Tips

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

Stamp ink Color Makes a Big Difference to Copic Coloring

 

This is not a tutorial

What I really want to do today is to spark a conversation. A conversation that you're going to have with YOURSELF before you stamp out your next image for coloring.

Because if you're not asking yourself "what are my goals with this image?" then you're doing yourself a disservice.

 

What'dya mean "what are my goals"?  I'm making a card, that's my goal!

Yeah. I thought so.

Look, handmade cards are an investment. You spent:

  • maybe about $10 for the stamp or stamp set

  • at least $50 in Copic markers to color the stamp

  • $5 in decorative paper and cardstock

  • $6,742.29 on the various tools and templates you use to make cardmaking easier

Stop and look around your craft room. Start mentally calculating all the dollars you've spent to get yourself to this point of functionality. And think of the dollars you'd spend tonight if you hit the lottery.

Cardmaking, scrapbooking, and coloring in general is not a cheap hobby.

And that's just the monetary investment. Let's think about the time investment you've put into this craft.

Not just the time you spend on projects. Add to that the time you spend thinking about projets. Or going to shows. Or Make n' Takes. And lessons.

 

So hey, if you've got this much of your life invested in this hobby, why do you always grab the black stamp ink to start your images?

Got'cha there, didn't I.

I'll bet you put a lot of thought into colors before you started the project. You picked out the prettiest of patterned papers, you matched them to the perfect cardstock, and you thought a lot about marker or colored pencil colors.

And you spent zero time thinking about stamp ink.

Can we work on changing that?

 

Stamp ink makes a gigantic difference in your final presentation

And good presentations require some planning.

You don't leave on vacation without knowing how you're getting to Hawaii, do you?

So that conversation I talked about? I want you to think about the message you're trying to send with your coloring.

Here's a Lawn Fawn fox from the Critters in the Forest set. I chose this company as an example for a very specific reason.

Black Line Stamping is bold but can be overwhelming. Read more at VanillaArts.com

Lawn Fawn makes bold and simple images. In my never-to-be-sat-upon opinion, I think Lawn Fawn and Copic markers are the perfect combination for creative colorers. Their clean and wide open images leave tons of space for really creative interpretations. 

But here's the downside: those big, bold lines get even bigger and bolder when you stamp a Lawn Fawn image in black.

If you're looking to set a mood with the card that is simple and spartan, or maybe you're doing a children's card, then by all means, go with black. Black makes an LF image look like it's straight out of a children's coloring book.

Black sets a primitive and youthful tone to images. Not just Lawn Fawn images but to ALL stamp images.

 

But what if that's not the theme of your card?

What if you're sending a get well message to a sophisticated 50 year old woman? 

Would you rip out a coloring book page, write "thinking of you in your time of difficulty" in the top corner and send that?

Because if you wouldn't, then you shouldn't be stamping the image in black.

 

Different ink colors send different messages

Your colored stamp image sends a message loud and clear BEFORE anyone ever reads the sentiment you stamped.

Think about the last card you received. Chances are you totally recall the picture on the front and you're a little soft when recalling the message inside.

Gray Line Stamping can help your coloring shine through. Read more at VanillaArts.com

See what I mean? Images send messages.

What does this one say?

Same exact image, same exact coloring process, but I used Memento's London Fog instead of Tuxedo black.

This one doesn't feel quite as pre-schooley, does it?

Now imagine that I had colored a far more complex stamp image, maybe an intricate floral bouquet stamp for use on a wedding card. Sophisticated gray ink completely tones down the kid factor and makes it more suitable for adult or serious purposes.

If the message I want to send is "Happy 45th wedding anniversary to a couple who has always served as a role model for my marriage..."  or  "Your son was an amazing person and I'm really sorry he had cancer and died in pain..." then gray is a much better tone to strike than the Romper Room look you get with Tuxedo Black.

It's subliminal but it's important to the final presentation.

You know what else this London Fog gray ink does?

It let's my coloring shine through. In the black sample, the fox screams "LAWN FAWN, BABY!!!!"

And yet in gray, you most likely looked a little harder at the coloring technique and the marker colors I used. If I'm spending more than 10 minutes coloring an image, I will always choose to highlight my technique. Because "LAWN FAWN, BABY!!!!" is really not a message I'm ever interested in broadcasting.

 
Black ink demands your attention. It's never subtle. | VanillaArts.com
Gray ink lets the personality of the colorer shine louder than the stamp brand. | VanillaArts.com
 
 
 

So you're following me so far, right?

Now you might be tempted to think "hey, if a lighter line color is better than a darker line color, then maybe no-line is the absolute bestest..."

Well, calm down Trigger... Roy ain't saddled up just yet.

No-line or invisible-line coloring is a totally different beast.

No Line Stamping requires extra thought and care. Read more at VanillaArts.com

For the uninitiated, no-line coloring is where you stamp out the image in a really light color that you know will eventually disappear completely, like Memento's Desert Sand or Angel Pink.

And if you do it just right, no-line coloring makes it look like you drew the image yourself.

Which can be pretty darned impressive.

Or freaky as all get-out.

Because the lines disappear, your viewer's brain won't be receiving the normal coloring book line cues. As the colorer, you need to have some skill to fill in the gaps that a viewer needs in order to consider the image pleasing.

Which means you need to have a really good grasp of depth and layering.

And which lines need to be reintroduced back into the image.

And what to do about the eyeballs.

Especially the eyeball thing. Because it's really easy to turn a sweet, charming, and innocent La-La Land girl into a homicidal axe murderer when you screw up the eyes.

You know what I'm talking about, don't you? We've all seen pinned invisible stamp images that give us the heebie jeebies. It's the eyes. Mess the eyes up and suddenly even Holly freekin' Hobby looks like the love child of Bloody Mary and Ted Bundy.

And I'm pretty sure you weren't thinking to send the Lizzy Bordon subliminal message on that birthday card.

 

Anyway... the point is that I want you to stop and think next time, before you stamp your image in black.

Am I sending a juvenile, humorous, or casual message?

Or do I need something more sophisticated than Sesame Street?

Choose your stamp inks as carefully as you choose your marker colors. You'll be amazed at the depth and maturity the right stamp color can add to your next card.

VanillaArts.com

Troubleshooting: 6 Tips to Solve Copic Marker Blending Problems

 

Listen to your marker strokes. The strokes do not lie.

One of the many benefits of attending live classes is that a good teacher can spot your technical problems as they occur and help you adjust your technique.

But how do you do this for yourself when coloring at home?

As a teacher and experienced colorer, I can usually look at your project and tell you why your markers are not blending well. I don't actually have to see your process, I can read it on your paper. That ability has nothing to do with my world-renowned psychic talents. I'm not an Indian guide in my free time and I can't put my ear to the ground and tell you how many horsebacked banditos are following us through the canyon...

But that doesn't mean that I can't read the obvious signs.

You can read the signs too.

Marker strokes do not lie. They're like footprints that either lead to success or odd little boo-boo areas.

Everyone has a few projects sitting at home that they're not very proud of. You don't hang these on the fridge because you know something isn't quite right. What you might not realize is that these goofs are valuable; you can learn from your previous mistakes. Failed projects can tell you exactly what you did wrong, if you're willing to listen.

So let's take a look at the 6 most common blending mistakes I see in classroom settings. Then I want you to pull out your most recent project o' shame and see if you're guilty. Spotting the tendency is half the battle to solving the problem. Once you're aware of your bad habits, you can remind yourself to avoid the same mistakes during your next coloring session.

 

1. Bleeding Strokemarks

6 Tips to Solve your Copic Marker Blending Problems | VanillaArts.com

Do you have hairy looking marker strokes?

If you're happily coloring along and that mean old ink is bleeding uncontrollably, with every mark you make, STOP IMMEDIATELY.

Please check your paper. Is it good quality blending card or marker specific paper?

No?

I've met a few students who can't quite understand why they color so awesomely in class but never get it right at home.

And while I'd love to take the credit for creating a magical classroom atmosphere where unicorns dance and students tap into the universal well of artistic talent... 

Nope, there are no leprechauns under my classroom tables. The magic comes from using the right paper. I give all my students great quality blending paper, especially designed for marker use.

Marker paper is hot pressed for maximum smoothness and then coated with pixie dust (or more likely, a polymer coating) that both slows down the marker dry time and encourages blending.

So if you're coloring at your kitchen table on a sheet of Office Barn's Bargain Bin copy paper...

Do I really need to explain this one further?

If you want to blend well at home, buy the right paper.

 

2. Inadequate Moisture

6 Tips to Solve your Copic Marker Blending Problems | VanillaArts.com

When you bake a batch of box-mix brownies, what happens if you decide to cut back on the wet ingredients? Let's say you put in half the water and fewer eggs.

How awesome will those brownies turn out?

Tender and chewy brownies require the correct amount of moisture in the batter. Half dry brownie batter full of powdery lumps will never bake properly.

We all know this and yet we take squeaky, pale tipped Copic Markers and try to squeeze one last project out before we refill it.

I know, I'm right there with you. I don't own a bottle of refill ink for every one of my markers and there's no way to get some refilled when I'm coloring at 9:30pm in my pajamas.

Beautiful blending requires moisture. The solvent that is present in the inks is what allows the two colors of dye to swirl and merge into a third color. If you're missing out on the juice, you're simply not going to get a proper blend because you're lacking the lubrication that allows two different inks to get together and get happy with each other.

Your marker doesn't need to be at the squeaky stage to be running low. Run the edge of your fingernail up the side of the brush tip to check how juicy it is. You should see the ink shine as you press into the brushtip with your fingernail. Your fingernail should come away with quite a bit of color on it too. And lastly, that brushtip should feel smooth and slick to your nail, any trace of gumminess means it needs more juice.

 

3. Hesitation Blobs

6 Tips to Solve your Copic Marker Blending Problems | VanillaArts.com

When I was five, I was the flower-girl in my aunt's wedding. I got to toss confetti from a basket that was about twice as full as it needed to be. I was told to toss one handful to the left and one to the right, until I got to the stage.

What they didn't count on was a traffic jam.

I tossed like a pro. Left, right, left, right. And when the line stopped mid-way down the aisle, I kept tossing. Left, right, left, right, as confetti piled up around my feet. I ran out long before the bridesmaids all made it up on stage. Never ask 6 ladies to quickly climb stairs in long, tight column gowns.

That's how markers work too. You don't have to go anywhere for them to release ink. With colored pencil, you have to physically drag and press to make a mark. No movement, no mark.

Not markers. They gush as soon as you touch down and keep gushing until you lift up.

That feature works against people with hesitant strokes.

See the ink pools on either end of this orange stroke? That's a 1 second stop in my movement. One second is enough to put little blobs on the beginning or end of any stroke you make.

Smooth blending is the result of an even layer of color and an even dry time. Concentrations or pools are difficult to blend because they require more attention and then stay wet longer than surrounding areas.

Hesitation blobs are especially problematic when you leave one in the middle of a face or in an area of what should be smooth sky or background.

A smooth stroke will touch down, move, and lift in one smooth stroke. It's evenly timed and balanced, without leaving a beginning or end blob.

 
 

4. Walls

6 Tips to Solve your Copic Marker Blending Problems | VanillaArts.com

Walls occur when you forget to flick or feather.

It happens when you start coloring too fast and your flicks turn into a zig-zag back and forth stroke that never quite lifts up off the paper.

I've used YG67 here in a zig zag application. See the blunt tips on the left ends of each stroke? There's no lift off or triangle tapering-off, the pigment just stops dead and reverses direction.

That makes it harder for the YG63 to come along and blend with it.

Think about it- if you're building a road, you don't want to leave a big pile of unusued asphalt at the end of the road when your shift ends. By the time you get to work tomorrow, that pile will be hardened and you'll have to grind it down before you can continue the road out smoothly.

So why would you leave a big pile of pigment at the end of your strokes? You're going to have to melt down that wall before any blending can begin. Often times, you'll have to really scrub at a wall. If you taper your strokes instead of zig-zagging, you will have a much easier time blending.

 

5. Tip-Flicking

6 Tips to Solve your Copic Marker Blending Problems | VanillaArts.com

My most timid students tip-flick.

Maybe it's because they're intimidated by the color, perhaps they're conserving ink, or maybe they figure that small marks are easier to correct than big marks.

It doesn't really matter why you tip-flick, you make your life harder when you don't give yourself adequate space to blend.

Here's tip flicking at it's worst.

In order to feather, we need a nice build up of each color plus an area where the two colors can meld and blend and genrerally overlap each other.

So that's three zones you need:

  1. Color A all by itself

  2. Color A & Color B getting happy with each other

  3. Color B all by itself

Tip flickers cheat the first zone and leave no ink for the blend zone. You simply can't blend if you don't have enough color there to blend with. There's lots of BG05 here but who is she supposed to dance with? The BG09 strokes need to be longer and closer together in order to survive the blending process, otherwise it's going to look like all 05 by the time you get it all smooth.

 

6. Oil Slicks

6 Tips to Solve your Copic Marker Blending Problems | VanillaArts.com

Oil slicks happen when your paper becomes saturated beyond its holding capacity. Basically, you've dumped a gallon of ink on a one teaspoon area.

When your paper can't absorb more ink, the remaining ink begins to congeal in a jelly layer on top of the paper. It looks dark and can sometimes be sticky. With Copic inks, it will have a slight metallic sheen, just like rainbow oil spills on the street after a rainstorm.

Oil slicks usually happen for one of two reasons:

  1. You made a mistake and over-corrected with a lot of colorless blender plus a second (and third layer) of the original marker colors.

  2. You tip flicked or built a wall, then overused your lightest marker in an effort to coax out a decent blend.

What you can't see in this scan of my oil slick is the sticky area in the center. I had to use a bit of alcohol on a tissue to clean off the glass of my scanner because this picture left an ink smudge.

I have a few students that if I don't keep their hands busy, they'll go back to previously colored areas and add more. They add more to everything. They'll re-blend perfectly good areas, they'll re-smooth the smooth sections. I'm not sure why but some students have trouble just letting things be.

6 Tips to Solve your Copic Marker Blending Problems | VanillaArts.com

If you know that you have a heavy hand with your inks or that you're a frequent re-blender, you need to monitor the back of your paper- CONSTANTLY. If the backside starts looking identical to the front, you're on teetering on the ledge between a-okay and Exxon Valdez.

Once the paper gets this colorful on the backside, no good can come from adding anything more.

Oil slicks will not dry, they will not lighten. In fact, I've long suspected that oil slicks actually get darker as they get rubbery- exactly like the ketchup that congeals inside the bottle cap.

 

Well, there are the top six major blending errors.

I'm guilty of all of them at one time or another, especially dry-markering.

Oh boy, do I love to dry marker stuff. Nine times out of ten when the thought runs through my brain "Huh, guess you can't color very well today, Amy" it's a sure sign that I need to stop and refill the darned marker.

Instead of berating yourself for having a bad coloring day, next time take a look at your marker strokes. What are you doing to create the problem. Diagnose the problem and you can turn a gray day into B14!

What's your private pitfall? Tell us about it and let's commiserate together!

Quick Tip: Tip-Loading Copic Markers for Extra Juiciness

 

The new Free Digi Club image for July has dots

But unlike last month's pointillism technique, this month the dots are REMOVED rather than ADDED.

I do this with a 0 Copic marker- that's a zero, the so-called Colorless Blender.

The secrets of Copic Colorless Blender Dots | VanillaArts.com

But there's a trick to getting pretty little colorless blender dots like this:

Unless you just refilled your colorless blender marker only seconds ago, it doesn't have enough juice to lay down perfect dots each time.

In order to get good dots, you've got to have enough moisture in your brush tip to get in and really push the base marker color away. You need a shiny-wet brush tip.

Remember- subtraction requires more moisture than addition.

But frankly, most of my markers haven't been full and shiny tipped since they left the factory. And I'm usually pushing to get the project finished quickly. Who wants to stop everything just to fill a marker?

 

That's where tip-loading comes in.

Tip loading is easy and quick. 

 
How to Tip-Load | VanillaArts.com
 
  • Uncap both your marker and your Various Ink refill bottle.

  • Insert the tip of the brush tip into the opening and gently press to form a seal.

  • Move both the bottle and marker around until the bottle is above the marker.

  • Letting gravity do the work for us, lift slightly on the bottle. Don't remove the tip completely from the opening, just lift a micro-amount to let the solution flow. You'll see it start to ooze out around and down the sides of the brush tip.

  • Adjust the opening as necessary, you want just enough fluid to wet the tip BUT the tip should absorb everything you release. You DO NOT want ink dripping down the sides of the marker. Go slow at first until you're good at this.

  • Repeat 2-3 times until the tip looks shiny and moist.

Wait about 30-60 seconds before touching the tip to paper, just enough time to let it sink in a little. You don't want to accidentally leave a big blob of blender on your paper. I usually dab it on the back of my hand or a bit of paper towel once to insure that I didn't overfill the tip.

You can do this with colored ink too, it's usually enough of a boost to get you though the section you were coloring. It's not enough to finish an entire image but it can keep you from interrupting the blending process for a full-blown refill.

Oh and one more thing... 

 
 
Copic Colorless Blender Options | VanillaArts.com

It helps to use the small Various Ink refill bottle.

Yes, I love the big 200cc bottle dearly but even I'm not brave enough to try tip loading directly from a big bottle.

Whoa. I see disaster looming there.

I use my big bottle to refill my smaller bottle.

I know, I know. It's a pain in the keister to buy both. And I know it feels like absolute idiocy to refill a refill bottle. But I guarantee, you will have a lot more control working with the  25cc bottle than the mongo bottle.

This stuff isn't cheap and there's no way to get it back into the bottle after it has dripped all over your hand, desktop, lap, and all over your little dog too.

Save the tight-rope walking, the base-jumping, and the 200cc tip loading to those who don't mind dying today.

I'll sit over here with the chickens, refiling from the dinky bottle.

 

Tip-Loading- it's my top secret to pretty little Colorless Blender dots. 

It's also the closest I ever get to livin' la vida loca.

Copic Tips | VanillaArts.com