Mistakes Experienced Copic Colorers Make - Overly Complex Coloring


Race car drivers occasionally crash.

Professional scuba divers sometimes drown and winning an Academy Award does not preclude you from starring in a long string of box-office bombs.

Being good at something doesn't guarantee success.

In fact, some might say that your expertise on a subject makes it MORE likely that you'll encounter failure.

After all, the odds of being mutilated by a wild beast go up significantly when you earn that impressive promotion from Lion Feeder to Lion Tamer.


Copic Masters make mistakes too

We talked about mistakes that beginning colorers make here.

And then we talked some more about it here.

But beginners aren't the only ones out there producing less-than-wow images. Blunders may be harder to spot when a colorer has had years of practice under their belt, but the oopses are still worth learning from.

Over the next few months, we'll take a look at mistakes that are more common amongst the experienced crowd.

I hesitate to call them mistakes because in most cases, pros do these things without realizing it. You get good at coloring and that breeds complacency. We're going to talk about the stuff that pops into your work when you're not paying attention. Is there a word for mucking something up because you were thinking about solving the middle east crisis instead of correctly coloring a laughing goat stamp?

Maybe not. Eskimos might have 200 words for snow but they got nothin' for that.

If you're an old-hand at markering, it never hurts to be reminded of possible pitfalls or pratfalls. And if you're still a beginner, use this as a warning about what not to do when you're good enough to do a lot more of what you like to do.


Pro Mistake #1- Using every marker you own on a single image

Is this really a problem?

Hoo-boy, it sure is!

Take an oogle at Pinterest some time and you'll see tons of recipes which use 5-6 markers for on hair or skin.

Six markers used on one head of hair?


I once clicked on an pretty awesome dog image and found the blogger had used nine markers.

On a white poodle.

Nine, on just the white part. The pink collar had another four markers.

It was fabulous coloring but I wonder what her family was doing for the three years it took her to perfect her amazing thirteen marker technique.


quality over quantity

It's nice to have every color but you don't have to use them all in one image. Intermediate levvel mistakes. | VanillaArts.com

Trust me. I've seen a lot of people who own 358 ways to screw something up.

Copic markers are an investment. They aren't cheap and for many of us, it takes a while to build up a decent collection.

Years of saving, wishing, dreaming. All that time spent waiting increases the pride of ownership when you finally do own more than a handful.

There's a certain joy that comes from having just the right color for every occasion. I know that sounds weird to non-marker people but darned if it doesn't feel great to think "hey, I need a darker orange" and to reach right for it. A good collection of colors makes your soul smile.

But you can color quite well without owning the entire collection.

I hate to harp on the K.I.S.S. principle but it really does hold true here. Simple color palettes almost always rise above the marker intensive palettes.

And using 42 reds doesn't make for a better apple image, it often leads to an over-inked image.


Many of my images are just Two marker blending combinations

I'm serious.

"Super Hero Henry" by CCDesigns, colored with four 2 marker combos. You don't have to own every Copic to color successfully. | VanillaArts.com

Meet "Super Hero Henry" here, a wonderful stamp image by C. C. Designs.

He's colored in 2-marker blending combinations.


2 red markers.

2 gold markers.

A gray and a black.

2 light blue.

2 dark blue.

And 3 pencils. But honestly, he looked pretty spiffy without the pencils.

You don't need to own every blue on the market to color that cape. And anyone who uses six markers to do it runs the risk of over-inking their image.

Because here's what happens when you try to squeeze six markers onto a 1 inch cape:

Too many markers can eat away at your progress. | VanillaArts.com

I've used six blue markers on the cape here, the darkest ends in a 9, the lightest in a 1.

See inside the yellow circle? The color has been eaten away. This happened when my B41 from the highlight zone leached up into a mid-tone area containing B34 and B37. 

The high levels of solvent in the B41 literally ate away at the darker inks. Solvent can carry further than you think, especially if you're an experienced colorer who is past the point of having to think through every single stroke and blend.

To fix that, I need to go back up into that dark stripe and bring more color down to mask the transition from dark to light. And from the original B99, I'll have to go all the way down through the entire marker set to blend smoothly into the B41 area again.

avoid over-inking by checking the backside of coloring images | VanillaArts.com

But a quick check of the backside of my cardstock tells me that my paper is almost fully saturated.

Essentially, I laid down so much ink in the first go-round from B99 on downward that I've almost exhausted the amount of ink my cardstock can hold. Remember, this area only measures 1" square so it's pretty easy to ink it too aggressively as you blend.

If I go through the process again, I'm going to develop that greasy, flooded look that over-colored areas get.

This wouldn't have happened if I'd limited my blending combination. It's much harder to do damage with two or three colors from a smaller number range. Six complicates your life. You almost can't help over-inking when using large combinations, your level 1 is going to damage anything over a 4 that it makes contact with. Small stamp size only compounds the squeeze-'em-all-in-there problem.

And really, it is simply not necessary to blend with a 9-8-7-4-2-1 combination. That's complete overkill.

I own enough markers to do it, but that doesn't mean it's a wise decision.


so if you've got a small collection of markers, relax!

The good news is that you don't need every blue under the sun to color well.

Two can do.

And for all those pros, showing off their overly complex blending combinations... well, to each his own. If it makes you happy to use 'em all, I can't stop you.

But color me unimpressed.


Five MORE Mistakes Beginning Copic Colorers Make (and how to fix them)

No one is a perfect colorer…

…especially not in the beginning stages

It can be pretty easy to assume that your Copic Marker idols popped out of the womb with a Copic in one hand and a certificate of genius in the other.

But the stinkin' truth is that everyone starts out rough.

Really rough.

There is a definite learning curve to coloring with markers. It takes time and practice to develop good marker skills.

5 More Mistakes Beginning Copic Colorers Make (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

I teach a lot of marker classes

And the one thing I notice is that everyone screws up.


The thing is, we all don't screw up in the same way. Every beginner has a different set of hurdles to overcome. Some people have hesitancy problems, others are over-eager.

Every student I’ve ever met has two or three technique flaws that lead to less than stellar projects.

5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

What's interesting though, is that while student A has 3 problems and student B has 3 problems, once you see enough colorers, you realize that all students make similar mistakes, the only thing that changes is the combination they come in.

So to help you diagnose what goes wrong when you sit down to color, let's look at five MORE of the most common mistakes I see from beginners.

Correct these mistakes and you're not a beginner anymore!

MORE mistakes? Yep, today we're covering Mistakes #6 through #10.

Don't miss the Mistakes #1 through #5, here.

In the last article, I used a puffy red heart to illustrate mistakes. This time we're doing blue-violet balloons.

Here's a good-blending sample. I used BV04, BV02, and BV01.

This isn't going to win me any prizes at the County Fair, especially since this balloon measures only 1” tall in real life and has now a high resolution, blown up giant...  but it is a fairly good example of the kind of smooth blending to shoot for.

Each ink color blends into the next in a fairly smooth manner. The lights are light and the darks are dark with no jarring streaks or blobs to ugly-up the image.

So now that you know what pretty good coloring looks like, let’s take a look at some typical bad coloring and how to fix it.

Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | VanillaArts.com | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring
5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Mistake #6:  Coloring in blocks

Smooth blending should be a gentle transition from one marker color to another. The transition zones are key.

Think of a transition zone as a series of overlapping halves. You use markers A and C. Where the two colors overlap creates color B.

Where markers C and E overlap, you create color D.

To be clear, colors B and D are not actual marker colors, they're colors that are created when you transition between two markers.

In my pretty sample above, I overlapped BV04 and BV02 allowing them to magically create a BV03 section. I did not use BV03, I created it.

Same thing with BV02 and BV01. Those inks mixed and mingled to form the equivalent of a BV01.5.

It's all about the mixing.

But mixing can not happen if you color in blocky sections, as shown here.

The Fix:

5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Block colorers are not using flick strokes and that’s why they end up with stripes or blocks rather then transition zones. 

They're physically laying down the correct colors but without the overlap, the inks barely touch each other and never get a chance to blend.

This is a flick stroke, it's a controlled pattern. I've used flicks here to concentrate the heaviest coat of BV04 down where the balloon is the darkest. As I move upwards, the flicks taper off, like little fingers. There is less BV04 ink at the top edge of my coloring and more down at the bottom.

Essentially, smooth blending is all about easing into the transition zone. Easy transitions lead to smooth blending.

It's much easier to blend finger zones to finger zones because there's less BV04 in the upper region for the BV02 to fight with.

Using flicks rather than coloring in blocks will improve your ability to blend inks in the transition zone and to form beautiful middle tones.

A quick note about blocky coloring: You may be a block colorer and not know it! If you typically color quarter-fold card sized stamps with Copics, you are likely coloring in blocks. The teeny-tiny size hides a lot of technique flaws! It’s usually not until you try coloring a larger image that your blocky habit becomes apparent.


Mistake #7: Not enough juice

5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Here’s a scenario for you: You want to make a batch of pancakes.

Just for kicks, let's say you add only half the liquids. So instead of adding 1 cup of milk you use 1/2 cup. Instead of four eggs, you use only two.

How will the pancakes turn out? Will they be light and fluffy?

Probably not.

You're going to have powdery mess on the griddle. Even the dog won’t eat these pancakes.

You need moisture to make the pancake magic happen.

The same is true for markers. You need wet ink on the paper to facilitate blending.

The Fix:

I usually see dry coloring from hesitant students.

They're afraid to lay down too much color for fear of doing it wrong.

But trying to blend with only a little bit of ink is a like trying to do the backstroke in 6 inches of water. Your heart may be in it, but there's not enough moisture to swim.

Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | VanillaArts.com | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring

In the bad balloon above, I used a really healthy amount of BV04 but then I let it cure for about 20 minutes before proceeding.

Then I laid down a very wimpy layer of BV02.

Because I was working a light layer over a dried heavy layer, I did not have enough moisture to rehydrate the darker ink.

And surprise, surprise! It didn’t blend.

Ink particles need moisture to move.

Blending is impossible in a desert.

The best blending happens when you work wet into wet. That means not waiting a long time in-between colors.

It also means being generous with the ink on every single coat.

It's not impossible to blend wet into dried ink but the process requires more ink than wet into wet. This is because ink #1 must be re-hydrated before the blending can begin. It's much easier to hit the ink while it's still fresh.

The other thing for beginners to note is that the magic doesn't always happen on the first pass.

Sometimes the two inks won't begin to blend until you hit it with a second coat.

Blending requires a sense of both timing AND quantities.

If the blend isn't what you wanted it to be after the first application, it's okay to go back and wet it again!

5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Mistake #8: Too much light ink

Too little ink is a problem, but so is too much ink.

Remember when I said in the last fix that blending relies on a sense of timing AND quantities?

Well, here's why you can't go overboard.

This blend was going well until I got really happy with the lightest marker (BV01).

Basically, I went back with my lightest marker and coated the heck out of everything in the light and medium zones.

Single marker fixing is a problem because now my light area is almost as dark as the dark side.

And see the weird drying line running through the transition zone? That’s a bathtub ring!

And look in the upper left area, the paper is so saturated that we’re starting to get an oil slick up there.

The Fix:

Here's something you may never have considered.

Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | VanillaArts.com | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring

One coat of BV01 equals BV01. But what does three coats of BV01 equal?

You can easily get away with a second or third coat of most inks but when you start playing with multiple layers of the same color, all those lovely transparent layers start to add up to more than your original color.

BV01 + BV01 + BV01 + BV01 = BV02.5 or even BV03

By adding too much BV01, I've darkened the top of that balloon past the middle color. I've ruined my dark to light transition.

How do we avoid this?

Do not blend with just one marker.

Balance your applications of every color.

If you're not happy with the blend, don't grab just the lightest marker to make the fix. Instead, go back with your middle color THEN go back with the lighter.

We’re not only blending, we’re also balancing.

Reblending with multiple colors keeps your lights from accidentally layering up to be darker than your middles.

5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Mistake #9: shaggy coloring

When I introduce flicking, about half of the students do this.

It’s a tip flick which kinda wanders across the color zone. I call it “dinking around”. It’s like they’re saying “I’m an artist, so I make these sketchy artistic strokes.”

Dink. Dink. Dink.

Dinking is when you look like you’re busy but you’re not really getting anything done.

I think dinkers are so wrapped up in the fun of making pretty flick marks that they forget the ultimate goal of filling-in the shape with solid color.

Shaggy coloring is inefficient and a waste of time.

Shaggy strokes will never blend because you’re barely using enough ink to cover the white of the paper, much less make a blend.

Here’s the other bad thing I’ve noticed: even though a shaggy student might fix the problem, they still revert back to shaggy strokes when they get nervous or stop paying attention.

It’s a life-long tendency which you never really cure.

Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | VanillaArts.com | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring

The Fix:

Be mindful.

Pay attention to the look of what you’re doing and not just the feel.

Flicking only works when you're generous with both the number of flicks and the length of those flicks.

Your flicks need to overlap each other, they need to touch and get really snuggly in order to cover over the white space.

This isn't just a case of the BV04 flicks not touching each other either. We've got double trouble in this example. The BV02 flicks need to come down and lay on top of a good portion of the BV04 for the actual blending to begin.

It's not enough to have coverage, the coverage needs to be layered.

Play some Barry White and turn the lights down low. These colors need to get comfy, romantic, and downright dirty with each other. If your two inks never touch, if they sit in quarantine, like wall flowers at a sixth grade dance, then they're never going to merge and mingle and make beautiful music together.


Mistake #10: Overstroking

5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

This is not usually a first-timer problem.

This bad technique develops after a few coloring sessions, once the student gets comfortable with flicking and coloring with using lots of moisture.

Actually, this is someone who is a little TOO comfortable.

Overstroking is dancing on the edge between a pretty darned good blend and perfection.

Dancing is only cool until you tumble headfirst into the piranha tank.

If you look really closely here, you'll see a mottled texture in the upper and middle thirds of the balloon.

That’s because I blended and blended and blended and blended and then blended some more with all three colors.

I'm right on the edge of oversaturating the paper and in the process, I've used too much of every color.

There’s so much ink here that the solvent in the lightest formula is starting to break down the darker inks.

Mottling happens when the paper is right at the saturation point. The ink particles are so free and floaty that they start to coagulate and clump together into islands of pigment surrounded by pale solvent.

This is basically too much of a good thing.

Mottling can also happen when the lightest marker in your blending combination is a smidge too light for the overall blend… but most mottling is when students get way too confident, pushing the wet into wet technique more towards sopping into dripping.

The Fix:

Know when to stop.

Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | VanillaArts.com | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring

There is a limit to how much wet ink a paper can hold.

Just because you can balance on the edge doesn’t mean you should.

More is not better.

In fact, with some Copic inks, more is worse.

If you load enough moisture into the paper, some inks will not just mottle, they’ll shatter.

Shattering is when an ink breaks down into its components. With a dark gray or black you'll see greens and purples start to ooze out.

Green inks can shatter with little yellow halos that often seep outside the boundaries of the image.

Purple and orange can leak reds or pinks.

Experience will teach you to quit while you're ahead.

Good colorers step back from the project to evaluate before they add more ink.

Are you trying to fix a truly bad blend or are you trying to a flaw so tiny that you're the only one who can see it?

In my experience, 60% of your mistakes are ones only you can notice. We're our own worst critics and nothing looks awesome from 3 inches away.

Step back and put the marker down! Learn to live with good instead of killing it in the quest for perfection.


So there you go-

5 more common mistakes and 5 solutions to prevent them from happening again.

  1. Blocky coloring

    Overlap those colors because inks that never touch can never blend.

  2. Dry coloring

    Don’t be afraid to use some ink. Blends can only happen when you use adequate moisture.

  3. Using too much light ink

    Smooth out your blends with more than one marker. Use both the medium and the light color, not just the lightest.

  4. Shaggy coloring

    Don’t dink around with sketchy strokes. Cover that paper in smooth and generous flicks!

  5. Overstroking

    I know it feels artistic and oh-so-professional to blend well but too much of a good thing leads to mottles and shattering.

Don't feel bad if you're guilty of more than one!

Heck, I've broken four or five of these rules on a single project. The key is to spot it happening and mentally slap yourself out of it before you take it too far!

Correcting mistakes and flaws in your technique is part of the learning process.

It's good for you!

5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

5 Mistakes Beginning Copic Colorers Make (and how to fix them)


You do not have to be a genius to make beautiful Copic Blends!

Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | VanillaArts.com | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring

No Mensa membership required! 

Coloring with markers is a skill.

That’s good news; because if it's a skill, that means that it’s completely learnable!

Everyone can learn to color well with Copic markers.

But there is a learning curve-- and how quickly you progress depends upon your ability to diagnose the flaws in your technique.

Improvement means correcting mistakes

Because it’s mistakes that stand between you and flawless coloring!

It's not about talent, it's about diagnosis.

You must diagnose the mistake in order to make an appropriate correction.


I work with a lot of beginners

5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Here’s the weird thing though:

Even though I meet a lot of different students, I see the same coloring issues over and over.

Let's face it, it's a marker. Short of inserting it into your left nostril, there are only so many ways to screw it up.

So to help you diagnose what goes wrong when you color, let's look at the common mistakes I see from beginners.

Correct these mistakes and you're not a beginner anymore!


Copic Mistake #1:  Using swirling or zig-zag strokes

A consistent and even layer of ink is essential to smooth coloring.

But you can’t apply ink consistently if you are coloring with swirls or zig-zag strokes.

Here's a close-up look at a swirl and a zig-zag.

5 Beginner Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Swirling uses circular strokes. Zig-zagging means working back and forth in a Z motion.

With both strokes, you rarely lift the marker up off the paper. It’s a long and continuous stroke that winds around the page.

And usually, the more space you have to fill, the more winding and wandering your zig-zag or swirl will be.

Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | VanillaArts.com | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring

Now here’s the problem with swirls and zig-zags: the danger is in the repeat!

5 mistakes beginner colorers make (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

I've circled the areas in each stroke where the repetitive motion lays down extra ink.

Remember, extra ink means you’re creating a little stubborn spot which will cause problems when you start blending with the next color.

A touch down is where I started the stroke. Markers always give an immediate gush of ink at the beginning (plus our hand tends to hover at the touchdown site a few milliseconds longer).  

Then every time the stroke overlaps itself, we get a double layer of ink.

5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

The left lobe of this heart was zig zagged. The right lobe has the swirls.

This is only one application of R27 but in some areas, the ink is several layers thick.

Even though I’m coloring very neatly, it has a messy appearance due to the very uneven coverage. 

Now when I add my next color, more swirling or zagging will continue to compound this unevenness.

The Ebenezer Scrooge in me would also like to point out that you are wasting ink this way.

You really don't need 3 coats of ink on the first application and I’m totally afraid of what your layer-count will be after the blend and the inevitable re-blending attempts.

That’s a lot of expensive ink you’re using there!


The Fix:

You need a controlled stroke pattern that is both regulated and consistent.

This is a flick.

This is a flick.

Balanced ink layers will improve your blending.

With brush nibbed markers like Copic, the way to regulate your ink layers is to use the flick stroke.

Flick strokes provide control.

5 Beginner Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

 When you work with flicks, you know exactly where the high and low concentration areas are.

There will always be a gush at the beginning (that’s the touch-down spot) and the ink level will taper off towards the end of your stroke.

Unlike the swirl or zig-zag stroke, when we color an image using flicks, we know exactly which areas of the image have the heaviest concentrations of ink.

5 Beginner Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

To give this heart a raised or puffed-heart look, I know I need to concentrate my darker colors towards the edge of the heart. 

I need less color in the highlight areas that are more central.

So I've planned my flicking intelligently to place the highest concentration of my darkest ink (R29) on the outer edges.

5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

The concentration of ink softens as it moves towards the eventual highlight areas. Now when I introduce my next marker color, it will blend with a lightly concentrated area rather than having to fight with heavy layers of R29.

I can introduce flicks of R27 and know the greatest amount of blending will occur right in the transition zones, not on the edges but in towards the center.

A smooth and easy blend (one that happens with very little work from you) relies on even coverage.

To blend smoothly, we want an area in the middle that isn't super-saturated by either color.

5 Beginner Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com
5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

The key to this heart is that the edges are 100% concentrated with R29.

As we move closer towards the center, there is less and less R29 and more of the lighter marker colors showing.

Flicking insures that the concentration of ink will land exactly where the color is most needed.

It’s all about you controlling the marker with intentional strokes. If you are not flicking, you're pretty much guessing where the high concentrations of ink will end up.

Guessing leads to bad coloring.


Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | VanillaArts.com | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring

Mistake #2: Starting your marker strokes in the middle of the shape

Hoo, boy! I see a lot of people do this in demonstrations, especially on YouTube!

So it’s not totally your fault if you do this.

You likely picked up this bad habit from someone else!

Okay, so from Mistake #1, we know that we want the greatest ink concentration to be out towards the edge of the image, where our heart is naturally the darkest, correct?

Well, that's really hard to do if you start coloring in the middle of the heart!

5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

This is R27. It’s a lighter red ink, so we want this R27 to end up in the centermost, raised areas of the puffed heart. We want the R29 to fall along the edges.

Now technically, the R27 is in the correct spot.

But here’s the problem: when you start with the lighter color, smack dab in the center, it accidentally creates a heavy edge of ink.

Yes, all around this blob of R27, there is extra ink.

And we know that extra ink is bad.

The edge build-up is what I call a "wall". A wall is an area of thicker ink (where the paper is more fully saturated).

5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Now when I try to add the darker R29, even if I flick it perfectly... I'm always going to be fighting the wall of R27.  

Here it is up close. You can still see the heavy outline of R27 underneath the layer of R29.

This area will never blend easily.

Walls are very tough to disguise!

5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

The Fix:

This is one reason why I work dark to light.

I know, 4 out of 5 dentists recommend working light to dark but hey, I've never been a lemming.

If you work light to dark, you can’t help but scrub the lightest colors down in the center of the shape. Unless you color the whole darned thing R22 (which Ebeneezer seriously frowns upon).

So this highlight zone now has 1 layer of ink and a wall of heavier ink all around it.

The wall isn’t going to magically disappear either.

Light to dark coloring really only works under ideal conditions.

If you're stacking your colors very evenly on a first pass, this is how it should look:

5 beginner Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

But instead, because we scrubbed in the highlight color into the middle, that means we left a wall around it.

Our layers really look more like this.

5 mistakes beginner Copic colorers make | VanillaArts.com

Layer one had the wall, Layer 2 had to be extra heavy to handle the wall…

That means it might take 2 coats of a darker pink to fight the wall on the highlight. You now have FOUR layers in some places and only one layer in others.  

But wait, it gets worse.

At this point, you've only worked your way darker, you still need to work lighter again to finalize the blend!

5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Look at the incredible variation in the number of layers you have now that you've worked light again.

You've got SIX layers of ink in what is supposedly a lighter zone!

You’ve got one layer on the outer edge where you need darkness.

Is it any wonder your blend looks choppy and sloppy?

A smooth blend requires consistency in layers. You can't get that when you start in the center.

You make coloring very complicated by working light to dark.

Working dark to light saves time, ink, and heartache.

5 mistakes beginner Copic colorers make (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Now maybe you think I'm overthinking this.

I'll admit, drawing diagrams of microscopic ink layers does venture into overthinking territory...

Sure, it's a tiny 1 inch heart. When an image is this small, I'm not using a lot of ink, so who cares where I start?

But hold on… a lot of stamps are card sized. And if that stamp has a face, the faces are about 1 inch in diameter or less.

And layers matter a lot on faces!

If you start in the center of a face, you've killed your chance to create a smooth and even complexion.

Heavy build-up can make or break the look of a face.

If you put the blush and highlight colors on first, you are putting the most ink where you actually need the least.


Mistake #3: Not building a fence

I teach all my students to flick and I use flicks on every project.

I’m very pro-flicking, but even I’ll admit, there is one gigantic draw-back to flicking.

The start zone, where you begin each flick?

It’s always a little jagged.

Heart hairy edges.jpg
Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | VanillaArts.com | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring

No matter how good you are, no matter how much talent you have, even the best professionals rarely flick from a consistent starting point.

Personally,  I've got a better chance of winning the lottery than I have of forming nice neat clean outlines on my images with just flicking.

The Fix:

Remember when I said that coloring was all about intelligent ink placement?

If we know the outer edge of our heart will receive a few coats of ink to get it dark enough...

Why not use one of our coats to sharpen the edge?

Yep, I build a fence along the edges of my image. Then, no matter where I start those flicks, I know the dam will camouflage the inconsistencies. 

5 mistakes beginning Copic Colorers make (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

And here's the cool part, if you hit the fence while it's still wet, the fence will be less noticeable!

5 beginner Copic mistakes (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Here's how I typically work: I build a little bit of fence and then flick inwards from that fence. Then I move on to the next section.

By always hitting the fence while it's damp with the exact same color of flick, the two strokes merge smoothly and basically equalize.

If you wait for the flick to dry, then you're adding one layer on top of another and it's not quite as subtle.


Mistake #4: Over-blending

Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | VanillaArts.com | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring

Over-blending is a problem I see more on the internet than I do with my students.

But that’s because I rush my students through the project. I do it on purpose!

When I keep the pace of the class moving, it prevents students from having time to think about over-blending.

Over-blending is when you put too much ink on the paper.

Paper is like a nice thirsty sponge until it can’t absorb any more liquid. All paper has a saturation point.

Most of the time, over-blending happens comes from “Fix-it-Againitis”.

You’re unhappy with your blending, so you go back and try to fix it.

But the fix doesn’t look good, so you fix the fix.

But that fix doesn’t look great either, so now you’re fixing the fix of the fix.

See where this is going?

Nowhere good.

Some papers will start to seep and bleed along the outlines when they are oversaturated. Some papers leak out the back. On many "layout" grade papers (used by Manga artists), you'll see an oily sheen where the ink is too heavy.

If you oversaturate X-Press It Blending Card (my absolute favorite marker cardstock), you will get what I call Copic Jelly.

5 mistakes beginner colorers make (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Jelly is a puddle of concentrated ink that can’t be absorbed into the paper. It doesn't have anywhere else to go so it coagulates on the surface of the cardstock. The solvent eventually evaporates and leaves a sticky mess.

But bleeding edges and Copic jelly aren't the only things that happen when you overblend.

When you add more ink to smooth a blend, you actually lose a bit of your color variation.

Here I've used the same 3 markers to make a blend. On the bottom sample, I blended and re-blended, three times.

Look at how flat it looks! Re-blending kills dimensionality.

Not only does the bottom swatch look flatter and less dimensional, it's also significantly darker.

R22 x 3 coats is more like an R25!

5 mistakes beginner colorers make (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

The Fix:

1. Work dark to light. The fewer times you have to go up and down the blending scale, the less opportunity you'll have to over-blend.

2. If you are unhappy with a blend, stop working on that area. Go color a new area. When you finally come back to the mistake area, you'll look at the bad spot with fresh eyes. Chances are, the blend isn't nearly as tragic as you originally thought.

3. Take a step back. The average colorer hovers about 2 inches away from their paper when they're analyzing a mistake.

I know, I watch you folks cram up close and squint!

Here's a question: When you want to see if a pair of pants makes your butt look fat, do you stand two inches away from the mirror?

How about when you check your makeup?

Whoa! Nothing looks good at at two inches away. Even freakin’ Kate Upton looks like a fat hag from two inches away!

Step away from the paper.

Stand back.

Can you still see the mistake from 2 feet away?

Unless your card recipient is grandma who forgot her spectacles, your viewer is going to be looking at your project from about an arms distance away.

Things always look better when they're not under a microscope!

Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | VanillaArts.com | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring

Mistake #5: Coloring very Slowly

I see this problem develop when students finally understand the blending technique but they’re still shaky and unsure about how to do it perfectly.

The drive for perfection is the killer here.

So you know how to flick and where to flick but you still make a lot of mistakes… so you slow down.

Maybe it's because you're overthinking the process. It's natural, when your brain gets busy, your hand slows down.

Or maybe you figure if you color slowly you’ll be able to correct yourself, mid-mistake.

But pay attention to the teacher or demonstrator… they’re not coloring slowly, are they?


Not if they’re good. Good colorers are almost never slow colorers.

I'm a jack-rabbit. I don't waste time dinking around. Seeing a molasses colorer makes me want to honk my horn at them. Beep-beep, hurry it up buddy!

But it's not just an I'm annoying Amy problem…

When you color slow, you lay down a ton of ink!

Slow colorers easily cause themselves more problems than they're solving. Pokey-slow is a problem.

The Fix:

5 mistakes beginner colorers make (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com

Beep-beep! Hurry up!

Here is one stoke. One long and slow (and painful) stroke.

For the first peak, sooo slow. Look at how much it bled!

The second peak was a teeny bit faster.

The third peak was faster yet but still slow compared to my normal flick rate.

Now check out what the speed did to the line color.

The squiggly line I made isn't just fuzzy and weepy, it's also several shades darker! It looks like I used different Copics but I didn’t. That’s one marker giving me significantly darker coloring based on speed alone.

If you are regularly getting bleed-through, oil slicks, or Copic Jelly on the surface of your cardstock, maybe it's not how many times you're re-blending, maybe it's your speed!


So there you go: 5 Beginner Copic mistakes and 5 solutions

5 mistakes beninning colorers make (and how to fix them) | VanillaArts.com
  1. Swishy strokes and zig-zags lead to sloppy, choppy blending.

    Use a flick stroke for greater ink control.

  2. When you start in the center, you build an unblendable wall.

    Work dark to light, you’ll use less ink and ruin fewer faces.

  3. Flick strokes have messy starting lines.

    Build a small fence and hit it while it’s wet for clean, crispy edges.

  4. Fixing the fix of the fix of the fix of the fix…

    Stop and take a breath. Come back to it later to decide if you really need to fix it again.

  5. Slow strokes and deep thoughts…

    Turtle coloring leads to over-saturated paper and flat color.

But wait, that’s not all!

There are more mistakes coming.

I sat down to brainstorm five mistakes and came up with a big bunch. I'll cover five more beginner mistakes in another post.

And hey, I'm not above the law either. I'll point the magnifying glass at myself and see what I come up with.

We can all improve at least a little, don'tcha think?


(psssttt... read about 5 more mistakes here)

1 Signature Teal.jpg

Tool Time: Sticky Tack Erasers- gentle correction for colored pencil


Primum non nocere- first, do no harm

Abrasive Detail Erasers- Total Overkill | VanillaArts.com

This is something that runs through my head when a student pulls out one of these to correct a colored pencil mistake.

This is a detail eraser. It is designed to scrub away ink or grease mistakes from office grade, smooth paper. It is a very firm eraser which allows it to be sharpened to a fine point for small areas. It's also highly abrasive which means it rubs away more than just the mistake, it takes off the top layer of stained paper fibers with it.

But for soft, waxy colored pencil on delicately toothy paper?

You might as well use a hand grenade.

If you've got one of these weapons of mass destruction in your art kit, go put it back in the office drawer, where it belongs.

Right now.

I'll wait here.

I've been using colored pencils on an almost daily basis for over 25 years. I can honestly say that I've never encountered a situation where a mistake was so bad that it required stripping off the entire top surface of my paper.

Yes, I've made serious mistakes, but nothing that ever required the use of a hand grenade.


Colored pencils work best on toothy paper

Toothy paper for colored pencil | VanillaArts.com

Tooth is texture; tiny little micro mountains that grab and hold colored pencil pigment.

If you've tried using colored pencil on slick paper, you know how hard it is to get it to lay down smooth and not rub off. It's like trying to spread peanut butter on freshly Zambonied ice. You can try but hey, good luck with that.

Paper quality is a big deal; toothy paper is something colored pencil artists pay extra for.And that hand grenade eraser up there? It'll kill your paper.


Respect the tooth

Now I'm going to assume that most stamp colorers are using some form of office grade cardstock for colored pencil. There's nothing wrong with that, not all projects deserve special paper.

But that doesn't mean that you can ignore the tooth. In fact, because you're using only moderately textured paper, you need to protect the limited tooth EVEN MORE than someone working on generously toothed, premium cold press paper.

Abrasive erasers wear the paper smooth. The more you rub, the less tooth survives. So yes, you may have removed the offending mistake but when you reapply color, that smoothed area will not grab the colored pencil the way it did before. If you really damage the paper, you'll have a shiny zone that stands out to viewers.

So when you make the inevitable mistake and you reach for an eraser, remember Primum non nocere- first do no harm.

Start with the most gentle eraser you can find. If that doesn't lift the error, then bring out a slightly bigger gun. Do not start with a Tyrannosaurus Rex eraser; start with a soft, fluffy, white bunny rabbit.


Sticky Tack is the fluffy bunny of the eraser world

Lift mistakes with sticky tack | VanillaArts.com

Sticky tack?

Yep. Poster putty. The stuff that your fourth grade teacher used to put "Hang in There" and "Give a Hoot, Don't Polute" up on the class room walls.

This stuff.

Duck is a good brand, so is Scotch Brand. You want the white kind, not the softer blue or green versions.

Pull off one  strip (there's usually 8-12 strips per package). A single strip is enough to last for at least 6 months. You'll need a small airtight container (film canister sized) to hold your working piece. Pop the rest of the package into a zip lock bag for longer term storage.


This is not a kneaded eraser substitute

Gently lift errors with sticky tack | VanillaArts.com

Gray kneaded erasers are for working with charcoal, graphite, and chalky dry pastels. You drag gray erasers across the paper to gently lift powdery marks. Gray erasers are lightly abrasive and they are not sticky enough to lift stubborn and waxy pigments like colored pencil.

Sticky tack is lightly sticky. That's why it works. Use it the same way you used Silly Putty to lift up your favorite Sunday Comics.

  1. Soften and knead the sticky tack into a smooth, warm ball.

  2. Gently press into the surface of the mistake.

  3. The sticky tack will grab the paper; hold the paper down with one hand while gently peeling away the sticky tack with the other.

  4. Knead the residue into the eraser to create new clean surfaces.

  5. Repeat as necessary until you've lifted away the mistake.

Sticky tack lifts colored pencil without damaging the paper | VanillaArts.com

I know it sounds crazy but this stuff really works. Best of all, it doesn't damage the tooth of the paper the way rubbing erasers do.

The other benefit of this lift and remove method is that it eliminates transfer smudges. Let's face it, it's pretty easy to drag Prismacolor pigment into unwanted areas. I wear a drawing glove to prevent hand dragging marks. Rubbing erasers often pull color into your cleaning area... which then requires more rubbing. It's a vicious cycle.

Lifting mistakes straight upward eliminates the potential for eraser smudges.


When I make a mistake, I grab the sticky tack eraser first

As I said, start with the fluffy bunny, not the T-Rex.

If the sticky tack can't remove the oops, move up to your white eraser. But give that sticky tack several tries first, because the white eraser will drag and transfer pigment.

But honestly, the sticky tack almost always removes enough of the pigment that I can go back and add the correct color.

Remember, you don't have to get down to naked paper in order to fix a mistake. Most Prismas are fairly opaque and can cover over much of the mistake.


So here's the rundown on sticky tack erasers:

Alternate Names-

Sticky tack, poster putty, sticky stuff, adhesive putty


Duck, Scotch... choose a quality WHITE putty. The dollar store stuff was gooey and left residue. The colored versions seem to be softer but less sticky. Make sure it's fresh and clean, the once-used stuff in your junk drawer may have collected grit.

Defining Features-

A soft putty that clings to waxy pigment enough to lift it away but will not damage the paper or leave a residue.

Best used 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-

Very inexpensive. One package will run just a few dollars and provides enough for several years of daily use.

Available at-

Office supply stores, hardware stores, or similar aisles in any big-box retailer.


Sticky tack... who'da thunk?

Go get some today, your tooth will thank you for it.

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