Artistic Coloring- Adding creativity to your Copic projects: Loosen Up!


I color upside-down and backwards

Not kidding. 

When I teach live classes, I demonstrate the entire project upside-down and backwards.

My students want to see what I'm doing. And because my classrooms are simple rooms and not high end instructional spaces, I don’t have the luxury of coloring at a fancy table with mirrors or a camera hovering overhead so that students can watch from afar. 

Nope, we’re very low-tech. I tape my project to a small board and rest that board against my chest, project facing outwards. I walk around the room demonstrating and coloring, using my body as a desk.

I know it sounds strange but it works.

My project is upside down and backwards from my vantage point but it's right side up and easily visible to everyone else. Students can watch me color and see exactly what to do.

But here's the thing, my upside down and backwards projects don't look all that different from the ones I color at home sitting at my art table. Sometimes I can't tell which projects were colored which way.

I'm not telling you this to impress you with my amazing upside down coloring skills.

I'm telling you this because you need to loosen up.


Students can be very intense

Do you want to add more artistry to your Copic projects? You need to loosen up a little! |

They come to class to learn and they’re quite determined.

They want to mimic every little stroke I make. They copy my moves carefully. They analyze where my strokes start and where they stop; they count how many flicks it takes me to fill the space. Some even ask me to measure how long each flick is. They swoop when I swoop and dot precisely where I dot.

Students try to duplicate everything about my coloring.

Except in all my years of teaching, not one student has ever stood up. 

Nobody puts their project on their chest and tries coloring upside down and backwards.

Which is strange.

They really think they're copying me exactly, move for move, and yet no one has noted that I'm doing it upside-down and backwards.

They’re all  focused on what I’m doing without ever stopping to consider how I’m doing it.

And the how is more important, vastly more important than the number, the length, and the size of my strokes.

Remember when I said that I usually can’t tell whether I colored something in a demo or at home?

That’s because I color the same sitting down at a table as I do standing up.


I color from the elbow and shoulder

So it doesn’t matter where I am or what the furniture is like. You could hang me from a bungee cord over a pit of rabid sharks and I could still crank out a decent flick stroke because I color with my whole arm rather than my fingers.

Coloring from the elbow? Coloring from the fingers?

What does that mean?

Well, pull out a Copic and draw a small square. Now color that square in.

Go ahead and try it. 

Right now, draw a 1 inch square and color it in. I’ll wait until you’re done.

Did you color the square? Good. Now think about what movements you used to fill in that square.

Which parts of your hand and arm were moving?

Need to color another square to find out? That’s okay. I’ll wait again.

Okay, so you colored both squares. 

Now I’m going to make a few educated guesses about what was going on. Ready?

  1. You sat down at a table- because sitting stabilizes your body and the table stabilizes your arm.

  2. You pressed the entire length of your forearm (from elbow to wrist) directly to the table, adding even more stabilization.

  3. You lifted your wrist but that was really only to elevate the marker over the square. Aside from that hovering, you locked your wrist.

  4. For those of you who didn’t hover, you rested the entire pinkie side of your hand against the paper- and if you didn’t lock your wrist, you made every effort to keep it still and stable.

  5. All of the coloring motion came from the movement in your knuckles- primarily your thumb, index, and middle fingers.

And all of that stabilization and support is why you make teeny tiny, up-tight, constipated looking projects.


You need to loosen up!

You've got to move your body when you color. You should be having fun dancing with your markers.

Do you want to add more artistry to your Copic projects? You need to loosen up a little! |

Look, it’s not your fault. You’re doing exactly what your kindergarten teacher told you to do when she taught you how to make your A, B, Cs. Printing and penmanship are finger actions. You work from the knuckle and that gives you the ability to make tiny yet precise movements.

But that isn’t how to paint.

I know, you’re coloring with a Copic Marker but that marker has a brush nib on it.

Brush nib.

A brush.

This indicates that the proper use of this tool is to treat your Copic like a paintbrush.

Painters don’t choke up to the tip of their paintbrushes. They don’t crab up on their canvas and work with their nose hovering two inches away from the painting.

And I see colorers do this all the time. You curl up around your coloring project like a boa constrictor, making teeny tiny movements that are tight and micromanaged. You white-knuckle the marker with a death grip. You give yourself carpal tunnel syndrome and pins & needles circulation problems.

And that tension? Whoa! It definitely shows in your coloring.

Constipated coloring is a real turn-off.

Lighten up and loosen up. For your health and for your art.

It’s not good to grip your marker as if you just fell off the Titanic- as if that marker is the only thing keeping Celine Dion from writing a song about your death.


Uptight coloring hurts your hand

It also kills your project.

Good flicks are light and swishy.  It’s like licking an ice cream cone- you don’t do it with all the force you can muster. There’s a delicacy to keeping everything from going splat on the sidewalk.

Do you want to add more artistry to your Copic projects? You need to loosen up a little! |

A good series of flicks is carefree and a little loosey goosey.

And that motion has to be generated from the largest pivot point on your arm that you can give it.

The smaller the joint you use, the more cramped and stunted your flicks will be.

Finger flicks are stubby.

If the movement of your flick comes from the wrist, that’s an improvement over your fingers. But it’ll be even better if you can move from the elbow or the shoulder. There should even be a little waist and spine twist action involved.

After a long coloring session, pay attention to what hurts. If your fingers are sore, that’s a bad sign. If you feel it in your triceps and biceps, that’s great!

I use the metaphor of dancing a lot, and it’s on purpose. Nobody stands out on the dance floor, moving just their index fingers. Gettin' down and grooving is a whole body event. Coloring should be too.

Now I’m not going to lie to you. It takes practice to color from the elbow with control but the effort is worth it. You’ll notice an improvement in the length and lightness of your flicks and improved blending powers, but also in the expressive nature of your coloring.

Expressive is good. That's the artsy stuff that makes you look like a pro.

It’s a mistake to curl your entire body inward when you color. 


Most colorers concentrate too much

Concentrate, it’s right there in the word. Concentration isn’t just thinking super-duper hard, concentration is also the word we use to describe a reduction. 

When you reduce your motion and microfocus everything into your fingers, you hamper your artistry.

Do you want to add more artistry to your Copic projects? You need to loosen up a little! |

Where is your heart located? 

Your heart is inside your chest, in the core of your body.

When you are tightened-up and coloring with just your fingers, you are not coloring from the core. 

You can’t add heart to a finger project.

Step back so that you can see your work. Move away from the table slightly so that you can freely swing your arm. Loosen up, bend and sway so that you can extend the length of your flicks and add some character to your strokes.

And relax. Because perfect blends and precise color placement do not make the art. 

Artistry comes from your core. Use your heart and you’ll make better art.


Want to add more artistry to your coloring?

Read more Adding Artistry articles:

Artistic Coloring- Adding Creativity to Your Copic Projects: Your Brain Lies!


Artistic Coloring- adding creativity to your Copic projects: Your Brain Lies!

Want to add artistry and creativity to your Copic Marker or colored pencil coloring projects? Stop listening to your brain and start trusting your color sense. Read more about why your brain lies... |

what color is an elephant?

I know what you’re going to say.

And you’re wrong.

Go look.

Google “elephant” and look at the photographs. Don’t just say “oh how cute!” I want you to really look at the color of the elephants on your screen.

Some of the photos show grayish elephants but by far, most wild elephants look to be a range of muted browns and dusty taupes. Some even have pink splotches on their face and ears.

Want to add artistry and creativity to your Copic Marker or colored pencil coloring projects? Stop listening to your brain and start trusting your color sense. Read more about why your brain lies... |

But, but, but… but elephants are supposed to be gray.

I know. It’s a common mistake.

Most Copic colorers use gray markers to color elephants because the elephants stuck in your brain from childhood are gray. So you might grab a few N markers to get the job done, some would grab the C markers since the cool bluish grays are so pretty.

A rare few would have pulled out their W grays. Not because they’re thinking about brown elephants but because there’s some silly Copic rule floating around out there that says “If the object is alive, use a W gray”.

So all living things that are gray are warm gray?


Tell that to the koala, the gorilla, and my Russian Blue cat. I guess they’re all dead because they sure aren’t Ws.


Your brain lies 

It makes generalizations, it takes shortcuts, it believes the illustrations it sees in children’s picture books.

It tells you to follow stupid rules about warm and cool grays.

You can't trust your brain when it comes to color.

Which is why you’re going to be shocked when I tell you that pumpkins and school buses are basically the same exact color.

I know. That’s a hard one to wrap your brain around. Give it a moment.


We all make color assumptions

Chalk it up to faulty memory, general laziness, or the fact that we tend to believe everything our kindergarten teacher said.

Yep, that sweet lady lied to you too. She was the one who started a lot of this bunkum, that elephants are gray, that pumpkins are orange, and that clouds are white.

Clouds are not white?

Boy, this day is just full of revelations, isn't it?


One way to add artistry to your coloring...

... is to stop coloring stereotypes and start looking at the color things actually are.

Which means that you might want to rethink using that black marker to color hair.

Aww, geeze... my brain lied about hair too?


The weird thing is that when you color things the color they actually are in real life, people get all excited about what you’ve done.

“Wow, that looks so real!”

“You’re so creative!”

“She’s such a talented artist!”

Uhm, yeah. As if it takes great talent and skill to use the eyeballs you were born with.


So I have an assignment for you

This is really simple. It won’t take more than a few minutes a day. No special tools, no travel required. In fact, you can do it on the sly at work and no one will even know you’re doing it.

Want to add artistry and creativity to your Copic Marker or colored pencil coloring projects? Stop listening to your brain and start trusting your color sense. Read more about why your brain lies... |

I want you to start taking little color tours.

Look a the color of objects around you. I mean really look.

What kind of yellow is that pencil? 

What Copic marker matches your living room walls? Would you use the same marker in the corners of the room?

What color is ketchup and can you find two more things that are the exact same color?

Exercises like this will stretch your definition of color.

Most people have a very limited color vocabulary. They stop at “Robins have a red breast” and never define what kind of red.

When you start paying attention, you’re going to discover something interesting:

The more you look, the more you see. 


People wonder at my color choices

It's very rare that I don't throw some odd colors into the blend.

The geranium image here uses a bright blue underneath green and there’s a bold purple over the red.

I’m not a genius and I don’t have magical coloring powers. An angel didn’t descend from above and bop me over the head with his harp until I agreed to use dark purple on red.

I got it from looking at an actual, real life geranium long enough to understand the colors I was seeing.

I was color touring.

It may look like I'm day dreaming, or (if I remember to close my mouth while thinking) it will look as if I’m meditating. But actually, I’m exercising my sense of color.


The more you look at color, the more color you see

You’ll see hidden blues and violets everywhere. You’ll see hints of pink or yellow in things that are sitting in sunshine. There are skies and tree trunks that will move you to tears.

The more color you see, the more color you can add to your projects.

This skill is not going to hit you all at once. It takes time to develop a sensitivity to color.


And the number one thing standing in your way?

 An over-reliance on the standard Copic blending trios.

Want to add artistry and creativity to your Copic Marker or colored pencil coloring projects? Stop listening to your brain and start trusting your color sense. Read more about why your brain lies... |

Because nothing in this world is R29 - 27 - 24.

The R20 series is not a combination found in nature and you’re fooling yourself if you use it to color fire trucks, ketchup, bricks, strawberries, stop signs, and geraniums.

When you expand your color vocabulary and start paying attention to the subtle differences in the reds around you, you’re naturally going to start using color more intelligently in your projects.

That’s artistry.

Expand your awareness of color and your unique color style will emerge.

Color like an artist. Not like a kindergartener.    

You can do this!