likely discolored your marker tip (maiming). If you keep going long enough, you're going to pick up enough stamp ink particles that you'll either clog the pores of your nib which impedes proper ink flow (a definite kill) or you'll forever be leaving streaks of ink pad ink everytime you use that marker (not fatal but essentially a kill).

And no, heat setting does not solve your incompatible ink pad problem!!! That's dead wrong, wrongity-wrong. A solvent will always have the ability to chemically reconstitute an ink, no matter how long you let it dry, no matter how much you heat set it. You may prolong the amount of time it takes to smear that ink but it will still happen eventually.

2. Incompatible Ink Jet printer inks-

See stamp pad ink above. Same story only with definitely tragic consequences.

This does not apply to ALL ink jet printers. HP and Brother each have several ink formulations that are Copic safe. If you're a digital stamp collector, you really need to test the printer ink before you buy the printer.


3. Microns or technical pens other than Multiliners-

Okay, there's always someone who did it and didn't die. Different line pens have different inks, and I suspect the paper also has something to do with the process. But just like stamp pads, you can pick up, drag, and smear technical pen ink. And just like stamp pads, heat setting or long dry times won't negate the incompatibility problem.

Copic developed and sells Multiliners precisely because of this problem. And frankly, I don't understand the reluctance of many Manga artists to switch from Microns to Multiliners. Sheesh, you pay big bucks for each Copic marker but you won't spend the extra $1 to get a technical pen that won't kill your $7 marker??? On what planet does that make good economical sense?


4. Colored Pencils, wax or oil based pigment sticks-

The official spiel is that you always do your colored pencil work AFTER you've finished ALL the Copic work. And once you put down colored pencil, you NEVER go back and touch anything up.

Copic solvent will dissolve the binder in colored pencil marks which then frees the pigment particles up to clog the pores in your Copic nibs.

Having given you the officially official word, I'll tell you that I'm guilty of violating this law quite regularly. And I've seen other artists violate it religiously, with fervor, and without a care in the world.

It can clog your nibs. But it's not going to happen instantaneously. You have to do it a lot and you've got to be deliberately scrubbing the area repeatedly to encourage the clogging.

So, don't do what I do unless you're prepared to deal with the consequences.


5. Charcoal, graphite, pastels, and other unbound grainy items like raw or unfired clay (and even dirty surfaces)-

Unlike colored pencils, these items have less binder holding the pigment grains together. Unbound pigments are pretty much guaranteed to clog your nibs on the very first pass.

Will they kill it? Uhhhh.... maybe. I'd imagine clay or pastel is an immediate kill. Clay is pretty wicked.

But I have several nibs that are essentially stained with graphite. They're ugly but they're not clogged and have never transferred the graphite to other projects. Graphite stains are the bane of folks like me who draw, then ink, then color their projects. Even with a good eraser, you always leave some graphite behind and your Copic marker will eventually find it.


6. Poster paint and white-out-

Basically, we're talking about inexpensive matte paints here. They're usually water based but some white outs have acetone or alcohol as a base.

That matte, shine free, paper like surface they produce is because the particles aren't well bonded to the paper. There's always some rub-off potential, even with a wet finger.

Even a slight touchdown with a Copic will lift off particles and clog the pores.


8. Acrylic paint, faux embossing, lacquered items-

Copic solvent does a pretty mean job on some plastics, especially acrylic based paints and even cured embossing powders. 

It won't happen instantaneously, not with one touch but with enough contact and the natural friction caused by normal coloring strokes, you will gum up your nibs.

Even worse are lacquered items- non-traditional surface like a gift box or even a shiny or pearl glazed specialty papers. Lacquers ARE by definition alcohol based, so it's not a "maybe it'll clog the pores eventually" but an "it's gonna ruin it darned quick" kind of situation.

And yes, I know you card makers think of embossing powders as "embossing" but it's actually a faux process meant to mimic the look of embossing/debossing. If you're heat-setting a a powder, you're doing the fake thing.


9. Copic Jelly-

Here's one you may not have thought of but I'd be willing to bet it's on the FBI's Most Wanted List.

Copic Jelly? Really?

Yep. Every time you cap your marker, your marker dings up against the inside of the cap. Often used caps begin to get really messy inside. The ink kinda-maybe-sorta dries on the inside of the cap but it never really fully dries. It's sticky. It's jellyish.

So if you've got a jelly coated marker cap, now every time you replace that cap, you're rubbing a bit of jelly onto your marker tip. It happens with the brush tips A LOT. When you collect enough jelly on your nib, it starts to look dark and leaves jelly streaks on your project. The jelly also prevents full ink flow in those dark patches. Leave it long enough and the entire brush nib will get hard and gunky.

Gunky. That's a technical term.

So cleaning your caps isn't just a think that Copic bloggers like to write about, it's something you really need to stay on top of.

Don't underestimate the importance of good Marker Hygiene.

Okay, so there are 9 ways to maim or kill your Copic nibs.

But ten would be so much nicer, no?

So here's number 10...

Izzy the Copic Eater | VanillaArts.com

10. the family dog-


Don't ask me how I know that a dog's tongue will remain a lovely shade of V09 for approximately 3.25 days....