Do your Copic Marker projects look flat & unrealistic?
Do you follow lots of coloring tutorials which promise depth and dimension? Yet your projets still have a flat, artificial or stylized look to them.
Is your coloring dimensional and yet not realistic?
Hmmm… have you ever wondered if there’s a connection between the “depth & dimension” tutorials and the lack of realism?
I’ll be honest, I’ll be blunt:
Tutorials are why your coloring is flat.
But before we get too deep into the dimensional discussion…
My latest Copic Coloring Tips video at YouTube is all about why you color like a superstar in classes or when following tutorials…
But when you’re on your own, your personal projects look mediocre… or worse.
We get so wrapped up in the quest for realistic depth and dimension that we forget about color.
Until it’s too late.
If you’ve ever wondered how I create professional and cohesive looking color palettes for classes and freelance artwork, this video shows you my process, step by step!
Okay, back to figuring out why your coloring is flat…
I get a lot of questions about flatness from students.
By the time you find me and my website, you’ve already taken more than a few classes from different instructors and followed tons of blogs.
And you love the ease of being handed a project recipe and step by step instructions; the projects look great and they’re a ton of fun.
But deep down, you’re starting to realize that “dimensional” doesn’t really mean what you want it to mean.
More dimensional than what?
You color better now than when you started and it may look more dimensional than when you were screwing around with Copics on your own…
But you want to color with realism and darn it! After all this time, it still isn’t happening.
Why is your coloring flat?
I’m not psychic and I can’t diagnose your precise problems from here.
I mean, let’s be honest. You’re reading this article right now and I’m off doing the dishes, or teaching a class, or walking the dog. This isn’t a personal consultation.
But if I had to guess, I’d tell you that your coloring is flat because someone taught you to color shapes instead of forms.
Huh? What is Amy talking about?
We always look at shapes when coloring! Now she says we shouldn’t color shapes?
And what the heck is a form?
The fact that you think you’re supposed to color a shape is exactly why your coloring is flat!
Let’s try an experiment.
Put on a blindfold and I’ll hand you four different objects.
Oh, wait; I forgot this is a blog. If you wear a blindfold, you won’t be able to read what’s next.
Okay, new plan!
Pretend to put on a blindfold and then I’ll pretend to hand you stuff.
Are you ready?
So here are four things. I’m handing you: an egg, a balloon, a jellybean, and a penny.
Got ‘em? Good.
Now tell me about the egg.
It’s hard and a little cold. It’s heavier than it looks and the surface feels brittle with tiny pock-marks. It’s evenly rounded on all sides with no corners, valleys, or dents.
Now tell me about the balloon.
It’s almost weightless. The surface is rubbery and springy. It’s tied with a knot on one end and rounded on the other. I can see through the balloon, like a pair of red sunglasses.
Got the idea?
Now for a different experiment: let’s say we’re in the checkout lane at Target. My bill comes to $10.26 and I hand the cashier a ten dollar bill, a quarter, and a jellybean.
What’s she going to say?
Even blindfolded, you can easily tell the difference between an egg, a balloon, a jellybean, and a penny.
And so can the Target cashier.
An egg, a balloon, a jellybean, and a penny are all distinctly different objects.
So why do you color them all the same?
Don’t lie… you color them all alike, right?
I know you do. Because you’ve read all the shading tutorials that say:
For rounded shapes, darken the edges to make the shape seem rounded. If you’re feeling fancy, add white gel pen on the top left of the shape and add a darker marker on the bottom right. Tah-dah!
And you do this for eggs, for balloons, for jellybeans, and for pennies.
Shapes are two-dimensional!
And that my friends, is why your coloring is dimensional yet flat.
As long as you approach coloring in only two dimensions…
And as long as you color all round stuff with the same exact method…
Your coloring will never look realistic.
Because real stuff is three dimensional!
The problem with shading tutorials is that they color shapes.
Artists color form.
What is form?
Form is one of those art terms that hasn’t quite made its way into the coloring world yet.
A form is the three dimensional presence of an object.
A shape is just the silhouette, the general outline.
Shapes are flat.
A form adds the third dimension— the surface of an object as it bends, rolls, turns, or folds either towards you or away.
An egg, a balloon, a jellybean, and a penny all have similar shapes, which is why shading tutorials treat them all with the same basic steps.
But if you look at the form, you quickly spot gigantic differences between the objects, even without touching them.
Which means you can’t just slap some white gel pen in the upper left and shade the bottom right of everything and call it a masterpiece.
It may look more dimensional than before but it won’t look realistic!
Remember: realism is the art of trompe l'oeil— fooling the eye.
If you’re coloring shapes, you’re not foolin’ anyone.
why can’t we color shapes?
Well, you can. Nobody is stopping you. There are lots of shaping tutorials out there and you can gorge yourself on ‘em all.
“Learn my quick & easy jellybean technique and you can color this fun and exciting digital stamp!”
You can do the quick & easy method. It’s quick. It’s easy.
But it won’t look real.
Real objects are more than shapes.
Which is why I threw the penny into our blindfold experiment.
If you flip a coin onto its side, it doesn’t look like a balloon anymore, right?
Yee-haw! Now you’re thinking in three dimensions!
The egg, balloon, jellybean, and penny all have the same basic shape when viewed from one particular angle.
But that ain’t real life.
Shift your vantage point even a little bit and the forms are completely different.
Which is what artists know.
And what shading tutorials ignore.
Even when the forms are sorta-kinda-maybe the same, realistic artists know that every object requires unique contemplation.
Take the egg and the balloon— the forms are actually pretty similar.
Yet different enough to completely change how you color them.
The balloon and the egg are both wide at one end and narrow at the other, right?
But look at the small end of the egg, see how the form rolls away from your eye in a perfect ovoid?
The balloon doesn’t roll on both ends!
The balloon ends in a knot. The knotted end doesn’t roll. The balloon ends in a point.
But that’s not all, there are often little wrinkles at the point of a balloon. The rubber gets thick and more opaque as it approaches the knot. Balloon points differ from balloon to balloon based upon manufacturer and how tightly they’ve been filled.
Yet I’ve never seen a balloon shaping tutorial mention this incredibly important and realistic fact!
The knotted thick pointy end is essential to coloring a balloon that doesn’t look like an egg!
You want it to look balloonish? Then you gotta color it balloonish.
If you’re looking at shapes, you’ll see the world in flat shapes.
But if you’re looking at forms, there’s a world of difference.
Realism captures that difference and celebrates it!
Stop coloring color!
That’s the problem with tutorials. You’ve colored one egg, which means you can color 60 jellybeans.
Wait, read that sentence again:
“You’ve colored one egg, which means you can color 60 jellybeans.”
That sentence is dumb. It looks dumb, it sounds even dumber. And yet you’ve bought whole-hog into the concept because some rando blogger told you so.
The reason why that sentence almost makes a little bit of sense, and the reason why you fell for it in the first place…
Is because you love color.
Someone promised to show you which pretty color to put in what pretty spot to make lots of prettiness.
But pretty gets you into trouble!
Shading techniques and shaping tutorials are very specific. Use this marker in this exact spot!
Then you see an artist who paints or colors with amazing realism, so you assume that they can tell you which magical color they used in which magical spots.
I see this on Instagram all the time:
Hey, Mr. Artist person? Can you tell me what colors you used on the jellybean so that I can order them all today and start coloring just like you tomorrow?
Artists complain about this question to other artists all the time!
Because none of us cares about the color. Half the time, I couldn’t even tell you which pencil I’m holding WHILE I’m actually holding it.
If I wasn’t teaching, I’d have no idea what the heck goes into any of my illustrations.
The only reason why I write it down is because I know you’re going to ask.
Artists don’t work by color. We’re not looking at color, we’re looking at form.
Coloring the third dimension
If you’ve been hanging out here on the website or taken any of my classes, you know I teach a method I’ve called Push & Pull.
Push & Pull is my sneaky way of getting you to stop hyperventilating about shading and to start looking at forms.
Basically, we color optical illusions.
When the surface of an an object (eh hem, the FORM) dips or rolls or bends away from the viewer, we push the area farther away using color that’s desaturated, muddier, and frankly ugly.
And when the surface of an object (you know, the form?) rises or approaches the viewer, we pull the area closer with color that’s cleaner, crisper, and sometimes lighter.
But students often ask how I know when to push and how much to push.
Whoa, hold on. I’m not magic.
I get it from reading the form.
Got any light-bulbs flickering on yet?
This is that moment in the movie when Glinda sighs and rolls her eyes and tells Dorothy, “Hey girl, you’ve been doing this all along and I’ve handed you the photo references, so how about you let me get out of this stupid pink dress and go back to what I was doing before…”
Oh, wait. That’s not what she says. But I’m pretty sure she was thinking it!
The form, the way the surface bends, either away from us or towards us… that determines whether you push or pull!
The form, how much the surface rolls or dips… that determines the strength of the pushing or pulling!
And the form, how the form rolls around a bend or even turns sharp at a corner… that determines how quickly the push or pull needs to happen!
The form determines what the color does.
The form makes the color change happen.
The form is what tells you where and how to color.
Too many colorers assume realism comes from mystic talent or magical supply lists.
Realism happens when you color the form.
Look, my whole goal in stealth-teaching you art lessons disguised as coloring projects, is to get you to the point where you don’t need me, telling you what to do.
Which is an absolutely terrible business model.
But that’s how art works.
Art is about self expression.
If you’re just following along with my videos, then you’re just following along with my videos.
That ain’t art.
You shouldn’t be dying for me to release the next lesson. You shouldn’t be reliant on me to tell you what to color and when to color it or where the colors go.
If you don’t learn to do it on your own, that makes me a TERRIBLE teacher!
Read the form.
That’s my job. Teaching you to read the form.
Reading the form is what starts you on the path to realism.
If you look at a jellybean stamp and you can see how to color it because you’ve looked at several jellybean references and you’ve seen where the form dips, rolls, or waves…
And when you know that this jellybean digital stamp isn’t one shading technique repeated 60 times…
And when you color all 60 of them based on their unique forms…
And if you take this stamp and create your own color palette, knowing that you can do it because reading the form has nothing to do with what orange marker goes where…
If you can do all of that?
Then I get a few feathers in my angel wings.
Are you ready to learn more about forms?
Are you ready to start your path to realism?
Introducing my new Jellybeans class.
We’re changing the way you look at photo references and that’s going to change the way you color AND the way you look at the world!
But first, let's start with the free stuff!
Watch my latest FREE art lesson!
(Click the image above to watch the video at YouTube)
And there's the Workshop class!
Jellybeans 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 its 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 Jellybeans:
(Contains affiliate links)
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