The Secret to Amazing Coloring

The secret to amazing coloring isn't what you think it is. Improve your Copic or colored pencil coloring with this one secret. |

Are you a fixer?

Readers of my weekly Vanilla Beans newsletters (subscribe here) have heard me mention the fixing process in the last two issues.

Yes, I’m a fixer.

But so is every other professional artist I know.

The secret to amazing coloring isn't what you think it is. Improve your Copic or colored pencil coloring with this one secret. |

Fixing flaws, making adjustments, and making corrections is part of the artistic process. Nobody throws paint at a canvas and calls it perfect.

Artists labor over their artwork. Sometimes the adjustments are major, like adding a tree to balance the composition or painting over something that detracts from the focal point.

But the vast majority of fixes are so minor that you’d hardly even notice them.

I’m constantly fiddling with the temperature of things. I’ll add warm colors over the top of an object when it feels too cool (because cool colors tend to recede and feel far away). And I’ll cool something off when it feels too bright and boisterous.

I play with depth too. I push things deeper by adding more dark, desaturated colors or I’ll pull them forward by lightening and brightening certain areas. I almost never get depth right the first time, it’s a process rather than a single step.

I also reshape things a lot, especially with botanicals. I’ll round off the edges of things or loosen up the outline if that’s what’s needed. I’m rarely happy with the original way that I draw anything; shapes always morph as I work my way through the project.

Wise people know that everything in life requires some form of adjustment. 


Are you a color-it-once kind of person?

I hope not.

It’s the equivalent of a race car driver who refuses to pit for fuel or a singer who knows the microphone isn’t working but continues to sing softly anyway.

Who does that?

Colorers. That’s who.

The secret to amazing coloring isn't what you think it is. Improve your Copic or colored pencil coloring with this one secret. |

There’s this weird mindset within the coloring community that coloring is a one-and-done process. Once you color an area, you’re done with it forever.


So wrong it makes my left eye twitch…

Trying to get everything right on the first pass? Wow, that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself.

But I can’t blame you. Tutorials never seem to mention the “go back and fix that thing you just did wrong” part.

And coloring bloggers and video makers try to present themselves as amazingly awesome coloring super-stars, so the parts where they screw things up often gets edited out.

I guess I can’t fault folks for thinking that they’re not very good at coloring when almost every Copic colorer you’ve ever seen pretends that they do things right every time and every step of the way.


The truth is...

...the good stuff really only begins to take shape when you go back and perfect things. 

In the beginning stages, you color on white paper. Your colors will change as you build up more and more intense color throughout the project. There’s no way to predict how strong something needs to be at the beginning of a project. You absolutely have to go back and make value adjustments later- it’s part of the coloring process

Shapes change as you color the spaces around them. I usually do floral leaves before I color the petals. I almost always have to go back and reshape the leaves, especially when they overlap a blossom. Refining shapes is part of the coloring process.

Sometimes a shape isn’t what we thought it was. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve colored something as background, only to find out later that it was actually a flower petal or a lock of hair. You can’t skip that kind of correction. Correction is part of the coloring process.

And lastly, sometimes I look back and realize that some of my blends look choppy. As you work your way through any project, your blending gets better and smoother as you get into the groove. So it’s natural that you may need to go back and smooth the first few things you colored.

Are you sensing a pattern here? Smoothing your blends is also a part of the coloring process.

And yet in the coloring community, no one wants to admit this stuff.

But artists? Hoo boy, we mess up all the time and most of us will gladly talk at length about all the corrections we make. We kind'a take pride in rescuing projects that were heading southward... "man, I fixed the heck out of that area over there!"

The difference between a mediocre artist and a great artist is that great artists fix and adjust the mediocre stuff until it looks great.

The secret to amazing coloring isn't what you think it is. Improve your Copic or colored pencil coloring with this one secret. |

Fixes are essential to making great projects

I’m a better colorer for making these changes.

I’m an honest colorer for admitting that I do this. It serves no purpose to pretend that I got it right from the start. Hey world, I almost never get it right from the start!

So the next time you’re knee-deep into some online tutorial or internet video, don’t beat yourself up for not coloring it all perfectly.

There are steps missing from that tutorial. They are not showing you everything.

Correcting and adjusting… we all do it.

You should do it too.

It’s okay to go back and fix things. In fact, it’s vital that you go back and fix things.


What’s the secret to amazing coloring? 

It’s as simple as going back and making adjustments.


Tool Time: Black Eraser- Remove Mistakes without Damaging your Paper


which way you ought to go depends on where you want to get to... 

There's a certain logic to what the cat said to Alice. You need to know where you're going before you decide how to get there.

When you make a mistake with colored pencils, there's not a one size fits all solution. Smart colorers evaluate the damage and decide upon the path that gets them around the mistake without creating a ton of damage in the process.

Erasers are not magical. They can't remove the whole mistake. They can only remove enough to get you back on the correct path.

An eraser is not a time machine, it won't take you back to the day before you made the mistake.

Huh. That's a rather important statement. So let me say that again, in bolder, bigger letters:


an eraser is not a time machine

We're talking about colored pencil here. Just colored pencil. Because if you're here looking for a marker eraser, boy, are you fresh out of luck. You can minimize marker damage with a colorless blender but you're never going to do more than camouflage your marker mistakes.

But back to colored pencil- and for that, I'm sorry break this to you, but there's not going to be a perfect erasing solution here either.

You can minimize the damage but you're never going to take yourself back to fresh clean paper. Erasers are not the stuff of H.G. Wells.

I think part of the problem is because we call them colored pencils. When you hear pencils, you think graphite and for every graphite pencil, there's a pretty good eraser, right?

Now if we were more accurate and we started calling colored pencils what they really are... I'd suggest calling them  freekishly-stubborn-sticks-of-color-that-ain't-goin'-nowhere, but that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue... But if we really did call them FSSoCTAGN, then people would stop expecting to be able to remove every single colored pencil mistake they ever make.

A colored pencil eraser can't take you back to Eden, it can only make you feel a little less miserable about goofing up.


So let's review the primary rule of erasing mistakes:

First, do no harm.

Protect the paper tooth! |

Remember, paper has tooth and tooth is essential to good colored pencil coloring. Tooth is what grabs your colored pencil pigment and holds onto it. Colored pencil doesn't work well on glass, does it? It doesn't work well on glassy papers either. Tooth is vital to the coloring process.


There's no way to avoid it. Any rubbing, any friction, any eraser will flatten out the paper tooth and thus make it harder to color over the erasure zone.

So when you make a mistake, start with the lightest, most paper friendly eraser you can find. You don't have to pull out a hand grenade when a fluffy bunny will work.

Made a mistake? Start here:

  1. Sticky Tack Eraser- this is your fluffy bunny eraser. It lightly lifts color without damaging your paper. Read more about sticky tack and how to use it here.

  2. White Polymer Eraser- if the fluffy bunny doesn't work, try your new best friend. White erasers are non-abrasive and grit free. That means they rub without sanding away much of the paper surface. Most of your mistakes can be removed with a white eraser. Read about white erasers here and here.

But if the fluffy bunny can't handle the mistake and your new best friend doesn't make a dent in it, what should you do?


Who is the big boy?

The big boy, the black polymer eraser |

Meet the Black Polymer Eraser

They're made by several companies, Factis is the kind that just happens to be at the cash register display of my favorite local art store.

The curse of the black pearl |

Pentel, Faber Castell, Staedtler, and Tombow also make good black erasers. The one you want to avoid is the Black Pearl variety.

Just remember the Johnny Depp movie, the Curse of the Black Pearl. That's easy to remember.

A black pearl won't ruin your life but it is way too abrasive for our needs. Save it for the class room.

By the way, that goes for white pearls and pink pearls too. They're all school erasers, not art erasers.



So what's so special about a black eraser?

Well, he's a body builder compared to our other erasers.

We started with the weakest eraser on purpose, but sometimes you need more muscle.

In the eraser world, abrasive grit is muscle. Grit is what's ultimately going to remove the mistake.

But it's a trade-off- grit gets the job done but it'll also damage the tooth. So we want something muscular but with control.

We want a smooth operator; a big guy with some sensitivity. We want don't want the Terminator, we want the Kindergarten Cop. That's the black polymer eraser.

Choose the weakest eraser for your needs in order to save the paper |

Here's a sample of each eraser at work on a thick and heavy coat of Prismacolor Premier pencil.

Sticky tack lightens the area. It doesn't erase, it takes the sting off the mistake. Once you've lightened the mistake, you can layer on the correct color. Prismacolor is fairly opaque, this gentle re-coloring process is usually all the correction you need.

But if if isn't enough, try the white eraser. It's stronger than the fluffy bunny sticky tack but you're still preserving the tooth of the paper. Lift what you can and then recolor the zone.

The black eraser is your last resort. It removes most of the color, but it will never get it all. Remember, we are deliberately avoiding the hand grenade in order to keep as much tooth intact as possible.


The black eraser has a slight bit of grit so it can remove most of the color. It doesn't have enough grit to dig down into all the crevices.

Think of what's leftover after a black eraser as the Cheshire Cat's smile... the old pigment is still there but it's not enough to get in your way anymore.

Black polymer erasers remove just enough color to allow you a re-try. The downside is that if you over-rub the area with a black eraser, you will damage the paper. That's why it's the eraser of last resort. You never grab the black eraser first; use it only when the fluffy bunny and the best friend white eraser aren't lifting enough color to control the mistake.

And no, it won't leave a black smudge on your paper. I wouldn't do that to you! Good black erasers erase cleanly.


Here's the rundown on black polymer erasers:

Alternate Names-

Black PVC eraser, black polymer eraser, black poly eraser


Factis, Pentel, Faber Castell, Staedtler, and Tombow

Defining Features-

A rubbery eraser with a slight bit of grit, black in color but erases cleanly

Best used on-

Works great on graphite projects. Good on wax based colored pencil marks and other media that sit on top of the paper surface. Will not work on liquids like ink or paint that absorb into paper fibers.

Price Range-

Prices vary, usually under $4 per eraser. Sold in multi-packs

Available at-

Some art stores, some craft stores, most online art supply retailers


So to recap: No time machines, only fluffy bunnies, BFFs, and Cheshire cats... 

We're either talking in code or we're all mad here.