Do you love detail?
We're internet friends, right? That means I don't really know you and you don't really know me. But after years of teaching Copic Marker and colored pencil classes, I do know one important thing about you: you are a tad persnickety.
I've noticed that artistic coloring classes attract a certain kind of person. And in those coloring classes, my Copic Marker people tend to be on the perfectionist side and my colored pencil people really love precision and detail.
Hey, that's not a slam because I'm teaching the darned classes. Persnickety is my specialty. If you let me, I'll add details for days.
But how much detail should you include in your coloring projects? What can you add and what should you leave out? Are there rules for finding the sweet spot?
But first, a gentle disclaimer
This article isn't for everyone.
That's why the title includes the term "Artistic Coloring".
If you're a casual colorer who uses markers or colored pencils to zen-out and decompress, I am soooo not your guru. My projects and processes probably require more thought and care than you want to give.
And if you're a card maker who does quick & easy coloring techniques, rushing through the markering so that you can spend more time with patterned paper and pop-dots, then I'm not your thing either.
I'm all about the coloring, not the spangles. I don't even own a die cutter.
This article is for the colorers who focus on the image as art rather than the meditative experience or coloring cute elements for layouts.
The details on the details...
Once my students get over the hurdle of basic coloring technique, we begin using photo references to guide our artistic choices.
But because we live in a time when Google has placed vast quantities of high quality photography at our fingertips, this opens up a lot of detail related questions.
If we can see teeny-tiny details in our photo references, should we include them in our artwork?
The first thing I always stress is that you must acknowledge one important rule:
Too much detail is NOT a good thing.
In fact, too much detail can be creepy.
Sure, you might see the pimples on a flea in your photo reference but that doesn't mean you should include it in your artwork.
True story: my grandmother spotted my artistic tendencies when I was very young and she sent me to classes and camps to make sure that I tapped into the ability before it disappeared or was squelched.
So after a great class on drawing faces, I repaid my loving grandmother by drawing a portrait of her which included every last line, scar, and wrinkle on her face.
I'm not kidding. I captured every darned crease in bold black ink. Her face looked like an interstate highway map.
That wasn't very nice. It also wasn't very pretty.
Unless you intend to create gritty or grotesque exposition, always try to keep your artwork pleasant and flattering.
Less is almost always more.
Your grandmother will thank you.
Tip #1: Avoid popular stereotypes
Want to make your details unique? Then don't color what everyone else is coloring.
When you select a coloring image, I encourage you to spend some time thinking about your subject before you ever pick up a marker or colored pencil.
For my Blackberry Bramble lesson using Power Poppy's "Berry It" digital stamp, I closed my eyes and thought about blackberries. Then I took notes. The point is to list my preconceived notions (whether they're correct or not).
What color do I think they are? What textures might they have? Where do I assume they grow?
What I'm coming up with is the stereotype of a blackberry.
Most colorers never move past the stereotype.
If you Google the name and manufacturer of the stamp image, you will find photographs from people who have colored the stamp. Some companies (like Power Poppy) will provide select samples on their sales pages.
You'll notice that 90% of these samples don't deliver any more detail than you have on your preconceived notion list.
Blackberries are black or maybe a dark purple? The leaves are green. The berry is made up of little balls. The berries are shiny.
You, my dear grasshopper, are capable of so much more.
The stereotype should always be your starting point, not your end point.
To be unique, you must include more than what you're seeing in common blackberry assumptions.
Having a baseline gives you a goal for your next Google search, looking for photos of real blackberries.
What details can you find in the photos that are not part of the stereotype?
The true characteristics which people typically don't think of are my target details to add!
So I notice that most blackberries are actually red, but they're a red so deep as to appear purple or black. That's an important detail.
I see that not all berries in the bunch ripen at the same time. That's an important detail for my cluster of berries.
I notice that the berries, branches, and leaves are all covered in hairs and thorny needles...
Bingo! This is how we move past the stereotype towards a unique interpretation.
Tip #2: Be the berry!
I spend a lot of time researching my subjects.
Partially because I'm curious but also to insure that I capture the details correctly.
It's an extra step that I think pays off in the end.
Remember when I mentioned that blackberries have hairs and thorns?
Those little details are what will trigger a smile when someone sees your artwork and identifies with it.
"I've noticed those hairs too!"
Or "Wow, I never noticed the hairs before!"
That's the kind of reaction to detail that keeps people coming back to look at your artwork again.
If there's a tiny detail that particularly interests me, I try my darndest to include that in the artwork.
The things that interest you most, the things you have enthusiasm for - these things will make your art more interesting. They're a reflection of what makes you unique.
What amuses you will entertain your ideal viewers too.
To get this kind of detail right, you need to investigate deeper than simply finding a good photo reference.
You have to understand what you're looking at; to be able to name its parts; to understand what the detail looks like from other angles and vantage points.
To color the berry, you have to be the berry.
Yes, it's an extra step.
Yes, research takes time.
But it's part of the journey that detail-oriented artists and viewers actually enjoy.
Don't just learn to color. Learn as you color.
Tip #3: Does the detail enhance or detract?
This is a major stumbling block for a lot of colorers but I've also seen it trip-up professional artists too!
Details should add meaning and resonance.
I had a student who wanted to draw and color a special gift for a friend.
The friend had recently lost her beloved cat. She used her friend's "favorite photo" as her only drawing reference.
Now most people are not professional photographers, so it's not surprising that the lighting was bad and the cat was caught in an awkward and unflattering pose.
I tried very hard to convince my student to use more photo references, I even found some for her. Against advice, she insisted on using only the original photo and faithfully added every single detail she spotted.
So she drew three legs but not the fourth, thanks to the bad pose.
One eye was squinty and one ear was oddly slanted back, just like the photo.
She added the basket of laundry in the background, a dropped television remote, and what might have been the leg of a chair... or maybe it was an end table? I'm still not sure what it was.
The artwork captured the photograph, not the spirit of the cat.
The friend loved the cat, not the photo. The photo was only treasured because it reminded her of a happier time, not because it was a great photograph.
Some details are unimportant. Some are insulting. Who wants their unfolded laundry lovingly rendered in colored pencil?
Sadly, every detail my student included led our attention farther and farther away from the cat.
She totally missed the heart of the art.
Detail is clutter if it doesn't help us understand the subject.
Tip #4: art supplies limit detail
You can't add wispy whiskers to a rabbit or super-fine needle thorns to a blackberry bush with a big fat Copic brush nib.
You also can't do it with a size 12 paintbrush or a dull colored pencil.
It's not just your tools. Pan pastel is the wrong medium for whiskers and thorn as is a bottle of Stickles.
Your supplies always determine the type of detail you can portray.
That's not my rule, it's physics.
Why does your 2" girl look rastafarian? Because your marker nib is the size of dreadlocks, not strands of hair.
If you're working on a tiny image with large Copic Brush Nibs, you won't be capturing the look of fine fur, delicate tendrils of on a Sweet Pea, or feathery eyelashes.
The same rule even applies to mural painters. You could be painting on the side of a building, but if all you have is a 6 inch flat paintbrush, you probably ought to rethink the whiskers.
Don't fight your supplies.
Switch to a detail tool or skip the detail.
Tip #5: View your photo references at matching scale
Thank God for Steve Jobs.
Back when I started in technical drawing, I had shelves of reference books plus back issues of magazines and medical journals. I also had a four drawer file cabinet full of photos and clippings. Nothing was the size I intended to draw.
When I did have the luxury of directly photographing the subject, I'd print 8x10s but still, my drawings were always much larger.
The digital revolution has freed up space in my studio and simplified the drawing process beyond my wildest dreams.
I can now routinely view photo references at the same scale as my final art thanks to a large iPad and the zoom feature.
Thank you Apple, for making my life easier!
I used to agonize a lot over what details to include in illustrations. Same sized photos help make that decision.
Match the size of your photo references to the size of your artwork to see what's important.
If you're working on a 5 inch stamp image and you can't see certain details in a 5 inch photo, then they do not belong in your artwork.
And if you're working at 15 inches, you'd better think twice about leaving that same stuff out.
Working with photo references to scale with your artwork is an amazing luxury. Take advantage of it!
Voila! 5 tips for deciding which details to include & what to skip
Hopefully you'll use them to simplify the debate in future projects.
Make smart detail decisions by:
1. Going beyond the stereotype
Give your viewers more than what they expect.
2. Understand and then celebrate special details
Delight your viewers with the details that you find most interesting.
3. Details should enhance, never detract
Capture the spirit of your subject rather than filling the page with clutter.
4. Do not fight your medium or your tools
If you can't do the detail right, don't do it at all.
5. View photo references at matching scale
Let the size of your artwork determine which details are too small to capture.
Want to learn more about coloring small details?
Join me for a fun Copic + Colored Pencil lesson at Patreon!
Sorry, this class has expired.
For the current selection of Livestream classes, please see here.
The original Livestream broadcast was Saturday, August 18th. The recording is available through February 2019!
What is Vanilla Live-Stream?
It's a live coloring demonstration and Q&A session.
Real coloring in real time plus a chance to ask lots of coloring questions.
Vanilla Livestream is similar to my local advanced coloring class, but online for easier viewing.
I'll walk you through my coloring process, discussing the ins and outs of the project.
We always cover a bunch 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?
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That's something you definitely can't do in my live class!
20% off Berry It
Marcella Hawley, the amazing artist at Power Poppy gives all my Patreon members 20% off the class digital stamp! This 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?
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Topic: Coloring small details- which are important and what can be simplified for easier coloring?
Stamp: Berry It by Power Poppy
Medium: Copic Marker and Prismacolor Soft-Core Pencils
Skill Level: Intermediate through advanced colorers*
* No drawing skills necessary. Basic blending and marker skills will not be covered in Livestream sessions. Livestreams are a coloring demonstration with unscripted conversation. This is 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 color!
Plus, it'll be fun!
Supplies used in "Blackberry Bramble":
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