Photo Reference

Improve your Coloring: The Color You Use is Not the Color We See (Copic Marker, Colored Pencil)

Improve your Coloring: The Color You Use is Not the Color We See (Copic Marker, Colored Pencil)

Do your pale pastel colors usually end up vibrant & bold?

So, you’ve been coloring with Copic Markers, colored pencils, or you’re using watercolor of some kind. But now at the finish line, you’re beginning to see the final colors in place and they’re not quite what you expected. Your pale pink flower isn’t as soft and delicate as you envisioned…

Improve your Copic Marker Coloring: the power of Photo references & observation

Improve your Copic Marker Coloring: the power of Photo references & observation

Realistic flowers & botanicals

Do you dream about coloring beautiful botanicals with Copic Markers or colored pencils? Are you striving to create more depth and dimension? Do you want to color with more realism?

A great coloring project starts before you ever pick up a Copic Marker or colored pencil. You must understand what you are coloring before you begin the coloring process!

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 |

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 |

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.

Coloring with Realism: Use Photo References

Coloring with Realism: Use Photo References

If you're not using at least one photo reference with every Copic Marker coloring project, you are making your life harder. Learn the importance of choosing and using photographic references and how they can improve your depth, dimension, accuracy, and even your color choices.