The Danger of Step-by-Step Coloring Tutorials

Copic Marker and colored pencil tutorials can do more harm than good. Encourage your inner artist by finding real lessons. | | #copic #coloredpencil #adultcoloring #realism

Hooray! It's Blogday!

Ever notice how we look forward to certain days of the week when our favorite internetters post new content?

That's Blogday.

Time to check in with all your favorite Copic Marker bloggers. Time to scour the colored pencil channels on YouTube! And don't forget about all the coloring groups on Facebook!

But wait. Hold on a second.

Want to know why you've been coloring for years and yet you're still kind'a mediocre and not very good at it?

Blame Blogday.

No, really. I'm serious.

Blogday is all about tutorials and tutorials can lead you astray.


Please come to my house?

If I were to invite you over to my house, I'd give you more than just my address.

I live on a road that runs east to west. Depending upon where you're coming from, I'd give you completely different driving directions. From the west brings you through a quaint little village, from the east takes you on dirt roads through a nature reserve.

But both routes lead to my house.

If you're the adventurous type, there are other ways to get here. You can hop fences and walk through some woods from the south. You'll need a boat or jet ski to arrive from the north.

Feeling wealthy? You could rent a helicopter and land right in my front yard.

And while no one has ever done it before, it might be possible to tunnel underground and come up right by my mailbox.

So that's six ways to get to my house.

They all work.

Some are more efficient than others but they'll all get you to my front door.


the problem with tutorials

Tutorials tell you how to color something. Step by step. Detail by detail.

Step one: basecoat as shown with this specific marker. Step two: add darkness with this specific marker using this specific stroke...

And that's the problem:

There is not one way to color a flower.

If you're following detailed Copic Marker instructions, you're not learning to color with artistry. Encourage your inner artist! | | #copic #coloredpencil #adultcoloring #realism

You can use Copics. You can use colored pencils. You can use a paint brush and some nifty ink pads. There are lots of supplies which you can use to create a realistic and lifelike flower.

And colors? Yep, lots of colors too. This is a dahlia and I've seen them in every color but blue. Even if you restricted yourself to purple dahlias only, there are hundreds of possible color combinations, millions of shades of purple which can give you a realistic dahlia.

Don't forget about stroke quality either. You could color this flower silky smooth with perfect blends or use long and loose strokes which leave texture and movement on each petal. Both would work.

You can color light to dark or dark to light. Or start with the midtone. 

You can work left to right, right to left, middle outward, or edges inward.

There is not one way to color a flower.

If you're sitting there waiting for the latest batch of Blogday tutorials to teach you "How to Color a Dahlia", or "How to Color an Elephant", or how to color anything... you're doing it wrong.

You're thinking about art wrong.

A tutorial is one way to get there. It's not the only way to get there.


Sometimes it's not even the best way...

Remember the six ways to get to my house?

Some of them were stupid!

Most of you are not going to row a boat or tunnel your way anywhere.

And I've got news for you: for a blogger to publish a new technique every week, rain or shine? That's a lot of fresh techniques to dream-up!

Some tutorials are going to be stupid.

They'll work... maybe. But crankin' out 52 tuts a year isn't going to result in a winner every time.

And isn't it weird how they never say, "Meh, today's technique isn't the greatest but hey, it's Blogday and I've got to publish something..."


Live by the tut, die by the tut...

Remember that old saying about not seeing the forest for the trees?

That's learning step-by-step-- except with tutorials, you're not even looking at the trees! You're looking at the sprout on a tiny twig on one branch of a minor limb on a very small tree.

Tutorials are a demonstration of how one person does one thing.

There's a much bigger world of potential out there and you're missing it.

Tutorials hurt your coloring because they encourage isolated thinking:

"I can color frogs and I can color dahlias but I don't know how to color a fireman because nobody has blogged a technique for that yet."

That's ridiculous!

Copic Marker tutorials show you how one person colored one object. But it's not the best way, not the only way, not the artistic way. | | #copic #coloredpencil #adultcoloring #realism

Coloring isn't separate like that. A fireman shouldn't require a dedicated set of instructions.

Art doesn't work that way.

There isn't one best technique for fireman and different best technique for dahlias.

In fact, there's a lot of overlap. The fireman's skin has a lot in common with the paint on his firetruck. His hair is very similar to the flow of water coming from the firehose. The fireman's jacket could be colored the same way as his Dalmatian.

Tutorials make you think there's a unique approach to everything.

Artists don't work that way. Artists look for the similarities in all objects: the line, shape, form, edge quality, value, shade, shadow, etc.

Things are a lot more alike than you think!

A good instructor, a good blogger will tell you that. It's the bad ones that make the lesson all about the fireman.

One of the reasons why I teach floral images so often is because if you can color petals well, you can color anything!

Flower petals are smooth like skin, matte like fabric, they have folds and waves and ridges just like landscapes. A flower is a universe of skills in one tiny area.

And yet I have folks say "I'm tired of coloring flowers..."

Because they're thinking tutorials, not universes.


Buyer beware!

Here's the point of today's article, the heart of what I want you to think about in the coming days:

Are you too focused on step-by-step tutorials?

If you typically start every project by Googling "How to color a ___", then you need to reevaluate your approach to coloring.

Do you research "how to color a ___" before every Copic marker project? Until you learn to color independently without tutorials, you'll never get the artistry you want. | | #copic #coloredpencil #adultcoloring #realism

Are you enrolling in tutorial style classes that keep your hands busy but fail to stimulate your mind?

Are you attending lots of sell-me-stuff style classes where the instructor talks more about the stamp and the supply list, rather than looking at you and your project?

Are you frustrated or stalled in your coloring because of your reliance upon demonstrations?

Do you have a notebook full of notes and recipes but still have no clue how to color the ordinary objects all around you?

Let's be blunt: the quality of coloring information on blogs and websites varies greatly.

The level of instruction you'll find in local classes and online can be incredibly diverse (that's diverse in the not-good way).

Don't take a class or read a blog just to pick up more techniques.

More techniques are the problem, not the solution.

Learn to filter your resources.

Time is finite. That's a fancy way of saying that your life is so darned busy that you barely found time to read this article.

Spend your time, spend your money on quality instruction- online and in real life.

Be a smart consumer.

Filter out the tutorial-based chaff because that stuff takes away the time you could spend learning the fundamental techniques of light and shade, shape and form. Lessons you can apply to more than just fireman stamps.

"Dahlia" an advanced colored pencil lesson from Amy Shulke of Learn to color with artistry by ditching the tutorial system for independence and creative freedom. | | #copic #coloredpencil #adultcoloring #realism

"Dahlia" is a live advanced coloring class where students learn to create their own color palettes and explore the detail of photo references. Online intermediate version coming soon.

Support great content

If you support simplistic tutorials, that's what you'll get more of.

There are better blogs, better YouTube channels, better classes, better courses out there... and the list of really great instruction resources grows daily.

But you have to support them to keep this wonderful educational boom going.

The coloring world is very responsive!

Teachers teach more of the classes you take, bloggers write more of the articles you "heart", and you'd be amazed at how influential your blog comments are.

When you share good articles with friends on Facebook or Twitter, that encourages more good articles. Sharing your classwork on Instagram keeps the content cycle healthy.

You are incredibly powerful! "I just took a great class from ___" is far more influential than any Facebook ad.

The reverse is also true, if you keep signing up for "How to color a fireman" classes and hearting all the simplistic tuts, that's what you'll get more of.

Support great instructors and they'll shower you with useful information.

Don't we have enough step-by-steps already?


Dahlia Is Now Available In The Vanilla Stamp Shop!

Dahlia -

A beautiful botanical! My students love the challenge of coloring realistic botanicals. Dahlia is an intermediate/advanced level digital image and perfect for those looking to challenge themselves.

This digital image is an original stamp created for the students of my 2018 Harbor Springs Summer Art Retreat. It was originally colored in watercolor and colored pencil but is also perfect for Copic and other mediums.…your options are endless!

Products used in Dahlia:

(Affiliate links, not all materials shown)

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