Is Your Coloring Flat? Why you need to own lots of ugly Copic Markers


Do you have depth problems?

It's a common complaint I hear from new Copic Marker students.

I've tried and I've tried. I've taken classes and I've worked through every tutorial I can get my hands on. I own a lot of markers and I keep trying new blending combinations... but still, everything I color looks flat!

Part of the problem is the learning process. Free tutorials can only teach you what the blogger is willing to give away for free. Which usually isn't much and it's almost always relegated to how they colored one particular stamp.

But honestly? The source and true underlying problem is glaringly obvious when I ask to see what markers the person owns. This is photo is fairly typical; most people only own the beautiful colors.

Is your coloring flat and lacking in depth? Why you need to own lots of ugly Copic Markers. |

It's fun to buy pretty markers

Copic newbies buy markers in small bursts, carefully selecting only the best and most beautiful colors.

Oh! That's pretty! I like that red and the purple... I should get a pink? That one's nice. Let's get a green too!

You did the same thing, didn't you? When every dollar counts, you select the colors you love most. That's completely logical. I get it.

But then you get home and find that you can't color anything because you only own two greens, a bright yellow, fire engine red, and three pale violets.


So you head back to the store

Because the internet said that you should buy markers in blending combinations.

And the internet never lies, right?

So you plop down more hard-earned cash to purchase two markers to go with each of your existing markers. You start buying Copics by number, one step up and one step down. Perfect little Copic approved blending combinations.

Now you feel special because you own lots of markers; enough to need a special box and to fill out lots of rectangles in your inventory chart. And hey, look at all the blending trios! Aren't you clever?

But you still can't color much because you haven't done a thing to remedy the fact that you're STILL sitting there with only green, yellow, red, and violet markers.

You can't color bears, you can't color Easter baskets, you can't color chickens, or sailboats or monkeys or piglets or rainbows or ice cream or that funny stamp with smiling underwear rolling around in a little clothes dryer.


then you get smart

You take your stamps to the store.

This weekend I'm going to color the bear. I need a brown bear combination. No pretty colors, just a brown trio!

About now is when students usually hunt me down for help. They own over a hundred markers and still can't color much. And it's all flat. No depth. No dimension. Just pretty colored flatness.

Is your coloring flat and lacking in depth? Why you need to own lots of ugly Copic Markers. |

If you want dimension, you've gotta get ugly!

I colored this C. C. Designs image using just pretty colors. I used a couple nice skin tones, some lovely hair colors, a few cute pinks and two dreamy blues.

Then I did my usual colored pencil magic over the top. I added all the texture I normally would. But again, I only used pretty pinks and blues and one Copic approved Sepia Multiliner.

Boring. Snooze fest. Unimpressive.

What's missing?


Neutrals! Desaturated Colors! Muddy Tones!

Is your coloring flat and lacking in depth? Why you need to own lots of ugly Copic Markers. |

You know, the colors that you skipped over because they're not very pretty?

I'll buy a few grays someday... but first I want to own all the cute colors.

Here is Bunny Twila again. I used all the same colors as the first shot, but this time I added the grunge.


Completely different.

It's important to understand that depth is a trick of the eye, a false sense of spacial distance. The look of distance doesn't come from using a darker marker. It's not the dark pink that makes the inside of Twila's bunny-rabbit ears look deep and inset.

Instead, the central ear looks deep because I muddied up the color by putting some gray underneath the pink. Then I added some Indigo Blue pencil on top. Gray? Indigo? On pink?

The inside of her ears is not a pretty color anymore, but it does look pretty darned dimensional. If you want objects to look deep or recessed, you have to shade them and that's different than coloring them with the next level of pink.


Copic makes 44 gray markers

And they have a ton of pseudo grays hiding in amongst the other color families.

And I'll bet that even if you own some of them, you're not using them.

You have to make a little mud if you want to get dimensional. That means choosing grays or other colors that deliberately clash with your pretty markers.

Underneath your sunshine yellows, there needs to be a little violet. Under your skin tones, you gotta have some sleep-deprived-eye-bag blue. Reds need more than burgundy to look shaded. And don't get me started on the wonderful relationship between orange and purple!

Is your coloring flat and lacking in depth? Why you need to own lots of ugly Copic Markers. |

If all of this sounds foreign to you, you are not alone

Is your coloring flat and lacking in depth? Why you need to own lots of ugly Copic Markers. |

Free tutorials don't cover this stuff because it's not something you can explain in four paragraphs and a few tut photos.

And frankly, most Copic instructors don't understand desaturation well enough to teach it. Ask 'em why some artists use bold violet on faces and you're not likely to get a correct answer.

It's easy to include a gray marker in a free tutorial, especially when you saw someone else use the same recipe and it magically worked for them. So why not pass it on in your blog readers too? 

It's much harder to explain why it works or to give readers advice on other similarly effective colors. 

A student asked me what Copic Markers I use most

Here's the list.

Not what you expected, eh?

You would never know from this list that red is my favorite color. You can't tell that BG11 appears in almost all my color palettes or that I go through YG03 like it's water. And my list here isn't muted because I only draw and color drab or uninteresting things. I use these markers on everything from freelance human anatomy and technical illustrations to my hobby botanicals.

And yet, these are the markers that sit in little mug on my desk. They rarely go back into my marker storage unit. There's no point in putting away something I'm going to use again soon.

My most used markers won't win any beauty contests. Thhey're not the stars of the show but they are the supporting cast of every image that I color. Every single one.

I use this weird raggle-taggle group of ugly markers to push the beauty queen colors deeper, farther, and stronger. These are the colors I use to create dimension. I don't use them to color, I use them to color my colors.

And I can teach you too.


Join me in a coloring class- learn to push colors to a whole new depth

You'll never look at color the same way again.

Is your coloring flat and lacking in depth? Why you need to own lots of ugly Copic Markers. |

Online Copic Course- break the Blending rules! Marker Painting Foundations, Week 4


Be good and follow the rules...

But what if the rules are silly and rather useless?

And what if the rules lock you into a lifetime of flat, bland, childish coloring?

You've been sold a bill of goods

Copic Trios are not the solution to your flat coloring problems! |

You fell for the snake oil and bought the Brooklyn Bridge.

To blend Copic Markers smoothly, choose markers from the same color family. Always match the first (intermediate) number, then select markers whose final number are at least 2 spaces apart.

I'm not saying the trio method doesn't work. Markers matched according to the trio rules do blend rather well.

But trios are a complete snoozefest.

They also lock you into flat, cartoonish coloring. Do you want depth, dimension, and realism?

Then you have to break the rules.


I understand the desire for rules

A lot of Copic fans come to coloring from the craft world where projects are laid out for you in numbered steps:

To color a martini:

  1. Starting with a YG95 marker, gently fill in the entire olive with a single coat of marker. Do not leave any white space or go outside the olive's outline.

  2. With a YG97 marker, add a small crescent shape to the right side of the olive.

  3. yadda, yadda, yadda...

Tutorials like this make self-teaching easier, right?

So do recipes. "Color a perfect Maraschino Cherry with these three markers!" 

Recipes not only take the guess work out of coloring, they also act as an escape clause for colorers.

So this martini project doesn't look very real but it's not me that failed, it's the recipe. I could color like a professional if I could just find the perfect blending combination!


If you want to color with depth & realism: rethink the rules

Actually, you need to pitch the rules right out the window.

And burn your recipes in a backyard bonfire.

In my new beginner level coloring course, I teach marker students to approach color as painters do, using color as a flexible tool rather than a set formula.

You don't have to be a formally trained artist to use color instinctively and convincingly. Everyone can use painterly techniques.

You don't have to be locked into a lifetime of coloring tutorials.

You can learn to color independently without the need of recipes and rules.

Marker Painting Foundations- giving you the techniques and mindset to color with serious depth and realism. |

break the rules. color like a rebel.

Marker Painting Foundations is a twelve week course with 26 lessons.

Real lessons, not demonstrations. We use real images, not exercise boxes and spheres.

In weeks 1 to 3, we work on the standard blending thing. How to do it, how to trouble shoot it, understanding from a chemical level how blending works. It's basic stuff but with my usual Vanilla twists.

Marker Painting Foundations help you break the Copic Marker rules. Because you can't make art if you're handcuffed to blending trios. |

But starting in week 4, we get crazy and branch out into areas no other marker course goes:

  • rebel blending

  • value teeter tottering

  • shade versus shadow

  • color sculpting

  • underpainting

  • pushing with desaturation

  • complementary coloring

  • surface variety

  • hot spots and low lights

Uhm, yeah. This is all beginner stuff too. This is the stuff that crafty tutorial writers don't know or don't understand.

My goal isn't to teach you how to color this stamp or that stamp. I want to give you lifetime tools.

I want you to blend like a rebel and color like an artist.


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. |

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. |

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.

Layering Colored Pencil over Copic: does it make a difference?


I always add colored pencil accents to my Copic projects


Let's talk today about whether it makes a difference.

Or maybe not.

How about if I just let the photographs speak?


Here is a nice Copic project:

Not bad. Nothing super wrong about it. Gets the job done.

Here it is with colored pencil details:

Layering colored pencil over your Copic coloring. Does it make a difference? |
Layering colored pencil over your Copic coloring. Does it make a difference? |

'nuff said?

Yes. It makes a difference.


More discussion on texture & details here.


By the way...

The Ginko Leaves image is part of my online beginner level Marker Painting Foundations course. Yes, that's a beginner level image, part of the blending lesson in week 3.

This isn't a class that teaches you trendy techniques like colorless blender texture or ink transfer. There's a ton of that stuff floating around on the internet for free, so why pay for it?

Instead, students receive a solid grounding in color theory, color sculpting, and how to develop depth for convincing realism. There's nothing trendy about this information; artists have been using it for years and now I'll help you apply it to your marker projects!

Join any time, forever access, supportive discussion group. We build more than marker proficiency, this is the foundation for art!

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Layering colored pencil over your Copic coloring. Does it make a difference? |