So you set a practice routine…
You’ve decided to buckle down and really work on improving your Copic Marker and colored pencil coloring skills. You’re going to color for at least an hour, 5 days a week. Or maybe you’re…
My family and I spent nine days on a lake in the woods. Remote and relaxing.
The best thing about our vacation was that I put stuff away. I didn’t check work from my phone, I didn’t sneak into town for wi-fi.
And for the last nine days I have not drawn or colored anything.
I know that sounds strange to anyone who colors for fun. Most of you dream of having a week of free time to color and doodle as you wish. But art is my job. It wouldn’t be a vacation if I dragged my work with me.
So I haven’t touched a pencil or marker in nine days.
That’s a long time for my hands to sit dormant.
Which means that I’m not going to be drawing anything amazing today. Pretty much everything I draw or color for the next several days is going to be a stunted version of my usual work, way below average.
I’m mentally preparing myself. It’s going to sting my ego but nothing I create this week will be worth saving. It will all be lack-luster.
Because I spent nine days at the beach.
When I left on vacation, I was in the zone, making some really good stuff. But I can’t expect to spend nine days totally unplugged and then return to that peak performance state. Frankly, even if it were only half that time- maybe a long weekend, I would still have trouble recreating the magic on my first day back.
Art skills wither when you’re not using them. It doesn’t take very long to loose your groove.
Now let me ask you- how many days has it been since you last colored something?
How many days do you typically go between Copic projects?
And for those of you who dabble with Copics, colored pencil, ink pads, and lots of trendy stuff… how many days days does it take for you to cycle from markers through all your other play toys and get back to markers?
Be honest, how many days a month do your markers sit untouched?
It’s not uncommon for me to hear students chatting before class… “I can’t wait to get started because I haven’t had a chance to color since our last class.”
That's very normal. Most colorers only pull out their supplies when they have a rare spot of downtime. I have students take classes specifically because if they weren’t paying for the dedicated coloring time, they’d allow themselves to be detoured by laundry or email.
And yet when you do find time to color, even though you haven’t touched a marker in weeks, you expect to sit down and effortlessly create your greatest masterpiece ever?
Nobody, not even the most skilled of artists, not Leonardo freekin’ Da Vinci could spend the better part of a month dealing with kids, yard mantenance, and mandatory overtime but then crank out the Mona Lisa on a random Wednesday night.
I spent nine days on a lake in the woods and I know it’s going to take at least a week to warm back up to the point where I can create something worth showing here on the blog.
And you’re trying to do top level work squeezed in-between the office, the grocery store, and junior’s soccer practices?
Great coloring happens when you are in the perfect mental state, when you’re warmed up and the marker feels like an extension of your fingers. Top level work happens when your hand and brain are communicating at lightning speed. You can’t tap into creative flow when you only color every once in a while.
I’m sure you know how to ride a bicycle but if I handed you one right now, you’d bobble and sway around for a few minutes until you found that old equilibrium, right?
And here you are expecting to win the Tour de France with Copics on one night each month?
Stop and think a minute- we all have a favorite marker blogger or design team members we really admire. You pin their work and when it comes time to color, you have their projects in mind. You want to color just like them.
But they’re in the zone. They’re warmed up and running smoothly on sustained creative activity. At the very least, they’re coloring as a part time job.
Do not berate and downgrade yourself.
I’m not ordering you pitch your career and ditch the family in order to spend more time coloring.
My point is simply to lighten up. Stop comparing your work to someone who colors for three to four hours every day. Stop envying the project of a star student who takes fourteen coloring classes a month. You are not being realistic and you’re slowly killing off your joy.
You enjoy coloring, right?
But you’ll enjoy it a little less each time you expect too much from yourself.
“I like to color but I’m not very good at it”
That’s the kiss of death for your soul. You’re holding yourself to a higher standard than what your schedule allows for.
Good takes time. Great takes even more time.
You are spending three weeks at the beach and expecting to drop into marker class and create a miracle.
Do you have to color every single day of your life to color well?
You can make some pretty good stuff with the time you have available.
But I’m not going to sugar coat it. You’ll never, never, never color at your peak level if you are not doing it every day.
Just like you’ll never win an Olympic medal for Fencing, you won’t place top five in the Indy Car circuit, and you are not going to be on the cover of the next Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
Be okay with that.
If you have more time, squeeze in a little more coloring. You’ll immediately see the results of more practice. More time with a marker in your hand pays definite dividends.
But if you can’t, you can’t.
Maturity is the ability to accept that fact without disparaging yourself.
It’s okay if you can only color in my classroom. It’s okay if you can only pick up a Copic once or twice a month.
What’s not okay is asking yourself to color wow-level beautiful projects after an extended period of time away from the markers.
You are not in the zone. Be honest about it.
And besides, there’s nothing wrong with nine days at the beach.
But there are small things you can do TODAY to immediately improve the quality of your finished coloring projects.
Hold on, they're about to vote someone off the island.
Wait? The butler did it?
Oh, yeah. I need to remember to buy fabric softener.
I know that for a lot of you, coloring is a relaxing hobby.
Cool! I've been waiting for that season to be available on Netflix!
So it makes sense that you'd want to put on your comfy slippers, grab a hot beverage and your bag of markers, and plonk down in the recliner in front of the television.
Dang, that's the new song everyone is raving about? I don't get it, that's a hit?
Coloring and catching up on your latest programs, that sounds like a perfect evening, eh?
Ohhhh... that looks yummy! Let's go out for burgers Thursday night.
But here's the problem. If you are trying to improve the look of your coloring or if you're trying to master a new technique, that requires learning. Learning requires your full attention.
In order to retain what you practice, your brain needs to
Okay, in order to really learn something, your brain needs to engage.
You must consciously make the decision to change something about the technique that you are currently using.
You must coach yourself through the new movements and the motion as you're doing it.
You must view and analyse the results of this new motion to evaluate if you performed the action correctly.
You must evaluate the results to decide if the change in process was an improvement over old results.
Repeat steps 1 through 4 and visually monitor yourself as you continue to perform the new action, making corrections when you accidentally revert back into your old technique.
You must register a sense of joy or pride in the newly learned skill in order to have the desire to repeat it again.
And in order for any of this to take root and become a natural habit, you have to be clear and mentally present throughout every single part of the process.
You can't do that if half your brain is paying attention to the television.
if you are not concentrating, most of what you do will fade from memory before bedtime.
I don't care what the get-it-all-done-today efficiency nuts tell you. Doing two things at once is essentially doing neither thing well.
Learning, practicing, and progressing in skill levels? You really, really, really can not multi-task the learning process.
If you aren't wholly involved in the learning process, if you brain isn't locked in and loaded for Copic coloring, then you are not logging the new information into long your term memory storage. If you aren't fully engaged in the task at hand, you are not developing muscle memory.
I don't care if it's just the news or a talk show. I don't care if it's an old episode of something you've seen 200 times. Your brain still checks in and out when you should be concentrating.
The first half of this blog today was really hard to read, right?
It's because I wasn't focused on story telling. It was actually pretty hard for me to write; I kept getting side tracked as I tried to recreate the distraction process.
Yes, I was distracted by the distraction.
That is precisely what happens when you try to color when there are too many visual and audio disturbances.
I know many of you made New Year's resolutions to improve your Copic coloring this year. And all those 30 day coloring challenge people? They've inspired you with their talk about how great they feel and all the amazing things they've learned. Practing your coloringisnt like the piano lessons you were forced to take when you were eight. Coloring practice is fun and rewarding.
But sitting down and logging minutes with a marker in your hand isn't the point.
The point is to be learning, growing, and improving.
That requires full brain engagement.
You can't do that with episodes of CSI MIAMI MEETS NCIS SVU AT JAG playing in the background.
It doesn't matter if you mute it. Your brain will still check in with the programming on a very frequent basis.
Oh, I really like this part. They just don't make cops like Jerry Orbach anymore!
And if you're like me, turn the podcast off.
Maybe you have to turn off music with vocals.
It all depends upon what what twinges the "hey, let's think about something else" process in your brain. For most people, distractions are mostly the visual kind like the television or the grandkids playing in the corner of the room. But it might also be a window that displays scenery you find appealing.
For other people, it's the sound of voices. I can't concentrate when people sing on the radio because I find myself stopping to listen to the words.
It can also be certain sounds.
I have an app that plays environmental recordings in my studio. I have to be super picky about which sounds I play because I find bird calls to be a distraction. Rain or waves I can handle but as soon as an animal chimes in, I get pulled out of the art-zone and into the
Is that a bluebird I hear? I wonder how long they had to wait to capture a bluebird in that spring meadow recording? Where was the microphone? Was it camouflaged? I wonder how much sound technicians earn annually. Seems like an easy job to set up a mic in a field and then wait...
See what I mean?
Be honest. You know what rings your bell. Avoid that stuff.
I know you have twenty minutes in you. Find a quiet spot, away from the household traffic and the buzz of life.
Practice coloring for 20 minutes in a distraction free environment.
You'll get more done and see more growth in 20 minutes of dedication than in 2 hours of the same project in front of the television.
No, this isn't a Halloween post but I guess my macabre humor is timed pretty well.
I'm sitting here typing this message on table littered with abandoned attempts.
I tackled a project that sounded like fun a month ago... now I'm beating my head against the wall over it.
I've been working on this cursed project for over a week now and I'm still trying to draw it right. I counted this morning. I have 31 different sketches, scribbles, and studies sitting here and not one of these sketches is worthy of paint.
Yeah, that's pretty bad for me. That's about double the number of pre-sketches I usually do.
Hey. Please go back and read that last sentence.
"double the number..."
Yes, it really does mean that I lock in about 15 sketches, mocks, and drawing attempts before I take a project into production mode. For class curriculum using a manufactured stamp image, I might color it about five times before I'm satisfied... but if it's an original drawing, something out of my own head, 15 studies is about average.
One of the benefits of living in south-eastern Michigan is way back when I was growing up, our elementary classes would make a yearly pilgrimage to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.
"The Henry Ford" as it's known in these parts is pretty much the Disneyland of historical museums. The original Henry Ford (yes, the car company guy) paid to have the Wright Brother's shop moved to Michigan from Ohio. He also purchased the entire Menlo Park labs of Thomas Edison, every single piece of equipment they could find, and brought them over from New Jersey.
I like to think Henry did it just for me.
I loved the Edison Lab. They called Mr. Edison the Wizard of Menlo Park and his lab (accurate down to the labels on the jars, placed on the correct shelves) is a place where serious magic happened. Steampunk heaven. It's a bummer that you have to stand behind ropes, looking at it all from a distance.
... I swear, if I ever win the lottery, I'm making a big, fat donation to the museum so that I can jump the rope to spend hours gawking at all the flammamabobbers and whooseywhatsits on the tables. I'm guessing they can't say boo to big donors for breaking the "stand back" rules!
Anyway, as a kid I remember being quite impressed with the tour guide's speech about how it took the laboratory team more than 1,000 tries to get a working light bulb.
I decided to look that fact up this morning. The number is based upon a second-hand quote of Edison which might be apocryphal. A friend of Edison's related the conversation:
'Isn't it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven't been able to get any results?' Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: 'Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won't work!'"
Apparently, they were talking about batteries at the time, not light bulbs.
Edison himself claimed 3,000 tries for a light bulb.
Francis Upton, Edison's lab assistant puts the number much higher. The incandescent lamp took 10 years to develop. Less than halfway into the process, after just three years, Upton had counted 2,774 experiments.
So yeah. My 31 sketches are child's play compared to the Edisonian scale of idea development.
Many colorers color an image only once.
If it doesn't turn out pretty and perfect, you get upset. You scrap the project and move on to something easier.
And the ol' self-esteem meter takes a big hit each time you abandon a project for something less challenging.
There's a reason why people think artists are nuts. Artists have a long history of tip-toeing off the deep end of sanity. Depressives, bi-polars, addicts, suicides, ear chopper-offers.
The artistic drive is really hard on a person's psyche.
No one makes the art they envision. No one really ever makes it into the end zone.
It takes guts to keep trying.
So if a student comes to me and says "Hey, I colored this once and it's not very good..." I'm always a little puzzled.
Where are the other 12 attempts?
How can you judge after only one shot?
I'm not sure who started the rumor that artistic talent means you have magic flowing out from underneath your fingernails, that real art happens on the first try in a moment of sunbeams and inspiration...
Because that person needs to be shot.
About 2,774 times.
It's that simple.
If Michelangelo wept over his own lack of talent, what right do I have to give up after only 31 sketches?
And perhaps you need to re-evaluate your own One & Done theory.
Because real growth happens on the third or fourth pass. Or on the fifteenth. When you've gone over something so many times that you're considering chopping off your own ear, that's about the time you start progressing.
I really do want you to keep coloring and to enjoy the process.
The pope isn't paying you to Copic his ceiling, so there's less pressure here in Crafty Stampland.
But still, I want my students to understand that what I bring to class is absolutely, positively, not, not, not the first time I've colored an image.
I've got a freekin' degree in art and I still color simple stamps a half dozen times before I make a class out of it.
So if you're expecting to duplicate my project on the first attempt, that's a completely unreasonable expectation.
It's going to take you two or three shots, and that's on a project where I've done all the thinking and experimentation for you. I've tried 14 wrong markers so that you can color from a functional color palette. I've stared at the image for hours charting the danger zones and trouble spots so that I can warn you about them in class.
And if you're coloring a brand new image at home, one where you're starting from scratch, do not expect the Mona Lisa on the first try.
... stop reading now. This is not the blog post for you.
But if you're really into this hobby, if you really want to grow and stretch and get ever so much better than you are right now...
Well, that takes work.
I can't sugar coat the process.
You can absolutely do it. You CAN learn to do this. It is not impossible.
But it takes hours.
Your desk should be littered with the carcasses of half finished, failed, and not up-to-snuff projects.
Thirty one dead bodies. And that's just a good start.
Fame does cost and I suppose you do pay for it... in sweat... I guess.
But even if you're not shooting for the spotlight on Broadway, even if you're just trying to color a digi image with a little skill, you do need to spend time practicing.
Any teacher, any instructor, any tutorial that promises you otherwise is lying.
There is no quick fix.
Skill comes from practice.
Art comes from development.
The divine light of inspiration doesn't waft through the room carried upon the burps of unicorns.
Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something. On days like today where I'm looking at 31 miserable failures, I'm thinking Gladwell may have underestimated the price of progress.
It's an ugly process.
Stick with it.
No matter how many dead bodies fill the trash can.
Color it. Then color it again. Color until it looks a little bit like what you wanted it to.
Then put it away for a few weeks.
Then pull it out again to start the process over again.
That's how you'll improve.
Skill doesn't come from finding tutorials on Pinterest.
There is no tutorial in the world that's going to develop your technical tool belt and instinct.
You can read and research and color one-offs for years but you're not going to get it until you put marker to paper, one time, two times, twenty times on the same image.
It builds a little with each pass.
And you will see growth with each attempt.
You will get a little closer to the goal post every time you sit down to practice.
And yes, that was 2,774.
I'm humbled and laid-low at the drive and determination.