Color your best friend!
Let’s face it, most stamps are flowers. So as Copic Marker and Colored Pencil users, we end up coloring a heck of a lot of flowers.
Sometimes the thought of yet another flower… just kill me now.
As much as I hate to run floral class after floral class, from a teaching standpoint, flowers make sense. Copic Markers and flowers are a good fit for beginner to intermediate students. It’s easy to get realistic lookingCopic flowers.
But how do we apply the same kind of floral realism to animal stamps?
Specifically, how do we color realistic dogs?
Do all your Copic dog projects end up looking like a generic, unidentifiable mutt instead of the dogs you love dearly?
Have you tried lots of dog tutorials and yet you’re still not capturing the kind of canine goodness you crave?
Let’s take a look at how I approach coloring dogs with moderate realism…
but don’t be fooled, these same tips apply to those of you searching for photo realistic dogs too!
Tips for coloring dogs with Copic Markers or Colored Pencils:
1. Enlarge the stamp
The first hurdle of coloring is always the stamp size. And by the way, this is true about ALL stamps, not just dog stamps.
Stamps tend to be sized for card makers.
And not just any card makers, they’re sized for small-card card makers. Most rubber, cling, and clear stamps are sized to fit on quarter-fold cards. Even in the card world, quarter-folds are small.
Card-size is terrible for realism.
Realistic coloring requires size, space, and breathing room.
Realism is all about capturing authentic details and it’s pretty darned hard to color a realistic looking puppy if the entire dog is less than two inches tall.
At that size, the only detail you’ll have room for is a a bit of brown and some basic shaping.
Give yourself room to color.
Buy stamps as large as they come and enlarge them even further if you can*. Go digital for maximum sized images.
From the artist’s standpoint, an 8.5” x 11” image is considered small. I know that scares most carmakers.
Artists work large because art requires space. Even the illustrators working for card companies like Hallmark and American Greetings do not work at card size. Their completed artwork is downsized to fit the card during the printing phase, long after it has left the artist’s studio. The original art is often 3 or 4 times larger the card you purchase.
Sure, there are some artists who work small. But miniaturists are a rare breed. It’s a unique talent using specialty tools and micro techniques that are honed over time. It’s certainly not a skill you pick up after reading a couple of Copic tutorials.
Besides, Copic markers with their big fat brush nibs are particularly ill suited to coloring anything small. Only a masochist uses Copics for small stuff.
Don’t make the coloring impossible before you even start. Don’t ask yourself to color well at a size which would challenge even the best artists.
Start with a large image.
You can not color realistic dogs at an unrealistic size.
2. Avoid scribbled eyes and oval noses
This problem catches me several times a month.
I draw my own stamps for my online courses and Workshops but I’m always on the lookout for commercial stamps that can be used in my local classes. I find lots of stamps that are cute and full of wide open coloring areas. Animal stamps I know my students will love.
But then I look at the eyes and that eliminates about 90% of the stamps I come across.
Many stamp artists don’t draw eyes. They scribble something that kinda-maybe-sorta resembles an eye if you squint really hard after a few beers.
Harsh, I know.
But start looking at the eyes in your stamp collection. Most eyes are complete rubbish. You’re lucky if they give you a real circle. Many stamp artists give you a squiggly egg shape with one or two eyelash marks and the left eye rarely matches the right eye.
It’s hard to color realistic dog eyes if the stamp artist doesn’t draw realistic dog eyes.
Same with the nose. If your dog stamp passes the eye test (and I’m not kidding, only about 10% will pass the eye test) then you’ve got to hope and pray that the stamp artist didn’t put an oval where the nose should be.
Look, I’m an artist myself. I know that it’s hard to draw accurate eyes and noses, not just for dogs but for all characters.
YouTube is full of eye and nose tutorials but look a little closer. How many of those tutorials are just a single lone eye or a nose floating by itself on a piece of paper? That’s because drawing disembodied eyes and noses is easy. It’s putting them on a face in a way that doesn’t creep the heck out of your audience that’s hard.
Friendly, warm, and attractive faces are difficult to draw and sadly, I see more stamps that cheat the eyes or nose than those with well drafted features.
Harsh. Again. I know.
Stamp art is usually decorative rather than practical. That’s because stamp companies are not catering to those of us who color with realism. We’re not their target market. Most stamps are style over substance.
So when you’re looking for dog stamps, you’re going to find one cartoon dog after another. The eyes will be round dots and the nose an oval. That lack of detail makes coloring a realistic dog almost impossible.
If it’s not a cartoon dog, it’ll be one of those photographic stamps where they’ve simplified a photo inside Photoshop to make the stamp. And actually? This kind of stamp might be your best bet for realistic dogs. You may have to improve or clarify the eyes and nose a bit but at least the dog won’t have a scribbled face or a human looking grin.
Another bit of advice is to shop digital. I’ve come across some really talented illustrators selling the kind of stamps the commercial manufacturers won’t touch. Simplified yet precise line drawings which make for great realism projects.
When you find one of these independent stamp artists, support the heck out of them! They’re a business just like the big companies and they can’t work for free. Your patronage allows them to keep drawing.
3. Fur texture determines coloring technique
Okay, this next point is something many of you don’t think about it until you’re halfway into the coloring process. By then it’s almost too late.
Different breeds of dog have different types of fur.
I know people get all wrapped up in finding accurate color for their favorite dogs. You want your Chocolate Labradors to be chocolate and your Golden Labs golden.
But fur is not just a color, it’s also a texture. Texture is different from dog to dog, even within the same breed.
Take the Parson Russel Terrier (which most of you know as a Jack Russel). There are smooth coated Jacks and there are rough coated Jacks. Each requires a totally different coloring method.
You can’t color a Schnauzer with the same Copic strokes that you use on a Doberman. And neither of those methods will work on a Corgi or an Old English Sheepdog.
Worry about the kind of fur before you worry about the color.
Get the texture right and you can use any color! There are no pink Poodles but we see them drawn on loads of merchandise and no one ever complains.
The texture of the hair is far more important than the color. If your dog is smooth and sleek, your marker and pencil strokes should be well blended. If the dog is curly, your strokes should be curly. Long hair requires long strokes and if the dog is fuzzy, you need to be thinking fuzzy strokes or else your dog will look like he’s all wet.
If you want a realistic dog, you need realistic fur texture.
4. The importance of a neck
Duh, all dogs have a neck.
Hold on, there’s a good point here. I’m not just stating the obvious.
Most colorers undervalue what the neck does for the face.
We are coloring dogs, not snowmen. There’s a neck in-between the body and the head. Even if the dog is 98.5% fur, there’s still a neck in there somewhere.
Without a neck, your dog has no chin. Without a chin, your dog has no muzzle. Without a muzzle, your dog isn’t a dog.
The neck not only keeps your dog from looking like a bowling pin, it also gives character to the face.
The neck is an important piece of anatomy. It visually separates the face from the shoulders.
The Corgi here has a stocky little neck compared other breeds but it’s still a neck. Look at the shading I’ve got under the chin, by darkening the neck, the chin pops forward.
And look at the darkness behind his cheek. Again, I’m showing you where the neck ends so that the face can start.
When you cheat the neck, you flatten the head and that deforms your dog.
5. Ears are not on the face
Let’s run an experiment: take your two index fingers and put one into each ear. Plug your ears in the “Nah-nah, I can’t hear you” style.
Now let me ask you. Where are your hands in relation to your face?
We tend to think of everything on the head as being part of the face.
Ears are absolutely not on the face!
Your ears are sitting way back on your head. They’re actually sitting just behind the mid-way point of your skull.
Now look at a dog.
Their ears are even farther away from the nose. If the dog is worried or scared, then the ears move back even father.
One of the most common mistakes people make with ears is to color them too light and bright. Without the depth that comes from shading, dog ears look like part of the forehead or weird extensions of the cheek. They do it to people too.
Color the ears deeper on the skull for a more dimensional face.
And here’s another common mistake. I see it with rabbits, cats, and prick-eared dogs.
If you can see into the ear, then there’s going to be some deep shade inside the ear. You’re looking down into a deep hole, there’s no nightlight inside a dog’s head.
Ears tunnels are darker than people assume (including many experienced artists!)
6. Invisible whiskers?
You’re coloring a dog, right?
Not a cat, not a rabbit, not a mouse, and certainly not a walrus.
Take it easy on the whiskers, please.
Dogs are not known for their whiskers. Neither are bears or elephants or kangaroos.
Yes, dogs have whiskers but they’re not an important feature. In fact, many groomers trim away dog whiskers completely.
So when you go in with a big fat white gel pen and give your dog long beautiful whiskers, you’re catifying your dog.
Which is a cardinal sin in the dog world.
To keep my dogs at their doggiest, I might put some dark dots on the muzzle where the whiskers originate but I don’t draw actual whiskers.
Besides, unless you’re coloring the dog at larger-than-life size, a white gel pen is too thick to make real whiskers. Our Corgi here would have to be printed four feet long for a standard gel pen to be proportional to his actual whisker diameter.
It’s okay to leave some details out.
It’s SMART to leave some details out.
Good artists do not include visual distractions.
7. Naked paws & muzzles
This last one is going to require some research.
Does your dog breed have hairy feet?
Most breeds do not. Either the hair naturally grows shorter and less dense on the toes, or a groomer will trim away the foot fur.
The same holds true for the hair on a dog’s muzzle. Muzzle fur is different than neck fur and tummy fur.
And if the hair is thick on the muzzle (Maltese, Shih Tzu, Bearded Collie), that’s important to their character too! Go with what you see on your breed.
To demonstrate the sparse hair on this Corgi, I’ve use an R01 marker to color the toes and the naked areas on the muzzle. I’ve added white hair on top, but we can still see that pink skin showing through.
The pink adds authenticity but it’s also pretty darned cute. It’s the kind of detail that makes dog lovers smile.
Check your breed’s feet and face.
Modify the fur strokes and technique to reflect what you find on their muzzles and on their toes.
And now a public service message from my dog Finnegan:
You can’t just slap spots on any ol’ dog stamp and call it a Dalmatian.
Finnegan is pretty firm about this. He tells me about it all the time.
I’m a Dalmatian person. I’ve had Dals for 25 years and people have given me spotty gifts.
But it’s rare for me to actually purchase anything Dalmatian themed. Why not?
Few artists and crafters take the time to get the details correct.
Dalmatians are not a spotted Labrador. They’re not a small Holstein Cow. There is no O in Dalmatian.
If you get the Dally details right, I’ll fork over tons of cash for your product. But get it wrong and I’m a little creeped out. It just doesn’t look right.
It’s not just me and it’s not just a Dalmatian thing. Any person who is loyal to a specific dog breed is looking for the same kind of loving care and attention.
Dog people respect the artists who respect their breed.
This Corgi stamp from Power Poppy can not be used for a Dachshund. The ears are too perky and the tail too short. It’s not a Basset Hound because the head is too small and he’s not tripping over his ears. This illustration captures a Corgi and it’s very clearly a Spitz and not a Terrier or a Spaniel.
A lot of stamp companies put out generic dog shapes but that doesn’t mean you can color them to any breed. Look at the ear shape, look at the leg length, look at the muzzle depth, look size of the head to the torso.
There is no one-dog-fits-all stamp.
Hey doggie lovers! What breed do you love and what’s the one trait that most people mess up? Share it with us in the comments below. Your observations can help us all get the special dog details right!
So to recap, my best tips for coloring more realistic dogs:
1. Enlarge that stamp!
You need room for the doggy details.
2. Check the eyes and nose before you buy a stamp
You can’t color realistic eyes if the stamp gives you scribbles.
3. Fur texture is more important than fur color
The only dogs who get smooth blending techniques are smooth coated short haired dogs.
4. Dogs have a neck
Without the neck, you’re just coloring bowling pins.
5. Ears are not on the face
They’re towards the back of the skull.
6. Skip the whiskers
Whiskers are for sissies… like cats. Whoa, I’m joking, you cat people are sooo sensitive!
7. Naked paws and muzzles
Don’t draw too much fur on either spot
8. No generic pups
You can’t use the same stamp for a Great Dane and a Yorkie.
Let’s color a corgi!
Join me for a fun Copic + Colored Pencil lesson at Patreon!
"Santa’s Backup Plan" using Power Poppy's "Christmas Corgi"
Vanilla Livestream is held monthly at Patreon.
December 7th at 11am EST
Can't make the livestream? Recorded version is available until June 2019!
Note: class details change each month. Santa’s Backup Plan information is available on the website until late December 2018 when it will be updated with new info. Full project info is kept on Patreon until June 2019.
What is Vanilla Live-Stream?
Real coloring in real time plus a chance to ask lots of questions.
Vanilla Livestream is the closest thing to my local classes but online for your convenience!
I'll walk you through my coloring process, discussing the ins and outs of the project.
We always cover lots of artsy tips and tricks which you can apply to tons of other projects.
Every month, we tackle a new art technique or creative process, helping you develop your artistic skills and realism!
Can't attend live?
Not a problem!
Livestreams are recorded and archived for Patreon members. There are always six months of lessons in the archives; replay them as many times as you want.
That's something you definitely can't do in my local classes!
20% off christmas Corgi
Marcella Hawley, the amazing artist at Power Poppy gives all my Patreon members 20% off the class digital stamp of the month! “Christmas Corgi” is an instant download from PowerPoppy.com; just print it to a Copic safe paper and color along with me!
Want to know more about how the class works?
Want the project supply list and lesson info?
Enroll at Patreon.com/VanillaArtsCo to participate
Topic: The Flow of Fur - how to modify your marker and pencil technique to reflect the flow of animal fur.
Stamp: Christmas Corgi by Power Poppy
Medium: Copic Marker and Prismacolor Soft-Core Pencils
Skill Level: Intermediate through advanced colorers*
*Basic blending and marker skills will not be covered in Livestream sessions. Livestreams are not the same as my Workshop courses and should not be considered an "inexpensive" substitute for my regular skill-building classes.
Join me for an online lesson that will change the way you think about fur!
Plus, it'll be fun!
Supplies used in "Santa’s Backup Plan":
(contains affiliate links to Amazon and Dick Blick)
Vanilla Arts Company is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for use to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com.
Hey doggie lovers: What breed do you love and what’s the one trait that most people mess up?
Share it with us in the comments below. Your observations can help us all get the special dog details right!