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.

Print

One Tiny Thing: Improve your Copic coloring- Color for Yourself

 
 It's okay to be selfish in art. If you only color cards and presents to give away, you're killing yourself slowly. Why you need to start coloring for yourself. | VanillaArts.com- Copic Markers, colored pencils, watercolor
 

There is no golden egg

No tip, no trick, no coloring hack that will instantly transform you into the Mystic Queen of Markers.

But there are tiny things which you can do today to improve the quality of your coloring projects. They’re not fairy tale enchantments but they really do help.

Today’s tiny thing:

Stop coloring for everyone else

Your niece Polly loves unicorns. Her favorite color is lime green. And when she grows up, she wants to be a dentist.

So now you’re stuck coloring a green unicorn holding a toothbrush for her birthday next week.

And I’ll bet you’re less than inspired.

 It's okay to be selfish in art. If you only color cards and presents to give away, you're killing yourself slowly. Why you need to start coloring for yourself. | VanillaArts.com- Copic Markers, colored pencils, watercolor

That’s because you let the people and events in your life determine what you color, which colors you use, and how often you color.

If the only thing you're crankin’ out is hand-colored cards for other people, you are killing yourself slowly.

What I’m about to say is going to sound selfish.

Good. 

I want it to sound terribly and horribly selfish.

Cardmakers and scrapbookers are some of the most generous people I’ve ever met. You folks think nothing of investing 2 hours on a single card or layout page and you give them away as if they were dandelion fluff.

Your projects are not nothing. You invest time, effort, supplies, and you even shed some tears in the process.

So how about coloring for yourself sometime? 

You’ve earned the right to be a little selfish.

Here’s the Mother Theresa catch: If you only color for other people, you’ll never color the things that truly inspire you.

Inspiration is rocket fuel for artists.

You can’t grow if you’re handcuffed to projects that don’t make your heart beat faster.

When you’ve got your soul invested in the project, that’s when you make significant leaps in technique, skill, and artistry. You stay at the table longer, you filter out distractions better. And because of that focus, your hand and brain start making connections which lead to learning.

That hand-brain conversation doesn’t happen when you color green unicorns with toothbrushes.

Don’t kid yourself

I teach in a papercrafting shop. I’ve watched you folks shop for stamps…

“This stamp will be good for Holly’s anniversary card” and “this stamp looks just like my little Jamie.”  Even when you find a stamp you really like,  you still rationalize it. “I’ll be able to use this for a wedding shower, Norma's birthday, and maybe even a Christmas card!”

I have worked on commission. I’ve made art to fulfill stringent class requirements. But the things I’m most proud of making, the projects where I’ve learned the most, the art that speaks with my true voice… that magic stuff didn’t happen on demand or by client request. 

 
 It's okay to be selfish in art. If you only color cards and presents to give away, you're killing yourself slowly. Why you need to start coloring for yourself. | VanillaArts.com- Copic Markers, colored pencils, watercolor

Art happens when you listen 

You absolutely must listen to your inner muse and let her guide your hands.

If the muse is telling you to add pink and you can’t because you’re coloring a stamp for your grandson’s bar mitzvah… well, you shush the muse at your own risk. She’s fickle. If you rebuff the muse, she may not visit again for a while.

Here’s the other problem with giving all your work away.

You don’t have it anymore.

I know that sounds kind'a silly, but there’s a reason why artists keep a lot of their own work and why every artist has pieces they will never sell.

 

Favorite artwork is a baseline

We look at our best work and plan how to improve upon it. 

That improvement process takes time- more time than you might expect. You may love a project but not understand why you love it. It might take several months or several years to figure it out. All you know is that somehow, you captured a little magic. You have to hold on to the project until you understand the secret.

You can’t do that if Aunt Doris throws your card into the recycle bin after everyone leaves the party.

 It's okay to be selfish in art. If you only color cards and presents to give away, you're killing yourself slowly. Why you need to start coloring for yourself. | VanillaArts.com- Copic Markers, colored pencils, watercolor

 

May I suggest a change to your coloring routine?

I’m not going to tell you to go cold turkey and stop coloring all birthday cards.

But I am going to suggest that you start paying attention to the ratio of coloring you do.

How many projects are heart-projects and how many of your projects are duty-bound?

Make sure that the ratio leans very heavily towards heartwork.

 

Art requires heart

It’s okay to color mostly for yourself.

Psssttt… there’s an added bonus:

when you color for yourself, you will gradually build up a really nice collection of awesome projects.

Many of these projects can be scanned or color copied to make beautiful cards and scrapbooking elements.

You’ll be amazed at how universal some of your heartwork images are. The robin’s nest in this article could work for a baby shower card, a sympathy card, a get-well card, a birthday card… unlike that green unicorn with the toothbrush.

Your heartwork on a card, even if it’s a just color copy and not the original, is a often a better gift than the package you attach it to.

Stop coloring for everyone else

Or at least color for yourself a little more often than you have been doing.

Color where your heart leads you...

VanillaArts.com

It’s one tiny thing you can do today to improve your coloring.

 
 

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 VanillaArts.com
 

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 VanillaArts.com

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.

Careful.

Careful.

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 VanillaArts.com

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?

Wait.

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 VanillaArts.com

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?

Experience.

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.

 

One Tiny Thing: Improve your Copic Coloring Today- Size Matters

 
 Improve your Copic coloring today with this one tiny tip- the size of your image directly affects your ability to add depth and dimension. | VanillaArts.com
 

there are no magic shortcuts to better coloring...

But there are small and simple things that you can do TODAY to immediately improve the quality of your finished coloring projects.

Is your coloring flat?

I know, I write about flat coloring a lot.

But that's because I hear about it. A lot.

Copic beginners are always pretty worried about getting the blends nice and smooth. But once they've nailed down the blending process, they then start to wonder...

Where is the depth and dimension?

Don't worry, you are not alone. It's a common problem.

There are very few colorers who achieve the kind of depth and realism they want from their projects. Every colorer I know is on constant look-out for the magic bullet that will solve their flat coloring problems once and for all.

 Improve your Copic coloring today with this one tiny tip- the size of your image directly affects your ability to add depth and dimension. | VanillaArts.com

There are a lot of tutorials and videos out there which talk about how to add dimension to your Copic projects.

But there's one simple key that I never, ever, no-never hear or see mentioned.

Image size matters

When you walk into a museum, do they hand you a magnifying glass?

When you visit an art gallery, do they warn you to bring your reading glasses?

Heck, in the Pottery Barn catalog, do they show you big long couches with itty bitty wallet sized art over it?

That's because most artists work large.

Yes, you can purchase a pretty postcard with the Sistine Chapel ceiling on it but Michelangelo didn't paint the real ceiling that small.

Realism requires space

 Improve your Copic coloring today with this one tiny tip- the size of your image directly affects your ability to add depth and dimension. | VanillaArts.com

Let's face it, most stamps are tiny. The average stamp image was designed to fit on an A5 or quarter-fold card front and many stamp sets give you the ability to fit several objects plus a sentiment on that card front.

That leaves colorers struggling to fit several marker colors into itsy-bitsy spaces.

With big giant brush nibs, by the way.

To paint or color with realism, you are essentially creating a trompe l'oeil effect (that's French for "fool the eye"). Depth and dimension are a matter of getting the right shade of the right hue into just the right spot to fool the brain into thinking a two dimensional item is actually three dimensional. It's not only about the colors you use, it's also about placing those colors into just the right spots.

When a face is the size of a postage stamp, it's pretty darned hard to color it accurately. Depth and dimension, getting that shade into just the right areas to feel real... that's next to impossible when the head on the stamped character is pocket-change sized.

Miniature painters have unique skills

Once upon a time, back before the days of photography, you had to hire a painter to make a portrait or to capture a landscape. And if you wanted a portrait to carry around in your pocket or in a locket, you had to find an artist who specialized in miniatures.

Painting in miniature is a very specific skill and frankly, it's a rather rare talent. Working small requires lots of study and practice and a whole slew of specialized tools and supplies. The smaller you get, the more talent required.

And yet you expect to master this kind of thing instantly using big fat juicy markers and a $5.99 tiny stamp?

Be kind to yourself, use large stamps

I shock and startle my newbies all the time. When a new student takes my class for the first time, they're always amazed at the project size. That's because as an artist, I understand that your best chance to color with depth and dimension... all of that good realism stuff is highly unlikely to happen if I don't provide large stamp images.

Now granted, I draw the class images for 90% of my classes but I do use some commercial stamps. Rubber and silicone stamps are governed by the rules and regulations set by the issuing company. And some manufacturers are sticklers about enlarging their images, even if you're coloring them for personal use.

So the solution is easy. If the stamp image is too small, don't buy it.

Don't waste your money on teeny tiny stamps that are completely inappropriate for coloring with markers.

Companies are gradually learning that serious colorers want larger images. I support only those companies who produce appropriately sized coloring images, not just for legal reasons but because we want the sales statistics to show that there's a healthy market for large coloring images.

 Improve your Copic coloring today with this one tiny tip- the size of your image directly affects your ability to add depth and dimension. | VanillaArts.com

Or you can stick with digital stamps. When you purchase a digi stamp, you are not locked into using the stamp at one particular size. Digital stamps are scalable and that means you can squinch them small for a quarter-fold card front but also enlarge them when you want to practice coloring with realism.

The Goldilocks Rule

Bigger is not always better; there is such a thing as too large.

Smooth blending gets harder as the stamp size increases. That's because the smoothest blends happen with fresher, wetter ink. So if the space you're coloring is so large that the ink has fully dried before you even get the whole thing base coated, then that's a blend that will require more nursing to make it happen.

And larger spaces usually require more markers in the blending combination. I save my two-color combo coloring for areas under .75 inch square.

Every colorer has an ideal size to work at. Not so large that the blend is choppy but not so small that you can't add shaded detail.

As you learn and practice your coloring skills, you can work smaller and smaller with more confidence. But just like when you were learning to write out the alphabet on wide lined kindergarten paper, it's definitely easier to learn a skill when you have room to see what you're doing (or doing wrong).

Quarter and Half-size images

When I draw stamps for classes, my beginner images are quarter sheet sized (a sheet being US 8.5x11 inches).

I don't mean that my digis fit comfortably onto a quarter-fold with lost of extra space. I mean that my images ARE the size of a quarter sheet.

So for my classes, a single object in the stamp is usually anywhere from 4 to 5 1/2 inches wide. For intermediate students, I move them up to images that may fill the entire page.

I know, you can not fit large class projects onto a standard card. But you need the extra size to learn how to shade properly. When you get good, you can gradually begin to work smaller until you're back at standard card size.

Or maybe you'll stop producing everything for cards and start making framable art, hint hint.

Like day-old cola...

 Improve your Copic coloring today with this one tiny tip- the size of your image directly affects your ability to add depth and dimension. | VanillaArts.com

If your coloring continues to be flat, no matter how much you practice, no matter how closely you're following the tutorials, stop to consider the size of your stamped images.

Coloring isn't a clown car experience. The goal isn't to impress us with how much you fit in. If you're trying to squeeze shade, highlights, and local color all into a teensy tinsy space, it's no wonder things don't look dimensional.

Real artists rarely work itty-bitty because we understand that realism requires some elbow room. Working in miniature is a specialty skill which requires customized tools to do it right. Artists know better than to force themselves into working abnormally small.

Purchase larger images. Color larger images. Learn and practice on larger images.

It's one tiny thing you can do today to begin improving your coloring.

 Read the Studio Journal blog at VanillaArts.com