Vanilla Arts Studio Workshop

Coloring Lessons: Not all Beginner Classes are Created Equal


 A new reader asked for my definition of “beginner”

Copic Club April 2016 "Boom Bots" (Intro to Coloring Metals) |

Not a problem, I don't mind helping students find a comfy spot within my range of classes. It was a friendly email conversation and I hope to meet her in person soon.

Except the conversation was also a bit depressing. She honestly wondered if I taught anything "below what is marked beginner level on your website".

Here's the class project that scared her, "Boom Bots" by Paper Smooches. I'm teaching "Intro to Metals" in April for my Copic Club classes. Copic Club is my base-line, simple, and most relaxed class, designed for beginners. My new friend was intrigued but also seriously intimidated by what she assumed was a class for colorers with more experience than she has. 


What's funny is that she thought I was teaching a class for super-star beginners

Nope, just a regular ol' coloring class.

Unless you count our smashing good looks. Here we are arriving for class. We usually leave our unicorns in the parking lot.

What is different about my class is that I teach from an art standpoint rather than a crafter's outlook. This means that we focus less on the project results and more on perfecting the process of getting there.

It seems counter-intuitive, but by NOT focusing on the stamped image, we end up with a better project in the long run. It's because I didn't teach you how to color a penguin or a grizzly bear; instead, you learned about how to make something smooth and black or fuzzy and brown.

That's a significant difference and it will show in your future coloring.

There are other differences in the way I approach coloring lessons though...


First off, I do not assume beginners are idiots

Coloring students are almost always long time crafters.

Your craft skills will translate. If you've scrapbooked, you know something about color palettes. If you make cards, you know about composition and balance. If you knit, or quilt, or toll-paint bowling balls... whatever it is you did before you were bit by the Copic bug, you bring skills to the coloring table. And most people took art classes in school-- even if high school was 37 years ago, you haven't forgotten it all!

Plus, there's research. You cruised the internets and pinned or bookmarked a ton of marker projects, tips, and tutorials before you worked up the nerve to enroll in my officially-official coloring class. In six years of Copic classes, I've never once encountered a complete newbie who's never touched a marker before.

If anything, my students are way more informed about who is doing what with markers on the internet than I am!

So I'm never going to insult your intelligence by teaching a class on how to uncap a marker.


my beginner classes are taught in simple stages which add up to something complex

It's pretty easy to forget that a seven-tiered wedding cake once started out with eggs, milk, and flour. 

When you look at my project samples, you're seeing the culmination of several steps.  No one step is overly complicated, but they add up to more than you think you can accomplish.

Stages of Vanilla Arts coloring |

We start by determining where shade is the strongest (1). Marker hues go over the shaded bits (2). We then carve out the shape of the object with colored pencils (3).

The very last step is to add texture and detail (4). That last bit of detail work is distracting; it makes our images seem more complex than they really are.

Still chicken? Don't worry! The challenge part of class is always optional. Maybe you don't go full texture and detail for the first few classes. But you'll learn something by being there and hearing it. And there's something about seeing an entire room full of students exceed their own expectations that boosts your own confidence level. "If they can do it, I can too!"


Here's the hidden secret: It's all about the pencils!

Add texture and detail with colored pencil |

Neurosurgeons do not operate on patients with axes and shovels.

Copic markers are strong and bold but if I'm doing piddly detail work, I'm always going to switch to something more precise and controllable. For my classes, that's colored pencil.

Colored pencils have the added bonus of being a comfort tool. You've been holding a pencil pretty regularly since kindergarten, so using a pencil to do the tricky parts feels easier. Bonus points for pencil being erasable! If you screw up, you can always knock it back to start over.

And frankly, colored pencil can do things a marker simply can not do. Pencil adds a crispness that you can't get with a big, fat, juicy brush nib. It's also a great way to add texture, highlight, or shadow.

So even my "Beginner Marker Classes" switch over to pencils about halfway through each lesson. Relax, even if you're not a marker pro, you can fix or improve your marker work with colored pencil.


Sometimes, the value of a class is in what is not included...

There are some techniques and concepts that absolutely do not belong in a beginner level class.

If you're just starting out or you're still not comfortable with markers, it's quite cruel to make you worry about which direction the sun is shining!

I do not teach directional lighting and cast shadowing in any beginner level class. We tackle those skills in intermediate level classes. For beginners, we concentrate on understanding what shape an object is, where it sits in space, and what happens to that shape as it bends or folds. That's challenging enough without worrying about highlights and shadows.

If a teacher introduces directional lighting to your class and it sounds confusing to you, that's a gigantic, flaming, sunburst of a clue that you weren't ready to learn the concept yet!


Beginners require more guidance

"Whoots" beginner coloring |

This is the primary difference between my beginner level and my higher level classes. In beginner classes, we color together, step by step. I do, you do. Look and repeat.

This allows you to see the process and mimic the technique.

But it's not just copy catting, a good beginner instructor will also observe as you color and make suggestions unique to you. It's not enough for you to passively watch a demonstration. Instructor feedback about what your're doing and how you're doing it is essential to learning correct marker technique.

At the intermediate level, we drop the monkey-see-monkey-do demos. You make more decisions and you work independently.


Beginner classes aren't so much about the stamp image or the look of the finished project

it's about how much hand-holding the instructor does to get you to the finish line!


If you live in South Eastern Michigan, please join us for Copic classes in Macomb Township.

If you're not local, watch for the opening of Vanilla Arts Studio Workshops in June 2016. Classes for every level of colorer with forever access and vital instructor access.


You absolutely can do this!

No magical powers required.