Back in the 1970’s, if you did crafts, you made them from a boxed kit. We didn’t have the internet for inspiration and instruction. We crafted by the box.
I loved one kind of box more than any other- the paint by number kit. I lived for the moment when all my weird globs of paint on the canvas finally coalesced into a prancing horse or a spray of roses.
The rule in paint by number was to stick to the numbering system. Bad things happened if you went outside the lines, put the wrong color in a spot, tried to blend two sections together, or if you ran out of paint and had to start substituting.
Up close, paint by number paintings are eye-scalding but from 20 feet away? You might be mistaken for Van Gogh… or so the box claimed.
Times have changed
... but I still see a lot of similarity between the paint by number kits of the disco age and the coloring tutorials being published today.
"Here’s the list of markers I’ve used- don’t change anything. Here’s where I put those colors- don’t change anything."
Copic people live by the numbering system and you folks get all squidgy in your seat when I start talking about deviating from the project sample.
It’s a tutorial mindset, something you’ve carried around since grade school.
"Here is how to solve the math problem. Here is how to structure a paragraph. Here is how to draw a tree.”
That’s not how art is supposed to work
The do-what-I-do tutorial mindset gives you the impression that there’s one correct way to do something.
Sure, you tell yourself “there’s not one right way to make art” but you don’t really, really, really believe that in your heart.
If you did believe it, Pinterest would be a barren Copic wasteland. No marker recipes all over Google and how to color grass tutorials would be impossible to find.
Nope. You say “I can make art” in the same way you say “I can be president someday”. In the meantime, you scramble around trying to buy the same exact markers and pencils that your coloring hero uses.
And here's the catch, if there’s one supremely-ideal marker color to use, then it’s smart to study the original project super-duper close so that you can use R29 in all the same exact places I’ve used it.
When you do that, you’re painting by numbers. You might as well be coloring a crying Elvis on velvet because you’re not creating art. You are re-creating someone else’s art.
I talk a lot about developing voice and artistry
One way to do this is to banish the paint by numbers mindset.
Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use project recipe guides. Supply lists are actually a great jumping off point for Copic projects. The artist successfully colored a mermaid or a smiling toaster in a way that you found appealing. Go ahead and use the recipe.
But don’t obsess about getting each color into it’s own designated area.
Trying to keep each area a single pure marker color is killing your artistry.
The biggest misunderstanding I see with students is that they think they can point to one area of a project and see one marker color there.
Now Keith Haring worked that way and so did Patrick Nagel but their work is purposefully flat. Artists who want dynamic depth and dimension layer their colors. You can’t just put your finger on one place and say “that’s pure sap green paint” or “that’s YG93”.
Van Gogh had some amazing yellows in his work not because he purchased good tubes of yellow paint but because he mixed, layered, and smushed his colors together to create original yellows.
I think most marker colorers get this concept
After all, you love to blend and that is mixing colors... sort’a.
The problem is that you think of a blend as a way to get from R29 to R22 smoothly.
An artist thinks about what color R29 and R22 might make when combined.
See the difference? You’re blending as a transition. I blend as a creation.
But I’m not tapping into any magical powers to do this. There’s an easy way to move from transition blending to creation blending:
Expand the size of your blend zone
Yep, it’s that easy. Instead of trying to get from one marker color to another as quickly as possible, do it the leisurely laid-back lazy summer’s day way-
Double or triple the size of the area where your markers overlap.
Instead of jumping, meander.
In that no man’s land you’ll begin to develop amazing new colors.
Colors that are unique to you.
You can hand two people the same two markers and each of them will blend the colors in slightly different proportions. You’re not going to see the same two shades from every person. Heck, try it yourself sometime- you won’t blend the same color today that you will tomorrow.
The colors you create in expanded size blend zones become part of your artistic voice.
Here’s a little secret-
Your markers are begging for an expanded blend zone.
Copic inks are ideal for the layering process. They’re transparent color and when you get enough layers onto the paper, they self-smooth all on their own. Your markers are waiting for the space to merge and swirl. They want create new and glorious colors; it’s what they were born to do. You’re holding them back with artificial paint by number boundaries.
When you color by numbers, using one marker per area, that’s like whistling a tune.
When you paint with your markers, layering and creating new colors over large areas, that’s like hiring the symphony to back you up. It’s the same song but a much richer experience.
Guess what else happens when you expand the blend zone?
Layering your markers decreases the need to own all 358 Copic markers.
Because you aren't relying on a single marker to color each area, you don’t have to run out to Michaels for the Y35 needed to finish a project.
Instead, you’ll be able to create the look of Y35 by layering a medium yellow over a light orange or by layering a light yellow over Y38. There are lots of ways to get there that don’t involve ordering Y35 from Amazon at 11pm on a weeknight.
And there’s another benefit to large blend zones-
Large blend zones make smooth blending easier
Have you ever tried going from 0 to 60mph in five seconds on a skateboard?
That’s a newbie trying to smooth blend in a short zone. Expanding the zone gives you more room to make the transition satiny and subtle. Quick transitions are hard, even for the pros!
So no. I can not point to a spot on my project and say “here’s nothing but R29”
In my projects, single color areas are pretty darned rare.
I layer almost everything, so my answer is more like
“here’s the R29 with a bit of B32 underneath and there’s some R17 and maybe some R24 over the top and that’s all sitting below a light buffing of Poppy Red pencil… and… uhm, there might be some Tuscan Red there too, or maybe that’s Aqua, I can’t remember.”
I don’t paint by numbers anymore.
You don’t have to either.
Do you like the cherry image featured here?
Color your own cherries in my 2 hour online workshop.
"Gray Matter" uses the cherry image shown to teach an underpainting technique. Learn how to develop depth and realism by adding gray underneath your bright Copic marker colors.
Digital stamp, printable learning aids, and multiple videos help you move from beginner to intermediate level coloring.