The Ugly-Duckling Phase of Coloring
Have you experienced this marker-painting phenomenon:
You notice that Vanilla Arts has released the most spectacular coloring class ever. You’re totally psyched to color it! Your heart thuds with excitement as you lean in, coaxing the image to life with your most realistic Copic Marker and colored pencil coloring to date. You’re using all the techniques and skills in your arsenal.
Thoughts of grandeur beckon…
“Tim Holtz will see this and follow me on Instagram! Jennifer Dove will weep at the beauty. No, no, wait! Jennifer McGuire will hire me for Copic consultation!”
Exhilaration makes you tipsy.
Hours later, you hit the pause button when panic sets in.
Your pièce de résistance, looks…
There’s no way of dancing around it. The artwork may only be half finished, but man! This looks TERRIBLE!!!
Oh no, did you waste your time and your expensive supplies?
It’s not done yet but ugh, it’s ugly!
Should you just throw the dumb thing out?
Maybe; just maybe… you’re not good enough to be a real artist?
Stop right there!
Today’s Inkwell is a blast of realistic insight on the normal creative process.
Don’t pack up your Copics just yet!
You bet’cha! Catherine’s Inkwell series is about looking beyond the dreamy wishes and artsy fantasies.
Great ideas don’t spring out of nowhere and sometimes the artistic process is anything but glamorous.
Artists are at their most creative when they work at being creative.
You can be creative too! Catherine shows you how.
Better thinking for better inking!
Inkwell No. 2: Real Life Versus The Fairy Tale
by Catherine Anderson
My Mum was cagey. She knew how to motivate my brother and me.
If you want a story, you’d better hurry up!”
Bedtime stories? No lollygagging for us!
Teeth were brushed, jammies donned, dirty clothes dumped into the laundry basket, and clean clothes shoved under the bed.
Wait! Under the bed?
Of course! That’s where every 6 year old deposits everything when a bedtime story is imminent.
Bedtime stories were special to me. Happily snuggled up on the couch with my mother and brother, I first learned about the ugly duckling.
Are you familiar with the Hans Christian Anderson tale?
Let me give you the “Hans Catherine Anderson” version:
once upon a time…
A duck had six beautiful eggs. She faithfully tended and kept them warm.
One by one, the shells cracked open and five fluffy yellow ducklings surrounded their overjoyed mama!
Five? What happened to the sixth egg?
(Quick! Grab a tissue because this is the tearjerker part…)
That sixth egg wasn’t so easy. It took another two weeks of tending and fussing to crack open.
When the last little duckling hatched, he was a crushing disappointment to his family.
He was such an ugly duckling!
The other ducklings strutted and preened their bright yellow fluff. They joked about how dull and gray he was.
Rejected and unloved, the poor ugly duckling ran away.
Months passed. He struggled through the cold winter with a lonely, broken heart.
In the warm spring sun, the ugly duckling ventured down to the lake.
Floating on the water were the most beautiful birds! Their elegant necks arched to greet him.
He was mortified to have such majestic creatures notice him. He hid in the bushes but the swans called out, “Come, join us!”
Ashamed of his dull gray fluff, he blushed and glanced down at the water.
But wait! Who was that beautiful bird reflected in the surface of the water?
While he had endured alone through the dark winter, the ugly duckling had grown into a beautiful swan!
Ugly Duckling Syndrome
Psssttt...true confession time.
It happens to us all— the Ugly Duckling Syndrome.
You’re halfway into a project that showed so much potential! The idea was great. You planned to use the most beautiful colors. The coloring techniques are sure to be perfect.
And yet you’re struggling to press on because… well, it simply does not look good!
This isn’t a case of being too hard on yourself. It’s obvious the project is ugly.
Here are some warning signs:
You teeter between sobbing and hyperventilating.
The thrill is gone. It’s really hard to keep working on anything that looks this wrong.
You keep shifting, trying to find the one angle where the art doesn’t look that bad. Even if you close your eyes, it still stinks!
You start listing your Copics on EBay with the “Make an Offer” button
You tell yourself that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get it right…and never will
You’re ready to give up
Oh, dear reader, PLEASE DON’T GIVE UP!
Everyone who has ever colored with Copics or wielded a Prismacolor has suffered at one time or another from Ugly Duckling Syndrome.
Me more than most!
Bashfully, I have to admit that roughly 99.99674% of my projects go through this dreaded awkward stage.
And almost every time, I am ready to toss the ill-fated X-Press It into the trash and take up a less stressful sport.
Or running with the bulls in Spain.
But there is one thing that keeps me pressing on and turning a deaf ear to the dastardly voices of doom...
Every masterpiece has an awkward stage.
(Yes, you read that right… every, single one!)
are you discouraged?
Ugly Duckling Syndrome doesn’t just affect the arts.
It creeps into every vestige of life, so it is wise to learn how to brace yourself against it.
Marriages go through many mundane moments that require love and determination to succeed.
Raising teenagers is prime Ugly Duckling Syndrome. Your children are no longer the delightful cherubs they once were, nor are they the brilliant adults they will yet be.
If you want to create a masterpiece, never let Ugly Duckling Syndrome stop you!
So what’s happening here?
Why does great coloring look bad at the halfway point?
Well duh, it’s only the halfway point. It’s not finished yet.
But there’s actually something deeper going on, psychologically.
When you start a project, it’s all rainbow hopes and unicorn dreams.
“I am going to color the most beautiful purple flowers!”
You say you’ve got the project all pictured in your head.
But you really don’t.
You don’t actually daydream about the steps to coloring purple flower petals.
Instead, you’re dreaming about vague things— how much you love purple…. how wonderful it will feel to color again today… chipmunks and sparrows will peek in your craft room window and sing songs about your talent… and your husband will organize a ticker-tape parade when he sees your amazing project…
Most people don’t daydream about the actual coloring process.
So you fall in love with the idea of coloring a purple flower.
Folks, the idea is not the thing.
When the chipmunks don’t sing and your husband isn’t on the phone ordering a ton of ticker-tape, it feels like a let-down. You had high hopes but all you’ve got now is a half-colored geranium.
It can’t live up to the cheering-husband hype.
But again, let me remind you… all these mental gymnastics are done at the halfway point.
You are not done yet.
Every artist experiences the awkward stage
Examine the dubious beginnings of my purple version of the Scarlet Geranium project.
Initially, the underpainting made the YG background look sour.
Fortunately, I had already tested my colors on some small thumbnail sketches. By sticking to the plan, this ugly duckling eventually emerged as a beautiful swan!
Here’s another example
Check out the ugly duckling stage from my last Inkwell image using the digital stamp and petal technique from the Vanilla Arts Calendula class.
I had already invested several hours in coloring before beginning my watercolor technique.
My heart sank when I surveyed what I thought was complete and utter disaster!
The most important thing to remember is:
Giving up means certain failure.
5 CURES FOR UGLY DUCKLING SYNDROME:
1) Do not color tired…
If you are exhausted or frustrated, take a break.
Muses can not be forced and wise artistic decisions shouldn’t be made when you are upset.
A good night’s rest will provide a more optimistic outlook!
2) Use thumbnail sketches…
Test techniques and colors on small prints of your image BEFORE you start your final version.
Artists and designers make mock thumbnails for every project and you should too!
And by the way, cheap copy paper won’t give a proper assessment of how your Copic color blends will react. Splurging with a 57-cent sheet of X-Press IT Blending Card is a small investment when you consider the hours spent coloring your final project.
3) Gawky phases are normal…
Every project has a yucky stage that will make you doubt yourself.
Dig into life’s experiences for boldness to continue.
When making a cake, a big taste of the dry powdery mixture of flour, salt and baking powder won’t tell you how delicious the finished dessert will be!
4) Keep things in perspective…
Art is important and creativity beautifies the world around us.
But art is not brain surgery.
Nobody will live or die based on the final outcome of a Scarlet Geranium project. Lighten up on yourself! You’ll feel more relaxed but you’ll also find you make better decisions when the fate of the world isn’t at stake.
5) “Chalk it up to experience!”…
My husband’s Grandpa Anderson viewed mistakes as fantastic learning opportunities. “Really, what’s the worst that can happen?”
Exactly what would happen if your ugly duckling turns into a full-fledged ugly duck?
Growing as an artist requires knowing what-not-to-do as much as learning what-to-do!
All good art goes through awkward, bumbling, ugly stages.
This is normal. Press on!
And they all colored happily ever after!
Beautiful projects begin with beautiful images!
It’s hard to go wrong with floral images this stunning! The Vanilla Arts repertoire of top-rated Copic workshops has just expanded! We are proud to present our “Scarlet Geranium” Workshop. This includes a full 126 minutes of video demonstration time, a 13 minute Technique Deep Dive lesson, a Copic/Prismacolor recipe, as well as this magnificent Geranium digital stamp, illustrated by our very own Amy Shulke.
Calendula teaches you how to approach the color yellow in all your coloring projects and teaches you overpainting using bold yellows.
Marker Painting is a completely different approach to coloring with markers.
Amy teaches students basic techniques and color theory based on the way artists use paint. Instead of focusing on "how" to color a selected stamp image, Amy shows you the "why" behind color selection, shade, layering, depth, and form.
This provides students with the necessary knowledge to color any stamp image in their collection and every stamp they might purchase in the future.
Join professional illustrator Amy Shulke for Vanilla Livestream coloring demonstrations. Amy shows you her authentic and unvarnished artist’s process for developing next-level mixed media coloring projects.
Every episode of Vanilla Livestream presents you with a new artistic concept or skill. Amy introduces the technique in easy to understand, easy to practice steps, but then inspires you to apply the same skill towards your own independent projects.
Vanilla Livestreams are more than a fun project to keep your hands busy, they’re filled with practical advice for a lifetime of artistry.
Catherine Anderson is a graphic designer who is fearless in her use of color and detail.
She is the Studio Journal editor at Vanilla Arts Company. Catherine writes the Vanilla Voices Inkwell series of articles here and guest posts at PowerPoppy.com.
She is originally from Prince Edward Island, Canada but to our knowledge, Catherine has never broken a slate over anyone’s head. Just to be safe, don’t yank on her braids.
Supplies used in “Scarlet Geranium”:
Supplies used in “Calendula”
Supplies used in “Splashy Hydrangea”
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