what color is an elephant?
I know what you’re going to say.
And you’re wrong.
Google “elephant” and look at the photographs. Don’t just say “oh how cute!” I want you to really look at the color of the elephants on your screen.
Some of the photos show grayish elephants but by far, most wild elephants look to be a range of muted browns and dusty taupes. Some even have pink splotches on their face and ears.
But, but, but… but elephants are supposed to be gray.
I know. It’s a common mistake.
Most Copic colorers use gray markers to color elephants because the elephants stuck in your brain from childhood are gray. So you might grab a few N markers to get the job done, some would grab the C markers since the cool bluish grays are so pretty.
A rare few would have pulled out their W grays. Not because they’re thinking about brown elephants but because there’s some silly Copic rule floating around out there that says “If the object is alive, use a W gray”.
So all living things that are gray are warm gray?
Tell that to the koala, the gorilla, and my Russian Blue cat. I guess they’re all dead because they sure aren’t Ws.
Your brain lies
It makes generalizations, it takes shortcuts, it believes the illustrations it sees in children’s picture books.
It tells you to follow stupid rules about warm and cool grays.
You can't trust your brain when it comes to color.
Which is why you’re going to be shocked when I tell you that pumpkins and school buses are basically the same exact color.
I know. That’s a hard one to wrap your brain around. Give it a moment.
We all make color assumptions
Chalk it up to faulty memory, general laziness, or the fact that we tend to believe everything our kindergarten teacher said.
Yep, that sweet lady lied to you too. She was the one who started a lot of this bunkum, that elephants are gray, that pumpkins are orange, and that clouds are white.
Clouds are not white?
Boy, this day is just full of revelations, isn't it?
One way to add artistry to your coloring...
... is to stop coloring stereotypes and start looking at the color things actually are.
Which means that you might want to rethink using that black marker to color hair.
Aww, geeze... my brain lied about hair too?
The weird thing is that when you color things the color they actually are in real life, people get all excited about what you’ve done.
“Wow, that looks so real!”
“You’re so creative!”
“She’s such a talented artist!”
Uhm, yeah. As if it takes great talent and skill to use the eyeballs you were born with.
So I have an assignment for you
This is really simple. It won’t take more than a few minutes a day. No special tools, no travel required. In fact, you can do it on the sly at work and no one will even know you’re doing it.
I want you to start taking little color tours.
Look a the color of objects around you. I mean really look.
What kind of yellow is that pencil?
What Copic marker matches your living room walls? Would you use the same marker in the corners of the room?
What color is ketchup and can you find two more things that are the exact same color?
Exercises like this will stretch your definition of color.
Most people have a very limited color vocabulary. They stop at “Robins have a red breast” and never define what kind of red.
When you start paying attention, you’re going to discover something interesting:
The more you look, the more you see.
People wonder at my color choices
It's very rare that I don't throw some odd colors into the blend.
The geranium image here uses a bright blue underneath green and there’s a bold purple over the red.
I’m not a genius and I don’t have magical coloring powers. An angel didn’t descend from above and bop me over the head with his harp until I agreed to use dark purple on red.
I got it from looking at an actual, real life geranium long enough to understand the colors I was seeing.
I was color touring.
It may look like I'm day dreaming, or (if I remember to close my mouth while thinking) it will look as if I’m meditating. But actually, I’m exercising my sense of color.
The more you look at color, the more color you see
You’ll see hidden blues and violets everywhere. You’ll see hints of pink or yellow in things that are sitting in sunshine. There are skies and tree trunks that will move you to tears.
The more color you see, the more color you can add to your projects.
This skill is not going to hit you all at once. It takes time to develop a sensitivity to color.
And the number one thing standing in your way?
An over-reliance on the standard Copic blending trios.
Because nothing in this world is R29 - 27 - 24.
The R20 series is not a combination found in nature and you’re fooling yourself if you use it to color fire trucks, ketchup, bricks, strawberries, stop signs, and geraniums.
When you expand your color vocabulary and start paying attention to the subtle differences in the reds around you, you’re naturally going to start using color more intelligently in your projects.
Expand your awareness of color and your unique color style will emerge.
Color like an artist. Not like a kindergartener.
You can do this!