The Color of Midnight: How to Create a Spooky Mood and a Realistic Glow (Copic Marker, Colored Pencil)

 
What’s the secret to coloring realistic night time scenes that don’t look childish or cartoony? Spooky coloring and cheerful Christmas glows can both be improved when you pay attention to the actual color of midnight. Perfect for Copic Markers or colored pencils. | VanillaArts.com | #copicmarker #realisticcoloring #howtocolor
 
 

Why is your Halloween coloring cartoonish instead of spooky?

It’s a creepy Halloween stamp. You planned-out the whole coloring process this time to make sure everything has that haunted touch. You brought your best Copic Marker and colored pencil techniques to the table. As far as the actual coloring goes, this might be your best work yet.

Except it doesn’t look spooky!

Sure, it’s got blood and gore but for some reason, the whole thing looks comical. And by comical, I really do mean funny ha-ha because what you’ve colored simply does not look scary.

Frankly, you’re ready to give up coloring anything goth or ghouly because it’s looking like you can’t color creepy images.

What’s the secret to coloring realistic night time scenes that don’t look childish or cartoony? Spooky coloring and cheerful Christmas glows can both be improved when you pay attention to the actual color of midnight. Perfect for Copic Markers or colored pencils. | VanillaArts.com | #copicmarker #realisticcoloring #howtocolor

Or maybe you weren’t going for the spine-chiller vibe at all.

Maybe you were just trying to color a night time setting…

Perhaps it’s a campfire scene with a couple of tents and some s’mores.

Maybe it’s a coyote howling at the moon.

How about a sleeping child snuggling with their favorite teddy bear.

Perhaps you’re coloring a birthday cake with candles all aglow.

Or a Christmas card where you want the Christmas tree to look like it’s glowing in a dark and chilly winter night.

There are lots of situations when you want to add an after-dark feeling to your stamp and yet every time you try it, it looks like Romper Room.

Childish. Not realistic.

You colored it well but the scene feels juvenile and primitive.

Is it because you’re not a real artist?

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s not go there.

Stop the pity party.

The reason why your night scenes look childish has NOTHING to do with your coloring skills! I’ve seen experienced and talented professional artists who do terrible night scenes. It’s not about talent.

Today, let’s look at the stupid-simple secret to realistic night scenes.

I’m serious, you’re going to smack yourself in the forehead when I point out what you’re missing.

It’s that easy!

 

But first, can We rule out the other common excuse?

Many of you blame your supposed lack of talent for the fake cartoony look…

What’s the secret to coloring realistic night time scenes that don’t look childish or cartoony? Spooky coloring and cheerful Christmas glows can both be improved when you pay attention to the actual color of midnight. Perfect for Copic Markers or colored pencils. | VanillaArts.com | #copicmarker #realisticcoloring #howtocolor

But I hear this kind of excuse in classes:

“Well, I tried my hardest but you see, I just don’t understand light sources very well. I’m sure if you gave us a lesson on directional lighting, then I’d finally understand why my Halloween Jack o’ Lanterns here look silly instead of demon possessed.”

Uhm, no.

Copic colorers treat the directional lighting technique as if Moses first heard it from a burning bush.

Folks, directional lighting is not the solution.

In fact, light sources are a total coloring gimmick. They can’t solve anyone’s problem because half the people using this technique with Copics are doing it wrong.

I don’t teach directional lighting.

Well, maybe once in blue moon I might mention it a little bit.

But really, if you know me. I’m alllllll about realism and realistic techniques.

So if I’m getting depth, dimension, and realism without using directional lighting, then it really can’t be the eleventh commandment, eh?

Even if you master the arcane and complex wonderment that is light sourcing, it’s not going to add a molecule of reality to your night scenes.

 
What’s the secret to coloring realistic night time scenes that don’t look childish or cartoony? Spooky coloring and cheerful Christmas glows can both be improved when you pay attention to the actual color of midnight. Perfect for Copic Markers or colored pencils. | VanillaArts.com | #copicmarker #realisticcoloring #howtocolor

Let’s try an experiment

What color is the shirt you are wearing right now?

Pink? Yellow? Green?

Just yell it out, nice and loud. “I AM WEARING A RED SHIRT TODAY!!!”

Don’t worry, your family already thinks you’re nuts after spending a bazillion bucks on 20 yellow Copic markers. You yelling “B16 Cyanine Blue!!!” at the top of your lungs barely jiggles the craz-o-meter. Your street cred can’t go any lower.

Anyway, whatever color of shirt you’re wearing at this very moment, I want you to picture it vividly in your mind.

You. You’re wearing the shirt. You’re envisioning the color.

You see it?

Okay, now think about how this same shirt would look if we lock you in a dark closet.

Ohhhh…

See the problem?

Or maybe you can’t see?

Eureka! Now you’re getting it!

 

Hey, it’s dark in here!

Look, it’s a matter of physics and eyeballs.

At night, there are not a lot of light waves waving around.

Unless your mother was an owl and your father was a panther, you are almost blind on most nights.

We simply cannot see clean, clear color at night.

Hues do not exist in the dark.

At night, the whole world is deep, dark, murky, and blackened. We call this “desaturated” but the truth is that because of our terrible eyesight, night time is extreme desaturation.

So when you use all your favorite pretty markers, colors like V15, YG01, or Y04… well, there’s no way around it. Your coloring absolutely will look unrealistic no matter how nicely you blend it.

It looks wrong because it’s bright color.

Bright color. At night.

Psssttt… humans can’t see color at night!

What’s the secret to coloring realistic night time scenes that don’t look childish or cartoony? Spooky coloring and cheerful Christmas glows can both be improved when you pay attention to the actual color of midnight. Perfect for Copic Markers or colored pencils. | VanillaArts.com | #copicmarker #realisticcoloring #howtocolor
 

Check out my Witchy cat here

This is the “Nosy Cat” stamp, a darling stamp from Stampendous. It comes in cling and woodblock versions. I’ve colored him to look like Midnight, an ancient, ornery cat my husband had when we first got married.

What’s the secret to coloring realistic night time scenes that don’t look childish or cartoony? Spooky coloring and cheerful Christmas glows can both be improved when you pay attention to the actual color of midnight. Perfect for Copic Markers or colored pencils. | VanillaArts.com | #copicmarker #realisticcoloring #howtocolor

At high noon, Midnight has cute hints of pink inside his ears.

His nose has a kiss of pink round the edges too. If you could see his pads, you’d see several of his toes are pink instead of black.

But that’s during the day.

We don’t actually know what Midnight looks like at night.

That’s because it’s dark and when it’s dark, we can’t see him properly. When it’s dark, we can’t see anything properly.

To capture the look of Midnight at night, I can’t pull a clean clear pink like Prismacolor Hot Pink (PC993) out of my pencil box. I can’t use a pretty Copic RV13.

Pink does not look pink at night.

Instead, I’ve chose a really dark and dirty pink for Midnight’s ears and nose. Prismacolor Henna (PC1031) doesn’t even register as pink during the day because it’s so… so… ugly?

But if your shirt is RV13 and you’re standing out in my backyard at 2 in the morning, your shirt is going to look like Prismacolor Henna.

By the way, please do not test this out in my backyard at 2am.

If you want your nighttime objects to look realistic, you’ve got to use realistic nighttime colors.

 
 

What are your favorite halloween colors?

If realistic night time colors are deep, dark, and murky…

Let’s compare that to the usual Halloween color palette we see for online Copic projects.

What’s the secret to coloring realistic night time scenes that don’t look childish or cartoony? Spooky coloring and cheerful Christmas glows can both be improved when you pay attention to the actual color of midnight. Perfect for Copic Markers or colored pencils. | VanillaArts.com | #copicmarker #realisticcoloring #howtocolor

Most Halloween projects are going to use Copic YR07 and several yellowish orange markers to color a pumpkin. You’ll see a few true greens but many colorers like to pull out the brighter yellow greens like Prismacolor Chartreuse (PC989). The purples tend to stay vivid and warm, like Copic V05. And I love adding aqua or sea-blue green to my cheerful Halloween mixes— something like Copic BG45 or Prismacolor Cobalt Turquoise (PC105).

But this is daytime color for daylight scenes!

Think back to classic It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. One of the reasons why this Peanuts cartoon is not scary, not creepy, and completely child friendly is because the colors remain bright and clear even in a remote and deserted pumpkin patch after midnight.

So if you are using a Charles Schultz-ish color palette to color a scythe swinging Grim Reaper dripping blood into the mouth of a rabid zombie? Uhm, you’re the one with sincerity problems.

If an orange pumpkin were to be colored realistically for a night time scene, the pumpkin would have be colored with an E17 marker. And that’s in the light areas! Orange simply does not look orange after 10pm.

Most colorers can’t wrap their heads around this.

Most colorers will not allow themselves to color with the kind of ugly colors required to pull off the look of real night life.

Realistic coloring requires you to set aside your notion of what color should ideally be.

If you’re coloring what you think it should be rather than what we really see, your artwork will always look fake!

Training your eyes to understand midnight color is easy. It’s 100% free because it’s totally observational. When it gets dark, go outside and look around. Pay attention to the colors you see in the nocturnal world around you.

  • Which colors are completely unrecognizable at night?

  • How does color change when the moon comes out?

  • Do you see a seasonal difference?

The few colors you actually can see in the dark are the kind of colors you should be using to simulate a night scene.

 

Copic doesn’t make it

Here’s the hardest part.

Copic wants to sell you markers. That’s a good thing. I don’t mean to complain.

What’s the secret to coloring realistic night time scenes that don’t look childish or cartoony? Spooky coloring and cheerful Christmas glows can both be improved when you pay attention to the actual color of midnight. Perfect for Copic Markers or colored pencils. | VanillaArts.com | #copicmarker #realisticcoloring #howtocolor

But the way Copic entices you to buy markers is to offer 358 bright and beautiful colors.

Colors so pretty and pure that you want to own them all.

Guess what colors Copic does not make?

Oh, how about Eleven O’clock Vomit and Past Your Bedtime Schmutz? They definitely don’t make Dirty Rag Pink and I Can’t Believe It’s Actually Butter.

But these are the colors we really need for spooky, creepy, ghostly Halloween scenes.

We also need the same kind of yucky muddy colors for Hanukkah candles and cowboys singing ‘round the campfire stamps.

Remember, not everything night themed stamp is Addams Familyish.

I will say that it’s a lot easier to find the dingy colors we want in colored pencils. You won’t find many dirty colors in your sets of twelve or in the bargain brand pencils. Small or cheap sets are usually all candy colors.

But a good set of 100+ artist grade pencils will have a lot of mucky color in it. So colored pencils are a great choice for night time scenes.

 

Black paper helps

One trick you’ll really appreciate is to work on black or medium to dark gray paper.

Black paper not only looks a lot like night but here’s the sneaky thing—

When you use colored pencils on dark paper, the color of the paper shows through and naturally dampens down many of your colors. It’s like a natural toning system, the mud effect comes free with the paper.

What’s the secret to coloring realistic night time scenes that don’t look childish or cartoony? Spooky coloring and cheerful Christmas glows can both be improved when you pay attention to the actual color of midnight. Perfect for Copic Markers or colored pencils. | VanillaArts.com | #copicmarker #realisticcoloring #howtocolor

Now I know— Copic on black paper is worse than useless.

But not every medium is good for every kind of image. It’s hard to get splashy effects from colored pencil and you can’t get fine detail from pastel crayons. Every medium has a weakness and Copic falls short when it comes to coloring on dark paper.

So how can we get great nighttime realism from Copics?

Can we use white paper?

Sure, but you’ll have to add a little extra mud.

White paper gives a beautiful glow to your Copic inks. That glow fights against a true nighttime color palette.

If I was coloring a Halloween scene on white paper, I’d underpaint with gray and I might go as far as to use the opposite temperature gray. So I’d use warm grays under cool colored Copics and lots of cool grays under warm colored Copics. The gray underpaint will tone down the color and the temperature conflict provides an extra boost of neutralization.

And now a warning for all of you papercrafting colorers:

If you’re using a stamp set that comes with coordinating dies, you must be very careful!

Nothing blows a dark graveyard scene than to have little uniform white borders around all your zombies and tombstones. Most of you use die cuts all the time now. Constant exposure breeds complacency, so the uncolored white border doesn’t even register in your brain anymore.

But your viewers see it and it’s very distracting!

I’m glad you’re saving time and all, but little white margins kill the realism on your cards. And for night scenes? Ugh, find a way to black them out or trim them off because they’re bad folks. Really, really bad.

 

Check out Amy’s favorite art supplies, click above.

 

how can we color a glow?

So we’ve talked about how to create the creep factor by using more night timey colors.

And we’ve discussed how to set the stage for a Christmas tree on a cold December night just by graying down the color palette to more closely mimic the colors we see after dark.

But what about the glow?

What’s the secret to coloring realistic night time scenes that don’t look childish or cartoony? Spooky coloring and cheerful Christmas glows can both be improved when you pay attention to the actual color of midnight. Perfect for Copic Markers or colored pencils. | VanillaArts.com | #copicmarker #realisticcoloring #howtocolor

How do we color candles, lanterns, and other light-up objects as if they’re glowing brightly in the dark?

Well, check out Midnight on Black here.

His eyes glow because I didn’t use any muddy colors there. I used clear, pure green and orange hues to color his peepers.

The reason the eyes glow is because the color is strong and clean. But the glow is further enhanced by the contrast between this clear eye color and the desaturated fur color everywhere else.

The secret to a glowing Christmas tree is something few colorers understand— the tree needs to be colored with dirty greens and murky grays so that the bulbs can contrast brightly.

It’s the combination of mud and clarity that makes a fire blaze brighter, lighthouses shine stronger, and fireworks truly sparkle.

You need mud to appreciate illumination.

It’s the contrast which makes a glow look special.

 

Spook & glow is easier than you assumed

It’s not talent and it’s not skill.

It’s simply the result of color awareness. You can start coloring amazing night scenes today with very little investment in time or supplies.

You had the power all along, my Dear.

Remember these handy tips for better night scenes:

For amazing Copic + Colored Pencil projects

  1. It’s not about talent and it’s not about skill

    Anyone can see the correct night colors if they simply pay attention

  2. Light sources and directional lighting won’t solve this issue

    A technique can’t be worth much if people have been yakking about it for years and yet very few use it correctly

  3. Night is not about what you see but what you can’t see

    Humans can’t see well in the dark, so midnight coloring should be equally indistinct

  4. Hues simply cease to exist at night

    Clean & pure colors are called hues and even the brightest hues appear dirty after dark

  5. Copic doesn’t make many dirty colors

    Even the muddiest yellows (Y26 & Y28) still have a prettiness to them

  6. Black or dark colored paper help

    Let the paper help tone down your colors or use gray underpainting when the product’s color palette fails

  7. Glows come from contrast

    You don’t need fluorescent inks or metallics to create beautiful glows; all you need is contrast between murk and vibrancy

What’s the secret to coloring realistic night time scenes that don’t look childish or cartoony? Spooky coloring and cheerful Christmas glows can both be improved when you pay attention to the actual color of midnight. Perfect for Copic Markers or colored pencils. | VanillaArts.com | #copicmarker #realisticcoloring #howtocolor
 
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Supplies used in Midnight on Black:

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Stamp - “Nosy Cat” from Stampendous

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