Tiny Thing

Improve your Copic Marker Coloring Today: Size Matters


there are no magic shortcuts to better coloring...

But there are small and simple things that you can do TODAY to immediately improve the quality of your finished coloring projects.

Is your coloring flat?

I know, I write about flat coloring a lot.

But that's because I hear about it. A lot.

Copic beginners are always pretty worried about getting the blends nice and smooth. But once they've nailed down the blending process, they then start to wonder...


Where is the depth and dimension?

Don't worry, you are not alone. It's a common problem.

There are very few colorers who achieve the kind of depth and realism they want from their projects. Every colorer I know is on constant look-out for the magic bullet that will solve their flat coloring problems once and for all.

There are a lot of tutorials and videos out there which talk about how to add dimension to your Copic projects.

But there's one simple key that I never, ever, no-never hear or see mentioned.

Improve your Copic coloring today with this one tiny tip- the size of your image directly affects your ability to add depth and dimension. | VanillaArts.com

Image size matters

When you walk into a museum, do they hand you a magnifying glass?

When you visit an art gallery, do they warn you to bring your reading glasses?

Heck, in the Pottery Barn catalog, do they show you big long couches with itty bitty wallet sized art over it?

That's because most artists work large.

Yes, you can purchase a pretty postcard with the Sistine Chapel ceiling on it but Michelangelo didn't paint the real ceiling that small.


Realism requires space

Improve your Copic coloring today with this one tiny tip- the size of your image directly affects your ability to add depth and dimension. | VanillaArts.com

Let's face it, most stamps are tiny. The average stamp image was designed to fit on an A5 or quarter-fold card front and many stamp sets give you the ability to fit several objects plus a sentiment on that card front.

That leaves colorers struggling to fit several marker colors into itsy-bitsy spaces.

With big giant brush nibs, by the way.

To paint or color with realism, you are essentially creating a trompe l'oeil effect (that's French for "fool the eye"). Depth and dimension are a matter of getting the right shade of the right hue into just the right spot to fool the brain into thinking a two dimensional item is actually three dimensional. It's not only about the colors you use, it's also about placing those colors into just the right spots.

When a face is the size of a postage stamp, it's pretty darned hard to color it accurately. Depth and dimension, getting that shade into just the right areas to feel real... that's next to impossible when the head on the stamped character is pocket-change sized.


Miniature painters have unique skills

Once upon a time, back before the days of photography, you had to hire a painter to make a portrait or to capture a landscape. And if you wanted a portrait to carry around in your pocket or in a locket, you had to find an artist who specialized in miniatures.

Painting in miniature is a very specific skill and frankly, it's a rather rare talent. Working small requires lots of study and practice and a whole slew of specialized tools and supplies. The smaller you get, the more talent required.

And yet you expect to master this kind of thing instantly using big fat juicy markers and a $5.99 tiny stamp?


Be kind to yourself, use large stamps

I shock and startle my newbies all the time. When a new student takes my class for the first time, they're always amazed at the project size. That's because as an artist, I understand that your best chance to color with depth and dimension... all of that good realism stuff is highly unlikely to happen if I don't provide large stamp images.

Improve your Copic coloring today with this one tiny tip- the size of your image directly affects your ability to add depth and dimension. | VanillaArts.com

Now granted, I draw the class images for 90% of my classes but I do use some commercial stamps. Rubber and silicone stamps are governed by the rules and regulations set by the issuing company. And some manufacturers are sticklers about enlarging their images, even if you're coloring them for personal use.

So the solution is easy. If the stamp image is too small, don't buy it.

Don't waste your money on teeny tiny stamps that are completely inappropriate for coloring with markers.

Companies are gradually learning that serious colorers want larger images. I support only those companies who produce appropriately sized coloring images, not just for legal reasons but because we want the sales statistics to show that there's a healthy market for large coloring images.

Or you can stick with digital stamps. When you purchase a digi stamp, you are not locked into using the stamp at one particular size. Digital stamps are scalable and that means you can squinch them small for a quarter-fold card front but also enlarge them when you want to practice coloring with realism.


The Goldilocks Rule

Bigger is not always better; there is such a thing as too large.

Smooth blending gets harder as the stamp size increases. That's because the smoothest blends happen with fresher, wetter ink. So if the space you're coloring is so large that the ink has fully dried before you even get the whole thing base coated, then that's a blend that will require more nursing to make it happen.

And larger spaces usually require more markers in the blending combination. I save my two-color combo coloring for areas under .75 inch square.

Every colorer has an ideal size to work at. Not so large that the blend is choppy but not so small that you can't add shaded detail.

As you learn and practice your coloring skills, you can work smaller and smaller with more confidence. But just like when you were learning to write out the alphabet on wide lined kindergarten paper, it's definitely easier to learn a skill when you have room to see what you're doing (or doing wrong).


Quarter and Half-size images

When I draw stamps for classes, my beginner images are quarter sheet sized (a sheet being US 8.5x11 inches).

I don't mean that my digis fit comfortably onto a quarter-fold with lost of extra space. I mean that my images ARE the size of a quarter sheet.

So for my classes, a single object in the stamp is usually anywhere from 4 to 5 1/2 inches wide. For intermediate students, I move them up to images that may fill the entire page.

I know, you can not fit large class projects onto a standard card. But you need the extra size to learn how to shade properly. When you get good, you can gradually begin to work smaller until you're back at standard card size.

Or maybe you'll stop producing everything for cards and start making framable art, hint hint.


Like day-old cola...

Improve your Copic coloring today with this one tiny tip- the size of your image directly affects your ability to add depth and dimension. | VanillaArts.com

If your coloring continues to be flat, no matter how much you practice, no matter how closely you're following the tutorials, stop to consider the size of your stamped images.

Coloring isn't a clown car experience. The goal isn't to impress us with how much you fit in. If you're trying to squeeze shade, highlights, and local color all into a teensy tinsy space, it's no wonder things don't look dimensional.

Real artists rarely work itty-bitty because we understand that realism requires some elbow room. Working in miniature is a specialty skill which requires customized tools to do it right. Artists know better than to force themselves into working abnormally small.

Purchase larger images. Color larger images. Learn and practice on larger images.

It's one tiny thing you can do today to begin improving your coloring.

Read the Studio Journal blog at VanillaArts.com

Improve your Copic coloring: use fresh eyes


Wouldn't it be cool to trade bodies with someone?

One Tiny Thing can improve your Copic coloring TODAY! Fresh eyes. | VanillaArts.com

Like in the movie Freaky Friday. The Jodi Foster version, not the Lindsay Lohan version.

Oh Lord no, not the Lindsay Lohan anything...

If you could switch bodies with a really good artist, maybe you could pick up a few secrets about how to draw or color better.

Sadly, no. There are no easy fixes. Ask Lindsay Lohan.

Learning takes time and practice; and even if we wish really hard for a freaky exchange, there are no shortcuts to better coloring.

But there are a few tiny things that you can do today which will instantly improve the quality of your Copic Marker projects.



Before you call a project finished, look at it with fresh eyes.

Nobody knows your project as well as you do. After all, you were there when you made it, right?

And you know exactly where all the oopsies are.

You know where you went outside the lines; you know where the blend is a little choppy. You were there when you accidentally dripped a little blue ink in the bottom right hand corner. 

Yep. Been there, done that. More than once.

You've also spent a lot of time obsessing over the details. Getting everything just right.

But here's the thing- all that attention to detail? It has left you in a state of hyper-awareness.


most people won't notice the mistakes


It's not that we're stupid, it's just that we haven't spent the last two hours hovering six inches above the project. We simply don't see the flaws the way you do.

Meanwhile, you're sitting there wondering how in the heck no one has noticed the little blue drip in the bottom right hand corner.

On long coloring projects, I encourage my students to take a break every twenty minutes.

In my live classes, I secretly plot to distract people every ten to fifteen minutes by telling a story or asking a student how her weekend went. They don't realize what I'm doing, but it serves a purpose.

Taking short breaks from coloring isn't for the benefit of your rear end, although it is nice to get up and stretch. Short breaks are actually far more beneficial to your brain than to your buns.


after a break, you look at your project in a new way

We call this "using fresh eyes".

Taking a walk, doing a load of laundry, chatting with a friend about the new restaurant in town... all of these things pull you out of the self-critical zone. That's the state we get worked-up into, where every other thought that runs through your head begins with the words "well, I totally screwed that up..."

We're our own worst critics and that only gets worse the longer we sit chained to our desk, staring at all the mistakes.

Taking a break divorces you from the project. The longer the break, the more remote those mistakes seem. When you come back to it, you no longer look at your coloring with a super-duper hyper-critical eye; you are kinder to yourself.

Plus, with fresh eyes, you realize that the little blue drip in the bottom right hand corner isn't as big as you thought it was.

Fresh eyes are a volume control button for your inner voice. The flaws may still scream out at you but you'll be better able to tune them out. And the good stuff will start talking to you too.


Things don't look as bad as you thought when you use fresh eyes

By getting away from the project, you begin to see your work the same way we do.

It's a less emotional experience.

That little blue drip won't feel like a dagger in your left ventricle anymore.

And here's the really cool thing- you can increase the efficacy of the fresh-eye effect by increasing the length of your break!

10 minutes = good

10 hours = absofreekinwonderful

One Tiny Thing can improve your Copic coloring TODAY! Fresh eyes. | VanillaArts.com

Setting your project aside for a few days is an essential part of the process for most professional artists. We build that resting period into our delivery time frame because we know the power of fresh-eyed observations.

With portraits, I set them aside for a full week, completely out of sight and out of mind. When I pull it out again, I pay attention to my thoughts:

  • What's the first thing that drew my eye- chances are it's either something really good or it's a flaw I need to fix immediately.

  • Where does my eye linger- that's almost always something good

  • What are the first three flaws I notice- those instantly jump to the top of my "fix it" list

  • After my eye roves around the project, does my gaze settle back upon the eyes? If not, then the the eyes need more attention

Taking an extended break from your work is like a mini vacation. When you come back rested and relaxed, you will notice things you didn't see before- things your inner critique wouldn't let you see before.

You can't always run your projects by a trusted friend who will give you an honest critique. It's hard to trust family to tell you the truth because they love you, and frankly, they also want you to make dinner tonight and that might not happen if they mention the little blue drip in the bottom right hand corner...

Sometimes, your fresh eyes are the only tool available to you to evaluate the success of your projects.

And fresh eyes are free. You don't have to go anywhere or do anything. All it takes is a little will power to go a few days without peeking.


take advantage of fresh eyes on your next project

If you're coloring a card on a deadline, leave yourself enough time to set it aside, at least overnight. Because when it's sitting on Aunt Minnie's mantle? That's not the time to discover that you forgot to glitter the unicorn's horn.

For larger projects, like coloring a class assignment or making a gift for someone, use fresh eyes several times during the process. Catching mistakes before the teacher does or before the recipient notices is embarrassment avoided.

Time spent in time-out is worth the wait. Fresh eyes will catch more than you think but fresh eyes will also pleasantly surprise you.

Because that little blue drip in the bottom right hand corner might look totally artistic and planned, once you see it with fresh eyes.