Do you rub and scrub and work really hard to make the blend smooth and it just doesn’t work? Are you beginning to think that you’ll never blend well?
Can I ask you a question?
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.
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.
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!”
This section looks hard.
So I’m going to color...
and that might...
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.
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:
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.
When we jackrabbit an area (which we all do when we’re having fun), we skimp on ink.
Coloring fast results in:
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
It’s one tiny thing you can do today which will improve the quality of your finished coloring.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
It’s as simple as going back and making adjustments.
But there are small and simple things that you can do TODAY to immediately improve the quality of your finished coloring projects.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.