One Size Fits All? Internet Coloring Tutorials Can be Misleading


I love not having to try-on Blue Jeans anymore!

It's so wonderful to go into any store, pick out six different pairs of pants, and not have to try any of them on.

Perfect fitting jeans- every time. No matter what I grab, it all fits!

Yep. Thanks to the new One-Size-Fits-All technology that Levi's is now using, fitting rooms are totally a thing of the past.

2, 4, 6, 8, or 18... it no longer matters. It's One-Size-Fits-All from here on out, baby! And here's the cool part. I'm a woman who's 5'6" married to a man who's 6'4"... now we can share the same pants! It's like double the wardrobe as long as he doesn't mind a few sequins on the back pockets.

Wait... that's not real?

It was all a dream?




Now Think about this for a minute:

  1. Your sister makes amazing chocolate chip cookies

  2. Your friend from work just gave you a recipe for killer chocolate chip cookies

  3. Mrs. Fields sells yummy chocolate chip cookies

Your head didn't explode. All three things can be equally true.

There are several ways to make a pretty darned good cookie.


one size doesn't fit all

This isn't a shock to you, is it?

Nope. And if the popularity of Life Hackers and other tips & tricks sites is any indication, we're all in search of ways to improve the way we do things. Heck, my Facebook feed is full of gif videos about how I've been tying my shoes all wrong and how to cook a whole chicken in under 15 seconds... recently it seems the internet is all about finding new ways to do the same old stuff.

Different is good. We like different.

So why then, do you beat yourself up for not being able to duplicate the techniques used by the Copic Goddess you've subscribed to on YouTube?

Isn't she the possessor of the one and only magically correct way to color something?

Gotcha there, didn't I?

Levi's doesn't make one size fits all jeans and YouTubers don't make one method fits all videos.

I know. Bummer.


There are millions of ways to skin a cat

Strawberry Tea, a lesson in coloring realism | VanillaArts.com

Disclaimer: I have never skinned a cat; I've never tried. I have never looked at my cat and wondered what she'd look like sans-skin. Where in the heck did that phrase come from anyway?

Anyway... back to coloring.

I color in the way that makes the most sense for me:

  • I work from dark to light

  • I rarely use markers from the same number family

  • I usually use two stroke patterns

  • I underpaint or overpaint shade colors with gray, purple, or blue markers

  • I rarely highlight with markers

  • I add details and texture with colored pencils

And these are the methods I teach in my classes.

But here's the thing- I don't expect my methods to work for every student.

You live in a different body than I do. Your muscles move your hands and fingers differently than my muscles do. Your eyes see things differently; your brain processes information differently. We have different styles, preferences, and most importantly, we have different goals for our coloring.

There is absolutely no reason to assume that we should color the same way.

I find that about 1/3 of my students require something different. Maybe we change their grip or the stroke direction. Maybe we adjust the color palette, the number of passes, or the order of passes.

Of the remaining 2/3 of students who do closely mimic me, every single one of them will take my method and slowly modify it over the months and years as they perfect their own unique technique.

Millions of cats...

A good teacher will show you more than one way to do something. A great teacher will watch what you're doing and tailor solutions based upon your unique situation.

Ultimately, the goal isn't to learn THE ideal technique, it's to find YOUR ideal technique.

You're a unique person, why would you assume that your ideal technique would be right off the shelf (or straight off an internet tutorial)?


So ease up on yourself!

Your YouTube or Vimeo Idol is demonstrating one way to color. But I can guarantee, it is not the only way to get the job done.

If you can duplicate what an artist is doing, then bonus points and a gold star for your forehead; that's just ducky.

But remember, all coloring videos are a performance.They are not showing you the one and only, end all-be all, ultimate way of coloring. It's a way of coloring.

Videos are great and I'm not trying to knock them. I've learned a ton about what (and what not) to do via videos. But keep it in perspective. It's a free video.

Learn from your favorite internet colorer, but do not feel pressured to perfectly mimic someone else's technique or approach.

Free tutorials are sometimes a hit and sometimes a miss. And oh boy, I've seen a heck of a lot of bad information on YouTube!

If something doesn't work, the fault is either in the YouTuber's technique or their presentation. It's almost never you.

Use the stuff that works and trash the rest.

Now if we can just get someone to develop those magical pants...


Self Sabotage: Don't Give Up Just Before a Growth Spurt

Hard days in the craft room lead to growth | VanillaArts.com

Ever have one of those days when you can't seem to color anything right?

Pat yourself on the back then, because you're perfectly normal.

We all go though periods when we have the Reverse-Midas touch.

But don't despair, there's a reason you're having a tough time with your coloring.

Bears Grow Quickly | VanillaArts.com

We call my youngest son Bear

Not because he's grumpy but because he's a big kid. My husband is 6'4" so the fact that my fourth grader is ready to play offensive tackle professionally isn't exactly a surprise. Bear is 99th percentile for height and 75th for weight, that's pediatrician speak for "man, that's one big kid".

He hits growth spurts really, really hard; since birth. He gets this gigantic belly and suddenly nothing fits. He'll walk around like the Incredible Hulk bursting out of his pants for week or so and then suddenly, BOOM. He's 2 inches taller, thin as a rail, and the same pants now need a belt and about 2 inches added to the hem.

It's a little freaky but it is nice to know that he's about to grow. Once that beer gut appears, I'd better start shopping for bigger pants or the kid'll be goin' naked next week.


Artistic growth spurts are harder to predict

At least I hope you don't grow a beer belly before you make each skill improvement.

Boy would that stink.

But there is a pretty good, tell-tale sign that you are about to make a gigantic leap in your coloring, That is, if you are smart enough to spot it and to keep pushing onward.

It's those darned Reverse-Midas days.

The days, weeks, or awful months when everything you touch goes directly from your desk to the garbage can because it simply sickens you to look at coloring that bad. Those days are threshold moments where something amazing is about to burst through.

Not being able to stand your own artwork is a sign that you're about to make a growth spurt.

But here's the problem and I especially notice this with crafters:


Many people give up right before the magic happens.

They don't stick it out long enough to reap the rewards they've earned.

They cash in their chips, chuck it all, and move on to something else.

Every crafter I've ever met does 19 different things. They quilt, they knit, they glue stuff to the back of dominoes and at somewhere in the past, they painted pottery or decorated tissue box covers or made teeny tiny birdhouses for teeny tiny birds. In some of my classes, I'd be hard pressed to name a single craft that someone there hasn't at least tried.

Yet not one of them knits or glues stuff to dominoes professionally.

And the fact that they're sitting in my art class means that they're now jumping headfirst into coloring.

Which is fine for me, but I suspect that they all had the potential to knit, quilt, or make teeny tiny birdhouses for profit. Because they're all seriously competent at crafting in general. Which means that there's abundant talent inside them. But with many crafters, it's an unfocused talent.


I think at some point the going got hard. The teeny tiny birdhouses weren't turning out as nice as envisioned. Because of that, the crafter enjoyed the process less and less. And since teeny tiny birdhouses were always supposed to be a hobby and not the craft equivalent of waterboarding, they moved on to something new and less painful. They found happiness in starting a new challenge.

Maybe they never dreamed of being a professional bird-houser but they were pretty far down the path to being awesome and yet they gave it up when the bird houses weren’t living up to expectations.

The best bird housers stick through the hard sessions because they know they're about to make a technical growth spurt. 


It's all about your taste level

You know good Copic coloring when you see it, right?

You've got artists and crafters whose work you admire, you pin their projects, you follow their blogs, you subscribe to their YouTube channels.

You know good stuff.

And during those dark days, you look at your own measly project and you know it doesn't live up to your standard.

We've all been there. Antonio Salieri was a pretty damned fine musician and he lived in the shadow of Mozart. And Mozart lived in the shadow of his father.

There is always someone better than you. Always.

And the fact that you recognize this is because you have taste. You have an internal barometer, something to live up to, to strive for.

Taste pushes you upwards. It's your vision for the future.

So when you're sitting at your craft table looking at the pile of mess you just colored and hanging your head in shame, it's your taste level telling you "do a better hair color next time", "don't make the nose so dark", "boy that color palette didn't work". Even though your brain is being kinda mean to you, it's also working quietly in the background making plans for what to do differently next time.

Your taste is going to keep bappin' you upside the head until you finally make the connection between what your hand is doing and what your brain wants it to do.


Think about television detectives

Almost every crime drama has the same scene: A murderer is on the loose and it's up to our hero to solve the riddle before the killer kills again.

It's such a tired and overused trope that it's usually reduced to a montage of the detective pacing, biting pencils, and walking down a city street in the rain at 3am, all set to really tense tick-tock theme music.

It's when Sherlock Holmes pulls out his violin and starts playing mad music.

Now consider: during this hard thinking segment, does it ever look like the detective is having fun? Is he smiling broadly, waving at hot chicks and little old ladies? Is he having a grand time? Party central?


But wait- this is the detective’s passion, he’s at his best when he’s thinking. Solving crime is his life's purpose!

And yet he's not enjoying every single second of the experience?

It looks like torture.

Thinking is not glamorous in the art world either. You could play tick-tock music 2-3 days a week in my studio.

But it’s necessary.

While you're fiddling on a violin or coloring really bad noses on beautiful stamp images, your brain is making the necessary connections to save the day.

Really bad coloring is what you do with your hands while your brain is learning. It isn't fun but it's essential to the growth process.

And I get it. It's totally unfair that half your brain is solving the crime while the other half is berating you for being a complete and total idiot.

But that's part of being human.


oh, the sweet relief that comes when you finally make a break through!

When your hand finally gets it right you want to show your project to the whole world- your husband, your dog, your best friend, the garbage man. "Hey world, look at what I did!" 

Your mean old brain? That’s what pushed you to this glorious point! It's the motivating factor. It beat you up for days (or months) and had you on the brink of depression in order to drag your butt over the finish line.

And now you'll have a few months of quiet, self-satisfaction until the process begins anew; when the tick-tock music starts knocking around in your noggin again...

"Dang, my coloring really stinks!"

You have to ride the cycle and push through the dark days. This is the learning process.

You will see marked improvement the morning after the storm.


But not if you quit and take up basket weaving

When you're beating yourself up the worst, when your pants don't fit anymore, when you feel like ditching it all for a hobby collecting Romanian minor league baseball cards... that's the clue that you're on the verge of upping your entire game.

Stick with it. It's coming.

The dues hurt but the prize is worth it.