Did you make a Resolution to practice coloring more often?
How’s that working out for you?
My latest Copic Coloring Tips video at YouTube is all about slowing down for a more effective practice routine.
When people get bitten by the Copic Marker bug, they tend to gorge on information, watch lots of videos, and practice, practice, practice.
Which all sounds good until your skills plateau.
If you’re looking for an explanation about why more practice doesn’t always equal better coloring, give this video a watch!
So you set a practice routine…
You’ve decided to buckle down and really work on improving your Copic Marker and colored pencil coloring skills.
You’re going to color for at least an hour, 5 days a week.
Or maybe you’re scheduling Saturday afternoons for wine and coloring.
And you’ve looked into joining a practice group.
You’ve downloaded 31 prompts for next month and that list is full of inspiration!
And you stumbled across a few hashtags on Instagram, so the plan is to post your progress photos… not to show off but because you know making a commitment to post regularly will help keep you faithful and motivated.
All of that sounds great.
Yes, you know there’s always a big but in my articles. So here it comes…
Have you noticed that all of these motivational resources really only deal with WHEN to color and WHAT to color?
I’ve got news for you:
WHEN and WHAT to color are not the key to improving skills.
You can practice like clockwork. You can complete the entire 30 day challenge. You can ink your entire way through September, October, and November, but that doesn’t mean you’ll see amazing results.
Because good practice is about more than when to pick up a colored pencil and what to color with your Copic.
How can you improve the quality of your coloring sessions?
Because the goal should be learning rather than projects completed, right?
Let’s take a look at 6 changes you can make to your practice routine today.
1. 30 day lists are terrible
Inspirational prompt lists can get you into trouble.
My biggest problem with Prompt of the Day lists is that they make it seem as if you’re supposed to work on a brand new project every single day.
So when you can’t color on Thursday because for some weird reason, your kids want food in the refrigerator, that means you have to color two projects on Friday.
But then on Saturday, you clean the house and go to the movies. Now you’re behind again.
I’m a freakin’ professional and I color for a living. Even I don’t color every day!
Here’s the problem: It’s very easy for me to sit down and come up with a list of 31 things for you to do.
Give me ten minutes and I can give you 30, 60, or even 100 challenge prompts.
What takes me 2.3 seconds to type takes you hours to complete.
That’s not fair!
And even though a lot of prompt lists come with “do only what you can” disclaimers, that looming 31 item To-Do list still sends the message that you’re a complete and utter artistic failure for having a normal life.
If I walked up to you on the street and handed you a list of 5 things that you must give me right now (wallet, keys, a pint of blood…), you’d wad the list up into a ball and throw it in my face, right?
But some blogger demands 60 hours a month from you and you’re like “Game on! Let’s do it!”
Honestly folks, I would have trouble completing one prompt per week.
Even at that snail rate, I’d fall behind.
Because I’m human.
You are too.
Nobody can be creative at that pace. NOBODY. Stop doing this to yourself!
2. increase the size of your projects
If your goal is to color with greater realism, it isn’t going to happen on a 1 inch rabbit line drawing or rubber stamp.
It’s also unlikely to happen on a 4 inch image too.
Stamps are sized for cardmakers, not artists.
I tend to work at 11 x 14 inches. That’s my happy size. It wasn’t until I started producing projects for online classes that I was forced to downsize to 8.5 x 11 inch projects and that’s only because most students use home-office sized printers.
But 8.5 x 11 feels seriously cramped to me.
There’s no space to add the kind of detail and artistry that I want.
Realistic coloring requires room to add subtle color changes. It’s very easy to form a gentle transition from deep shade to bright color when you’ve got a large area to work in. It’s sooooo much harder to do that in a teeny tiny space on a teeny tiny stamp.
One of my favorite paintings is Norman Rockwell’s Triple Self Portrait. Look at the scale of his realistic painting compared to the size of his actual head. He’s telling you that he works really large. Triple Self Portrait is a painting that is 3.75 feet tall and almost 3 feet wide!
It takes that kind of space to capture life.
Yes, some artists work smaller but when you’re training and practicing, it’s easier to work larger. It’s much easier to learn to downsize the detail AFTER you’ve perfected the technique.
Now obviously, if you’re working larger, every project is going to take more time to complete. But that’s okay! Remember, we’re not doing those 31 Days of Failure exercises anymore.
So give each project the kind of time it needs.
Give yourself the space to learn!
3. Limit your coloring time
The Weekend Warrior mindset definitely doesn’t work in art.
Look, I know you’ve paid your dues all week, working the job and doing all the other adult stuff that people require of you.
So I totally understand the desire to lock yourself in your craft room on Saturday morning and not come out until Sunday night.
When you get time to color, you want to spend every second coloring, right?
But recently, I’ve discovered something strange.
Up until a few months ago, it was nothing for me to spend 7 or 8 hours at a time drawing and painting.
As a freelance artist, you kinda have to do that sort of stuff. It’s the job.
But then I messed up my shoulder and my fingers started going numb… ON MY DRAWING HAND!
Part of the physical therapy regime was to take breaks every 20 minutes- roll my shoulders, do a few exercises, and stretch.
Which was a major pain in the keister! It totally interrupted my workflow.
Except here’s the weird thing… the more breaks I took, the more efficient my process started to become. I was making fewer mistakes. I was catching mistakes sooner. I was actually coloring better despite the fact that my arm was basically on fire.
What’s the deal?
Multiple time-outs forced me to shift my thinking for a few minutes.
While I was stretching my arm, I was also rethinking the coloring process, trouble-shooting, and problem solving.
When I returned to my desk, I had fresh eyes capable of seeing what areas needed better shaping, more shading, or greater clarification.
Bonus: forcing myself to color in smaller 2 hour sessions instead of day-long marathons meant that I always left the desk with a positive plan for the next session and I was highly motivated when I returned.
Life got better.
I also saw my family a little more.
(Which I enjoyed even if they found it a little strange…)
I’m not saying that you should never spend the whole day coloring but let me suggest that all-day coloring sessions might not be the most efficient way to learn.
Especially if you’re using your marathon day to catch up on the week’s worth of prompts you missed.
Take a breather. Take a break. Go be normal.
Then come back ready and eager to learn what the project wants to teach you.
4. Turn off the distractions!
Have you ever been to the racetrack and noticed all the accountants sitting in the center of the oval, doing taxes and balancing budgets while the ponies race by?
Have you downloaded a really good book and then gone out to read it from your easy chair in the middle of the highway?
And how about the last time you had major surgery? Wasn’t it convenient that the operating table was set up right next to the cash register in McDonalds?
No. No. No.
Some tasks require peace and quiet.
And yet you think nothing of coloring in the living room with the television on, kids shrieking in the backyard, the dog asking to go out, the spouse telling you about their day, a cake in the oven, and laundry in the dryer?
How do you even remember to breathe with all of that going on?
Even those of you with craft rooms tend to add distractions to the mix.
“Hey, let’s finish that Netflix series and I’ll leave Facebook open and I definitely want to catch up with Sheila via text…”
It’s too much stuff.
Turn it off.
Turn it all off.
To work on your skills, you need to focus. You can’t do that if half your brain is thinking about other stuff.
Learning time should be sanctuary time. Protect it. Encourage it.
Find a Do Not Disturb sign and use it. Liberally.
I wear noise cancelling headphones playing rain or river sounds. When a kid walks in, if the headphones are on, they know not to ask.
Set some boundaries with your family and with yourself.
Look, I know that you could be doing about 900 other things instead of sitting down to practice. If you’re making that sacrifice, then really make it.
Tell the world to go away so that you can concentrate.
5. Listen to your thoughts
This point is slightly related to the previous point but it’s so important that it really deserves it’s own space.
Heck, I could write a book on the subject.
And maybe I will, but not while I’m coloring.
I’ve noticed a lot of people don’t like to be alone with their own thoughts.
Even when I get a student to move their desk out of the living room, they still find a way to add distractions. Audio books, podcasts… even music can be a problem.
Music sounds like a great idea, right? Music is fun and it can be relaxing, so why not pop on the tunes and listen while we color?
But here’s the thing…
If you’re singing your favorite lyrics, then you’re not focused on the nib of the marker.
You’re not thinking about how the pencil feels as it moves across the paper. And you’re definitely not comparing how this stroke feels in comparison to the previous stroke.
Making art, making better art, practicing technique, developing skill… all of that is a conversation you have with yourself inside your head.
You can’t have that conversation if you’re Livin’ La Vida Loca.
“Hmmm, that stroke didn’t go where I wanted it to. What can I do to make it properly?”
“Whoa, that left eye is really different than the right eye. Should I add more pupil or is it the highlight that’s off?”
“Where does the shade end on that side of the slice of cake? Is the shade more blue or is it gray?”
This is the kind of thinking that makes you a better artist. Asking questions of yourself, making observations, testing solutions.
You can’t do that if Winter is Coming… (nope, not here yet)
I’m not saying that you should taser yourself every time your thoughts stray from the point of the pencil but I’d like to point out that it’s okay to be alone in your head.
6. Procrastination is a sign
Do you keep putting off one particular class?
Do you avoid coloring with one specific blending combination?
Do you avoid coloring faces or food or animals?
Hmmm… have you wondered why?
Jiminy Cricket is really cute. He’s quite the dapper fellow who might even sing you a song.
But poor Pinocchio! Stuck with some chatty dude sitting on his shoulder all day long, lecturing on all his faults?
Man, who wants their mother-in-law in their pocket 24/7?
So instead of hiring an insect to tell you everything you don’t want to know about yourself, try taking note of the things you deliberately avoid.
In art, the things that make you nervous and the things that you put off… that’s exactly where you need to go.
If it scares you, go there. To learn something new, you must to leave your comfort zone.
If you set up a practice schedule and you fill it with all the things you already know how to do, you’re procrastinating.
“I will color a balloon, then a bear, then a cupcake, and next week, I’ll color a happy little chicken…”
Meanwhile you dream of drawing the faces of your grandchildren.
All the smiley faced food stamps in the world aren’t going to improve your human eye technique.
And if you’re coloring yet another floral instead of working on animal fur, you’ll never be able to color accurate pet portraits.
“What are you avoiding?” is an excellent question.
“Why are you avoiding it?” is even more important.
Practicing without a goal in mind, without a technique to conquer, without a skill to work on… that’s stalling.
There you go.
6 changes that you can make to improve your coloring practice
1. Ditch the daily prompts
Normal life doesn’t stop because some rando asked you to color “compassion”.
2. Draw, paint, and color BIGGER
If realism is your goal, give yourself room to add detail.
3. Limit your coloring time
Take breaks to encourage perspective, introspection, and clearer thinking.
4. Turn off the distractions
Find a place and time that allows you to concentrate
5. Listen to your thoughts
If you’re not paying attention to what’s happening in your head and on the paper, what is the point of practicing?
6. Procrastination is a red flag!
Are you coloring the same things over and over to avoid what you really want to learn?
Are you ready to bring life to soft & cuddly toys?
Introducing my new Velveteen Rabbit class.
We’re working on how to color artificial things with realism. Just because it’s a stuffed animal doesn’t mean it has to look like a cartoon. Learn the secrets to touchable looking toys, full of dimension and life!
But first, let's start with the free stuff!
Watch the latest Coloring Tips on YouTube:
(Click the image above to watch the video at YouTube)
And get a Taste of Vanilla!
Taste of Vanilla is a FREE monthly program focusing on the supplies, techniques, and interesting mindsets used by artists who work creatively and independently.
You can't get creative until you feel comfortable!
Learn and grow with monthly mini-lessons designed to reduce the intimidation that happens when you jump into the deep end of artistic coloring.
Fresh bite sized art lessons every month!
This month, I’m testing lots of Kraft papers for use with Copic Markers and colored pencils.
Kraft paper is not a high-end art paper and the quality varies from brand to brand. Some are good for markers and some are better for pencils. Let’s find the brands which work for BOTH!
Don't miss this excellent issue of Taste of Vanilla.
And there's the Workshop class!
Velveteen Rabbit 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 Velveteen Rabbit:
(Contains affiliate links)
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