Copic Coloring: Artists Do Not Shade- Part 2

The Copic shading system leads to frustration. Learn how to combat flat coloring by changing your technique and your outlook. |

Artists do not shade?

I caused a kerfuffle a few weeks ago by casually mentioning that “artists do not shade”. Attentive readers were puzzled. Without shading, how do you add dimension and shape to your coloring?

The Copic shading system leads to frustration. Learn how to combat flat coloring by changing your technique and your outlook. |

Shading is essential, right?

Last week, I published Part One. Today I'll cover Part Two of the series with Part Three coming soon.

Please read Part One first because I lay out clearly how artists and colorers use the same words to describe completely opposite techniques.

Part Three is here, read it after you've read parts one and two.

And remember, this whole series of Artists Do Not Shade articles is deep-talk. We’re getting into some serious art ju-ju here. If you’re a Pure Colorer who colors small projects for fun, it’s okay to skip this stuff. Ju-ju can kill the fun; you are not obligated to read any further.

Today, let’s explore the use of shade by colorers.

But first, I have a question for you:


What is shade?

It turns out, most colorers have a hard time with this question. You have a vague idea in your head but it’s hard to put into words. Most colorers end up repeating something they’ve heard in class or on a blog:

“you take three markers… a light, medium, and a dark… then you use the light one to create highlights and the dark one to add shade… and it all turns out looking sort’a dimensional”

But hold on, you’re telling us how to shade, not telling us what shade is.

At this point, both the self-taught artists and the trained artists are all waving their hands, “Call on me!”, “I know, I know the answer!!”

Artists spend a lot of time studying shade. We know shade. It’s our job.

All objects have surfaces. When that surface bends, dips, or tilts farther away from the viewer’s vantage point, the color of the surface appears to change. The color doesn’t really change, it just looks that way from where you’re standing. 

Shade is the toned-down look when the surface is farther away or overlapped by another object.

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Put simply, shade is an area of murky color that tells our brain what shape an object is.

Shade provides an optical illusion. Shade tells the brain “she colored a box, not a square”, that’s a ball, not a circle. That’s a real flower, not a drawing of a flower.


Shade adds dimension 

It’s all about the shade.

So right off the bat, you should have warning bells going off in your head:

Am I learning to color from someone who doesn’t understand shade?

Great question!

Most of my students are looking to add realism to their coloring. “Realism” is the word they use repeatedly.

But realism is just code for successfully pulling off a good 3D optical illusion. There are different levels of realism stretching from coloring with dimension all the way up to photorealism or hyperrealism.

And guess what? They all use the same artistic process.

Unfortunately, that’s NOT what you’re getting in most coloring classes.


How coloring instructors teach shading:

The Copic shading system leads to frustration. Learn how to combat flat coloring by changing your technique and your outlook. |

In Copicland, the focus is on color. That’s not a bad thing and I totally understand why. Copic sells markers, it’s natural and normal for them to concentrate on color. I don’t have a problem with a marker company selling markers. That’s a good thing.

But because Copic is focused on color, marker classes also tend to focus on color. Blends take center stage.

Now last week, I showed how the standard Copic color theory is wrong for creating realistic dimension.

That blending combo mistake? It's a little seed which quickly grows into a noxious weed.

Copic blending trios are a recipe for shading. Some instructors create their own trios (or duos, quads, etc) but it’s still working from a recommended recipe, correct?

By that logic, if there’s a formula for what to use, there must be a formula for how to use them, eh?

That’s where classes and tutorials come in. They’re basically teaching you where to put the dark marker.

You’ll see two main schools of thought:

  1. Put the dark color all around the outside edge

  2. Put the dark color where I tell you to


"Around the outside edge" leads to pretty but primitive coloring. 

The person who came up with this technique was probably looking at a Drawing 101 textbook. They all show a shading guide for a sphere.

According to colorer's logic, the sphere in the example looks real and rounded and hey, look, all the edges are dark! So we should darken the edges on elephants, coffee cups, and rose petals too. Darkened edges must be the key to real and rounded.

Or so the story goes…


But hmmm... it doesn’t work very well, does it?

The sphere model only works for sphere shaped objects. It works on bowling balls and scoops of icecream, but not so hot on clover or cupcakes.

Life is never one size fits all. Treating a lotus flower the same as a lemon leads to fake looking lotuses and fake looking lemons.

The complete failure of theory #1 gives birth to classes and tuts using theory #2.


“Just do what I do.”

Most colorers figure out that the sphere technique doesn’t look right, so they seek out blogs or classes where the teacher magically knows where the dark marker goes.

Now you're at the mercy of the instructor.

The Copic shading system leads to frustration. Learn how to combat flat coloring by changing your technique and your outlook. |

As long as you do what he or she says, you get something which kind’a maybe sorta looks realistic. It’s better than sphere-theory but hoo-baby, it really depends upon the teacher. If she calls it wrong, she leads you all astray.

"Just do what I do" makes the student entirely dependent upon a coloring guru.

Without their guidance, you don’t know where the shade goes. When you’re on your own, your coloring reverts back to darkening the edges.

Want to know why the internet is flooded with “How to Color an Apple” tutorials? Because y’all are looking for someone to tell you where to put the dark color.

So let’s be clear, you are using the wrong colors to create shade AND you are relying on someone else to tell you where to put the shade.

That isn’t artistry, that’s copy-catting.

And let me remind you, through this whole process, you’ve been blaming yourself. You never question the Copic blending trio. You never question the instructor or tutorial. Yet somehow, you blame yourself for your mediocre coloring.

It MUST be you, right? Everyone says this stuff is supposed to work.



No, no, and no again. The wrong color theory led you to the wrong technique. That’s not your fault!

But wait, it gets worse.

At some point, a student asked their instructor:

“Hey, I want to color independently! Teach me how to decide where the darks go.”

And the damnable sunlight chart was born.

I swear folks, those directional light tutorials were all written by Satan himself.

They don’t work.


You know that little arrow telling you where the light is coming from?

It’s wrong.


Real life doesn’t work that way

Listen up, there is only one time in your life when you will encounter a single light source coming from one direction.

It’s when you rat on the mob and Guido starts fitting you for a pair of cement shoes.

Single lightsources are a completely artificial set-up.

Art teachers use them to teach students how to observe shade. It’s a beginner exercise to improve your eyeballs. No art teacher ever intended for you to use single light sources on anything but this one exercise.

If you doubt me, look at this photograph. Now tell me how the brick wall gets any light if Guido is shining the lamp directly on his accountant?

Are you sitting in a room right now? Good. Take out some scrap paper and let’s do some counting:

The Copic shading system leads to frustration. Learn how to combat flat coloring by changing your technique and your outlook. |

How many windows are in your room?

How many lights or lamps do you have on?

How many mirrors are in the room?

How many walls are in the room?

How many glass framed photos, art, etc. are on the walls?

How many white or light colored objects are in the room?

Now add all of the numbers up.

In my studio, I just got the number 33 and that's pretty conservative.

I’m dealing with light coming from 33 different directions. Light is either being generated or it’s bouncing off of 33 objects in my studio.

Now tell me the last time your sunlight arrow chart calculated the effects of 33 different directional lights.


Want to know why the sunlight chart doesn’t make sense?

Want to know why it looks logical on paper but when you try to use it on a project, you fall flat on your face?

Because Guido isn’t yelling that you're about to sleep with the fishes.

Single light source theory is confusing because it’s not real.

So let’s recap:

In Part One I showed you why Copic color theory is wrong. Shade is not more color, it’s less color.

Today, we looked at the flaws built into coloring classes and tutorials. Real life isn’t about blending trios, spheres, copy-catting, or mysterious arrow charts. When you rely on someone else to do the thinking for you, you get bad coloring.

In Part Three, we’re going to look at how artists create dimensional looking art.

It’s not as hard as you think.

But you have to dump all of this shading nonsense.

Because artists do not shade.

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To start from the very beginning, check out my 12 week beginner course!

The Copic shading system leads to frustration. Learn how to combat flat coloring by changing your technique and your outlook.|