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... | VanillaArts.com

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... | VanillaArts.com

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... | VanillaArts.com

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... | VanillaArts.com

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!


Improve your Coloring: Develop an Eye for Detail


what sets a great colorer apart from the mediocre ones?

An eye for detail.

I'd call it an artistic eye but then a whole bunch of marker fans would immediately tune me out.

Because hey, I'm not an artist-artist. I just like to color. So I don't need to know about this artsy eye stuff, right?.

Wrong. Dead wrong.

If you're here reading my studio journal, then you're doing more than coloring 2" free stamp images for card fronts using Crayola markers. Or you're at least thinking about moving beyond the basic level.

You are here because you want to improve your coloring skills.


I hereby decree that from now on: advice & info for artists is applicable to you!

An article on improving studio efficiency? Use it if you can! Marketing tips? Might be handy. Product reviews, philosophical discussions, and tips for desaturating colors with gray? Please at least skim some of this stuff because it can and does apply to you.

Improving your awareness of the things around you? HIGHLY APPLICABLE TO YOUR NEXT COLORING PROJECT.

You've heard me talk about using photo references before and this is more of the same theory.


The more you study and observe real objects (and photos of real objects), the more details you will notice in your daily life.

It's the small little somethings that will set your coloring apart from the average crowd.

Detail of Vermeer's The Procuress | VanillaArts.com

Artists (and really good colorers) pay attention. They look and study and stare at life's little details. They look at life with an artist's eye and they add those details to their artwork.

Here is a closeup of a Johannes Vermeer painting, called The Procuress. The full painting is a riot of loud color, bold personalities, and four people having a rockin' good time...

But check out this glass.

It's a tiny detail but it takes my breath away. Every time.

You can see the jug reflected in the goblet.

Vermeer didn't have to paint that. It has absolutely nothing to do with the story being told in the painting. In fact, it's a quiet moment in an otherwise boisterous painting. It's a teensy thing but it's a stunning bit of artistry.

But he's freekin' Vermeer. Of course he added a reflection! He was a genius and me? Well, all I do is play with markers on the weekend...

Sure, I get it. You're not a Dutch Master. I'm not a Dutch Master. But that doesn't mean we can't learn a thing or two from a pretty damned good artist.

I'll bet you either own this stamp or you own one that's very similar.

And I'll bet you colored the edges aqua or gray but honestly, you probably spent most of your time on the flowers or the firefly which you stamped inside the jar.

Chances are, when you colored this image last time, you did not pull up a photograph of a ball jar nor did you look at the jar sitting right there on your desk. You did not research how a ball jar really looks.

I can tell when someone colors from memory and uses their preconceived notions rather than looking at an image reference. So can astute viewers. 

It's that kind of mindless coloring, that I'll-do-it-how-they-did-it-on-Pinterest attitude that will keep you mired in average coloring.

By not shopping for photo references, look at the beautiful highlight you missed out on.

It's a little bit of Vermeer that you can add to your own images. Details like this will knock your viewer's socks off.

And here's the cool thing, by spending 10 minutes of your time Googling "ball canning jar" and looking for jars with cool highlights, you are going to start noticing and appreciating the highlights on all kinds of glassware in your daily life.

You'll notice how the stained glass light fixture over your table at Ruby Tuesday's is perfectly captured in your husband's glass of Summer Shandy.

You'll see yourself holding the cat, all reflected in the lenses of your daughter's glasses.

And you'll see a beautiful summer sky, tree tops and birds in flight, in the windshield of a rusted-out truck.

Your whole outlook on glass will change just from taking notice of what you can see in reflections. And it's that paying-attention-to-details habit that will draw people to your coloring work.

Here's another case where an artist really paid attention.

Rockwell's Girl with a Black Eye | VanillaArts.com

Norman Rockwell's Girl with a Black Eye.

Rockwell didn't just slap down some purple paint on her eye, because everyone knows that shiners are purple.

Instead, he took the time to really look at a black eye and ended up with a very distinct combination of indigo blue and magenta.

The pink bruise sits very precisely on the upper eye lid while the indigo rests primarily in the tear duct area. He didn't give her an all over raccoon mask kind of eye patch.

It's not your typical assumption of a black eye and that's what makes it so charming and wonderful and                                                                      real.


Research time is never wasted time

If you are coloring a little girl holding a cat, you need a photo of a cat or you need to be looking at your own cat- while you are coloring. You miss a great opportunity if you don't know where the whiskers sprout from, how the jaw is shaped, where the cat's fur is short.

Because in your mind that long haired cat has long hair all over it's body. But it doesn't. It has long hair on SOME parts of it's body. But on the chin and muzzle and forehead, that hair is short and it grows in a very specific direction.

The stamp artist didn't include that information in the stamp. You have to add it.

And 9 times out of 10, when something looks a little weird or it looks a little creepy, it's because you colored it differently than it occurs in real life. If your stamped cat looks like Cousin It, it's because you weren't thinking about real cat fur when you colored the cat.


Everyone has the potential to develop an artist's eye for detail. And your eye grows as you use it.

It's like muscle or cornfield baseball diamonds in Iowa- if you use it, it will grow. 

And unlike giant biceps, a strong artist's eye enhances your enjoyment of the world around you.

You'll find new things to appreciate about your daily life. You'll start seeing beauty in the regular stuff you used to ignore. Your boring life is really a giant party of color and light and shadow... and that's true even on the days when you don't leave the house.


Observation and awareness. It's a colorer's best friend.

Here's a great video from The School of Life on YouTube. Every time he says "draw" you should be hearing the word "color".


Improve your life, improve your coloring by looking closely at the world around you.