Should you scan or shoot? When the time comes to post Copic Marker or colored pencil coloring projects online, you start to feel a little lost. Should you photograph your artwork with a camera or should you scan it? Which method shows the most accurate color and detail? And which method is the easiest to learn?
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.
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
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.
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...
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.
It's that time of year again
Forget about the crocus buds or the robins singing! The surest sign of spring is when all the house cleaning tips start blooming on the internet.
Yep. Everybody loves a good spring cleaning.
This year, don't forget about your Copics!
Spring cleaning for Copics?
I know what you're thinking...
I've seen lots of tutorials about how to clean Copic Markers, but that's for people who color all the time, right? A lot of tutorials talk about cleaning your marker after you refill it and I've NEVER had to refill!
I guess when I finally refill my markers, I'll worry about cleaning then.
You're absolutely right. People like me, who use Copics on a daily basis— instructors, bloggers, and super serious colorers- we do refill markers more frequently than average colorers.
But cleaning? That’s a different matter entirely.
Everyone, from high volume colorers to the once-in-a-whilers:
We ALL need to clean our markers on a regular basis.
Do you make Copic Jelly?
Copic jelly? Really?
Yep. I have jelly problems. You have jelly problems too.
Every time you uncap and recap a Copic, your marker nib rubs along the inside of the cap. It leaves a streak of marker ink.
That streak of ink quietly lurks inside your cap, slowly evaporating. After the solvent is gone, the streak becomes a smear of Copic Jelly- a super sticky residue.
I know, it’s a bit of a weird concept. When most of us think of "evaporation", we think of water, right? Water just disappears into the air and leaves no trace behind.
But Copic ink is not water; Copic ink is dye mixed with an alcohol solvent. Sure, the alcohol part evaporates cleanly without a trace, but the dye sticks around as residue.
Old dye residue lingers inside your marker caps, waiting to make trouble.
What kind of trouble?
Once you get an ooey gooey build-up of dye residue inside the cap, that jelly makes it hard for Copic caps to seal properly.
The cap clicks as normal, so you assume they're sealed... but no, the jelly breaks the seal.
Yep. Jelly is nasty stuff.
Without a tight seal, your marker nib will slowly dry out as the solvent in the nib begins to evaporate.
Basically jelly in the cap encourages the growth of more jelly on the nib.
Eventually, jelly can works its way into the spongy core inside your marker!
Once the jelly makes it to the core, your marker is shot. Jelly doesn't just kill marker nibs, it kills whole markers!
It's like The Blob in that 1950's horror movie, jelly keeps creeping along, destroying everything in its wake.
It's not just unsightly, jelly costs you money!
Every once in a while...
I'll pull out a marker that hasn't been used in some time. When I begin to color with it, the nib leaves a weird dark streak. Not all the time and not everywhere, just little smudges of darkened ink that don’t want to smooth out.
Have you had that happen too? Its a bit of jelly that has transferred from the nib to your project.
Dark streaks are not pretty.
Let’s look on the bright side though, that streak is a warning call.
Your marker is crying for help.
When you see dark streaks, you can clean the marker and the nib before the jelly spreads further.
So yes, because I use my markers every day; all that uncapping and recapping means I create jelly quicker than you do.
But I'm also more likely to spot the jelly problem early. I can quickly resolve the problem before it ruins the whole nib.
If some of your markers sit for months without use... then you're completely missing the early warning system!
Keeping caps clean is MORE important for the weekend hobbyist than for everyday colorers!
Dirty caps + long periods sitting unused gives your jelly lots of time to kill the nib!
Cleaning is easy!
And it's easier to do them all at once (in spring cleaning style) than cleaning them one at a time.
Pop in a good movie and sit down with your markers and a few basic supplies.
I have a small 4 ounce jelly jar (warning: Amazon affiliate link there) that I fill with 90% rubbing alcohol from the pharmacy aisle of my grocery store. The 70% alcohol works too but the 90% works faster.
Into that jar, I cut small 1 inch squares of clean paper towel.
This jar of teeny tiny wipes and a pair of tweezers are all you need to clean your entire marker collection!
Now keep in mind, rubbing alcohol is a different kind of alcohol than the alcohol in your Copics. These alcohols are not interchangeable or compatible!
Rubbing alcohol also has some water in the mix. That’s what the % on the label indicates. 90% Rubbing Alcohol is also 10% water. 70% Rubbing Alcohol is 30% water.
Because of that water content, I'm super careful when wiping off the plastic right below the marker nib.
Rubbing alcohol is not good for your nibs!
But aside from that one caveat, rubbing alcohol makes an excellent cleaner. It dissolves Copic jelly on contact, and it's soooo much cheaper than cleaning with Copic Colorless Blender!
First, wipe the marker off with a little tiny square of alcohol-soaked paper towel.
Then plunge the same square into the marker cap and ream it around with the tweezers to clean the inner cap area.
Tap the excess alcohol out of the cap, recap the marker, and move on to cleaning the next marker with a clean square.
It's an easy-peasy process and you can clean even the biggest marker collection before the movie is over!
spring clean your Copics!
Clean caps aren't just for neat freaks or heavy duty marker users.
Clean caps extend the life of your marker nibs and prevent accidental ink evaporation.
Try a little spring cleaning today and give your Copic babies a bath. Your markers will thank you!
I don't usually make gigantic claims
I'm not the Sham-wow guy and I'm not a life hacker.
But I do know a thing or two about coloring.
What I know most is this:
How well you color images, actually how well you do ANYTHING in life is a direct result of how much effort you put into building your skills.
Even Mozart, who was born with boundless talent that practically dripped out his nose and ears... even he still had to practice, practice, practice before he became great.
But now that I've put a gigantic qualifier on everything I write below, there actually are a number of teensy-tinsy things that you (yes, YOU!) can do TODAY to immediately improve your coloring.
There are small things you can start doing right now that will dramatically improve the quality of your coloring.
Introducing the Tiny Thing Series
Otherwise known as "Amy points out the little things some of you are not doing..."
Once a month, we'll talk about one small thing, one mind-numbingly easy step that you can add to your coloring routine that will allow you to color better forever.
Today, your Tiny Thing Assignment is to begin pre-evaluating your stamps
What the heck does that mean?
Well first, allow me to point out one small difference between an artist who colors and a crafter who colors. And this isn't a judgement here, I'm simply going to point out one key difference between the way I work and the way you work.
When I color one of my own digital stamps, I use the exact same tools and techniques that you use.
The difference is that I drew the original image and you're coloring an image that someone else has drawn for you.
It sounds like a small difference, because a drawing is just a set of guidelines, right? Why does it matter who draws the stamp, as long as it's cute, eh?
Actually, it makes a world of difference.
You see, when I draw a digital stamp for you, I do a lot of thinking.
Take this House Mouse stamp here, it's "Pincushion" by Stampendous.
As the illustrator (not me) drew out this scene of mice, thimbles, and a big pincushion, they went through a long thought process.
"The large mouse has two feet that he's lifting into the air on each jump. His ears are pinnned back in excitement. There are pins in the cushion but they're not right where the mouse is jumping, otherwise he'd stab himself. The sleeping mice are completely relaxed with limp ears and limp tails..."
Yes, artists actually think these kinds of thoughts as they draw.
This thinking process means that the artist is completely familiar with every single object in their drawing. They know what everything is, why it looks the way it looks, and where one object stops and another object starts.
They understand everything inside the image because they thought it through before they drew it.
As a crafter, you're working on a second hand image
And your information about the image is completely second hand.
Here's Whipper Snapper Design's "Squeaky Baker".
Tell me quickly, what are the two things falling off the baker's tray?
Cookies? Muffins? Truffles? Spitwads?
It's a little hard for us to tell, primarily because we didn't draw this stamp. But the artist knows exactly what those roundish brown things are.
So how can crafters overcome this information deficit?
That's today's Tiny Thing: before you pull out your markers, maybe even before you stamp the image onto paper, stop and take a good amount of time to visually walk yourself through the entire image.
Evaluate everything you see.
Start at the most logical place on the image and work your eye around the entire image. Don't just look, actually think your way through every element in the stamp.
For me, I'd start with the face. Expression is key, so I'm not just looking to see how many eyes and noses he has, I'm looking at how his eyebrows are related to his eyes, is he happy? Sad? Surprised? Angry? Is he smiling or smirking? Where do his whiskers start and stop? All of these things are important to preserve the look of a cute and happy mouse. If we mistake a tuft of fur for an eyebrow, we could accidentally make him look evil and wicked. We don't want Satan's personal mouse baker on your grandaughter's birthday card.
Next I might move to his body. I note that I can only see one hand but I can almost see two feet. That affects the colors I choose for some of the foot-shapes.
From there I'd work even further outwards, evaluating every single item in the stamp image. What is it? What color should it be? How much of it can I see?
If you don't take the time to evaluate your image, bad things happen!
This is why I want you to perform the evaluation BEFORE you pick out your markers.
This prevents mistakes.
What kind of mistakes?
Well, here's one: Really look at that baker's hat. Now we're looking at a pre-colored version of the stamp. Lucky us, because the hat is shown as white, we can easily deduce that this is a chef's hat.
But what if we were looking at that shape in just the black and white version?
Frankly, if all I could see was that cloud shape sitting on a cylinder shape, I might think it was a muffin.
I've seen stranger things in stamps. A mouse with a muffin on his head isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Without properly evaluating the entire image, I might grab a brown set of markers. I could give that muffin some blueberry spots. I could give it a pink cupcake liner. I could color that shape the best darned muffin you ever did see.
And then feel stupid later when someone asks why my mouse is wearing a dirty chef's hat.
C'mon. We've all done something similarly wrong.
How many times have you been coloring leaves in a tree, only to discover there was a bird in the tree AFTER you've colored his tail green?
Or colored a flower petal green?
Or thought you were coloring a long lock of hair that turned out to be a wind-blown scarf?
Thoroughly evaluating an image helps you to become completely familiar with the image
You want to be as familiar with the images as the original artist was.
To color it well, you need to know it well.
Don't believe me? Think I'm being silly because you would never-ever color a muffin on a mouse's head?
Well check out this image:
This is Penny Black's "Dear Mice, Watering Can" stamp.
I'm going to ask you a few questions now. And don't write them off as stupid questions because the answers won't be obvious to everyone.
What is the object at #1?
Is this a strap for overalls or a strap for the backpack the mouse is wearing?
What is the mouse standing on and what is the item at #2?
If the mouse is standing on a terracotta pot, that's the brim of the pot. Or is the mouse standing on an aluminum bucket with a small rolled brim on a hill of grass?
What is going on at #3?
Is that a water leak or is the watering can sitting on a paving stone?
What is item #4?
More water or a rock?
Think I'm kidding? I'm dead serious. I can easily color a very convincing version of every option I've listed.
And these options aren't as dumb as a mouse with a muffin on his head. Every question I asked was entirely reasonable based upon the drawing.
Only the original artist knows the correct answer. We can make an educated guess but we can't be totally sure.
This is why you need to evaluate every single item in an image before you color it
Make an educated guess based on careful thought and consideration.
Don't just color away at it without stopping to think about what you are coloring.
Evaluation is One Tiny Thing you can do to improve your coloring immediately.
It's a simple thing to do; it takes very little time and it prevents a lot of weird stuff from happening.
One Tiny Thing: Stamp Evaluation
Try it today. You'll appreciate the results!