Do You Stamp or Print coloring images with Black Ink?
That's not a surprise, most colorers do.
Black ink is probably a standard part of your coloring routine. Got the Copic Markers? Got the colored pencils? Got the black ink pad?
Chances are you don't even see the black ink on your images anymore; the same way you barely note that water is wet and grass is green
You've got black-ink blindness.
Black outlines are an everyday thing, far too common to make note of.
My latest YouTube lesson is about black ink and how it kills realism. (Watch the video here for more info.)
Heavy black lines rob your image of realism because real objects don't have black outlines. Black stamps constantly remind your viewer that they're not looking at a photograph.
You could be the best colorer in the world, using flawless technique and yet the black outline will always place your masterpiece back at coloring book level.
But there's something else in the video that I briefly touched upon. I mention that black lines hamper your artistic growth. That's because heavy outlines change your approach to coloring.
Because I'm not into making 30 minute videos, let's explore this concept further here in the Studio Journal.
outlines are not always bad
Before we get to heart of this article, let me issue a general disclaimer... because on the internet, some people love to read three sentences into an article and assume the worst of intentions.
Not all outlines are bad.
I'm a big fan of the animation styles of illustration and I've done a lot of black line technical illustration professionally. There are a ton of amazing fine artists who use outlines.
Line art, when done right is absolutely awesome.
But there's a big difference between being a stamper and being Van Gogh.
Line art is more than a pencil guideline. Good linework is weighted to accent what's happening in the shape and the setting of an object.
When an artist uses outlines, it's a purposeful decision; a deliberate choice meant to convey a message.
Outlines should never be a default setting.
Outlines change the way you color
Although my students use stamped images, I do not teach with black stamp lines. I want my students to stamp or print with as light of a line as possible so that the lines disappear completely.
I do that for three specific reasons,
Stamp lines hamper the learning process by changing the way you color.
Let's explore how.
1. outlines encourage sloppy coloring
I see this all the time when an experienced student joins one of my classes.
When they turn their project in for feedback, it's almost always prefaced with something like:
"Please excuse the messy edges. I'm not sure why I had so much trouble staying in the lines!"
I know why. Because they're used to coloring with heavy black outlines.
With a black line going around the edges of all your shapes, you don't have to be as careful about where you start and stop each stroke.
Some people color right up to the black line, some people color slightly into the black line, but most people do a little of both. And it never matters because the black line hides where you begin and end.
Move a black line addict to a light gray stamp ink and suddenly all that inaccuracy becomes painfully obvious. They can't make a sharp or straight edge because they've never had to do it before. It's like putting the average driver into a manual transmission car; you can't shift gears because you've never had to learn.
Stamp lines make your sloppy edges look neat and tidy.
They encourage laziness by hiding the mess. And that imprecision works its way into your coloring in general.
When you're forced to be tidy and precise, that builds your control. You learn to stop your marker on a dime because you pay a price if you can't.
Faintly outlined stamps expose the technique flaws you've always had.
2. Stamp lines encourage shallow thinking
What I notice about even my most advanced colorers is that they almost never think very deeply about the shape or form of the objects they're coloring.
I'm about to wander a little into the weeds here but forgive me. Understanding this concept will likely shine light on why my classes are a little different from the average coloring class.
Most non-artists assume that drawing lessons teach people to draw things like frogs, flowers, or faces. "How to Draw" books encourage this misconception, as if drawing is simply a matter of memorizing the six steps to make a frog or the 14 steps to draw a rose.
But that's not the way art lessons work.
Art lessons are about teaching someone to see clearly and to think clearly about what they're seeing.
Art is 80% thinking and 20% doing.
We don't learn to draw a frog; instead we learn to look at how a frog is shaped and then how to translate that three dimensional shape onto a flat piece of paper or canvas.
It's all about the shapes- we call that form. Drawing a form forces you to understand what that shape is doing, how it bends, where the edges recede, and how it catches the light. Deep thinking is essential to understanding and understanding is the key to drawing well.
But because a stamper has never been asked to draw, they approach a frog the same way as they approach a pair of pants or a tree. Colorers tend to think of objects as "frog", "pants", and "tree" rather than similar shapes with unique topography.
Colorers are looking for the six steps to color a frog, not the mind-intensive way to understand the shape of a frog. It's a fill in the outlines approach which leads to a dependence on more outlines and more tutorials to guide the way.
Skipping the drawing step has major consequences to how you understand shapes and that changes how you approach coloring. Detailed stamps become a crutch to help you keep cheating the learning system.
This is why I talk so much about form in classes and why I'm always pointing out when a shape rolls or recedes. I'm trying to catch you up on the lessons you've missed, filling in your knowledge gaps.
It's also why my stamps are naked outlines rather than full of texture marks, fold lines, and other details. I'm forcing you to make the same decisions an artist would; removing the stampline training wheels and forcing you to shape the objects on your own.
3. Black lines hamper color sculpting skills
Now this point is very closely related to point #2.
Remember when I said that shallow thinking results in shallow understanding of the shapes you color?
There are a ton of colorers out there who are highly gifted mimics. I regularly get students who submit projects which look exactly like my sample project. Many of them look BETTER than my sample project. I'm serious, I think some of you could easily make a living painting counterfeits.
But ask them to color independently or with disappearing stamp lines and these same gifted students fall flat on their face. They don't have the skills to start from square one and color it with realism because they still have a shallow understanding about the forms they're coloring.
But it's not just a lack of deep thinking. That bold black stamp line prevents a colorer from ever having to worry about separating each object.
So you can color stamps for years and never have to worry about how to color a green frog on a matching green background. You never have to separate the frog from the background because that bold black outline is screaming to the world "hey, this is where the frog stops and the background starts!"
Separation of objects is key to realistic coloring.
That old joke about the polar bear in a snowstorm is exactly what I'm talking about. Stampers never learn to define their edges or to properly sculpt objects because the black line is there, preventing them from thinking about it. You can color an entire field of pink tulips and rest assured that the black outline will make sense of your big pink blob.
Removing the safety net of the black outline forces you to start looking at surfaces, their topography, and reflectivity (highlight & shade). That in turn changes your color selections.
You can't color with traditional Copic blending combinations (light, medium, and dark) and get depth, dimension, and ultimately realism without the stamp line's help. That stamp line coaches your viewer through what they're seeing. "This is the brown bear, this is his brown arm, this is his brown neck, and here is where his brown face begins."
If you can't make sense of each part of a green frog without an outline to clarify it, you aren't as skilled as you think.
So what's the solution?
I don't want to throw a bunch of "here's what you don't understand" points out there without giving you some advice on what to do about it.
I teach classes, so of course I'm going to tell you to take my Tree Frog class to learn more. But besides that, what can you do?
First off, stop printing in black.
Find a stamp pad ink that disappears as you color over it. For digital stamps, play with the opacity settings until you reach a faint enough printout where the Copic ink can hide the outlines.
Removing the crutch of black outlines will quickly expose the flaws in your technique and your thinking. Knowing what skills you lack is the first step to filling in those gaps!
Next, stop rushing into the coloring process.
Becoming a better artist is all about becoming a better observer.
Before I draw a tree frog, I Google the heck out of tree frogs. I'm not just looking for good tree frog poses, I also research a bit about frog anatomy and how these frogs are shaped. I watched video of them moving, I researched why their fingers have enlarged pads at the tips, I looked at their color patterns from above and below.
Be the tree frog and you'll color a better tree frog.
Find an art class or a good book on color sculpting.
There are lots of ways to learn but the worst way of them all is to fumble around in the dark, trying to teach yourself, without anyone to guide you.
I know that art classes are slightly intimidating and they cost money that you'd rather spend on Copic Markers. But if you don't know what you don't know, how can you expect to teach yourself?
Most of the value of an art class comes from the atmosphere. Seeing what others around you are doing, looking at how the teacher draws or paints, getting that real hands on experience is essential.
And I can't even begin to explain the value of having someone experienced look at what you're doing and saying "hey, do you know there's an easier way to do that?"
And finally, stop it with the One & Done attitude.
The first time you draw or color a tree frog, you are going to get a mediocre tree frog.
And that's where most colorers stop. When it turns out less-than-thrilling, they say "I'm just not any good at tree frogs" and they move on to polar bears or daisies.
Artists meanwhile, draw and color to the point of obsession. Frog after frog after frog is how you finally end up with an amazing piece of art.
Professional athletes with all their skill and talent still workout. They train and attend practices every day. Professional musicians have a routine of daily warming up with basic scales, then hours of practice and that's even on concert days!
Why would art be any different? You have to practice. And it's not just a matter of logging hours with a marker in your hand, it's coloring and exploring the same image over and over again until you master it.
And yes, I have a new class, "Tree Frog"
Let's start with the free resource: Coloring Tips on YouTube
(Click the image above to watch the video at YouTube)
And of course, there's my Workshop class!
Tree Frog is a challenge level for intermediates and advanced students.
The best thing about Marker Painting Workshops?
Workshops are NON-SEQUENTIAL!
Learn to incorporate real artistry into your coloring projects, one concept at a time. Every Workshop details a new method for enhancing realism, depth, and dimension.
Each class stands on it's own as independent learning. You don't have to take six of my other classes to understand this lesson.
All of my Workshop classes are FOREVER ACCESS. Work at your own pace and repeat the project as many times as you'd like.
Come color with me. It's a ton of fun!
Products used in Tree Frog:
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