You thought it was you
When you first started coloring, it was all about controlling color. How to make your strokes, how to fill in areas smoothly, how to blend.
And your projects turned out okay but they were missing something.
So you went looking for answers.
"Read my blog tutorial about depth!"
"Learn how to add shape to your stamp coloring!"
"Take my class where we use the right marker combinations to make your projects pop with dimension!"
So you did everything they said.
You bought the magical marker combinations. You added the special pens and pencils. You followed the recipes and instructions to a tee. You got so good at blending, layering, light sourcing, and shadow casting that now you can practically teach the class.
You're an intermediate level colorer. You've got the class certificates to prove it.
And yet your coloring is STILL missing something. It looks better than it used to... but it still doesn't look realistic.
So it must be you, right?
Maybe you're simply not as talented as everyone else.
Because really, after all this time and investment, what else could it be?
depth & dimension
Colorers want depth and dimension. They'll pay good money for someone to show them how to get it.
And yet I'm not convinced that colorers or their instructors really know what depth and dimension are.
First, let's define the terms.
Depth. What do YOU think it means?
Before I give you the answer, define "depth" for yourself. What does depth mean?
Depth is a measurement of distance. It's how far away something is sitting.
Spacial planes if you want to drag out a geometry term.
Depth in coloring is making far away items look farther away and making nearer items look near.
So when two items overlap, like two leaves or a mommy bear and her baby bear, depth is about making the baby bear look as if it's sitting in front of the mother bear.
Depth is near and far.
Now tell me about dimension. You claim to want more dimension in your coloring, so what does "dimension" mean?
Dimension is the shape of an object. Not where it's sitting but how the object is shaped. Is it flat and curled? Is it rounded and plump? Is it squared off with flat sides? That's dimension.
Dimension is shape.
So a blogger or teacher who promises to help add "depth and dimension" to your coloring is supposed to teach you how to set the distance of your objects and to define their shape.
Do they really do that?
They yammer endlessly about what colors to use.
Let's get real about realism
Realism doesn't come from using the perfect color combinations.
It doesn't come from buying the best brand of colored pencils or from owning lots of spiffy art supplies.
Realism is a quest.
It's not a formula. It is not a method.
Realism is a journey.
A lifetime's worth of journeying.
That's why artists talk about realism in terms of quantity. We want "more realism" or we describe something is "less realistic".
Realism is a quality to strive for, not a technique.
Depth and dimension are keys to realism but they're only part of the equation.
That's why you can add depth and add dimension to your coloring projects and still not color with a decent amount of realism.
Depth and dimension are pieces of the puzzle, not the whole picture.
so what's missing?
Well, every project is different and every student is unique. I can't diagnose your realism problem from afar. I can't solve anything in the space of a single blog post.
But if I had to take a wild stab at the problem, I'd point back to my previous paragraphs above about depth and dimension.
Most classes and tutorials talk about depth and dimension in terms of color.
Color can't solve your realism problems.
Depth and dimension are only part of the way to make objects look real.
Objects look real (or real-er) when you show us more than what color something is.
Things look real (or real-er) when you show us how hard or soft they are, what the surface texture is, and how each object relates to the other objects within the image.
Realism comes from a combination of factors:
Notice that I didn't mention depth, dimension, or blending combinations?
Notice that I didn't say a darned thing about light sources?
Get the idea that you're focused on the wrong things?
You can be an advanced Copic colorer... you can have years of colored pencil experience under your belt... you can take every coloring class under the sun...
But if the lessons never move beyond color combinations, you'll never color with realism because you're only hearing the fluffy stuff.
Not your average coloring class
There are a lot of talented and generous coloring instructors (both online and in shops around the world) who do a really great job educating students about basic marker and pencil techniques.
But there's also a weird merry-go-round mindset amongst colorers. The idea is if you take enough classes and meet enough instructors- that eventually, you'll grow your skills from coloring level to artist level.
So you bounce from instructor to instructor, technique to technique, spinning your wheels the entire time because no matter which class you take, you never move past beginner level concepts.
If every class covers color selection, you'll never move beyond color selection.
There's a great big world beyond color recipes and that's where I want to take my students.
I have a growing Workshop full of online courses and lessons that are NOT what-marker-goes-where style classes.
You've done depth. You've done dimension. You've explored the many blending combinations and the nifty novelty techniques.