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side by side learning

Online lessons and large local classes can only take you so far.

You'll be amazed at how much you can learn in a small group atmosphere where the instructor is focused on you and your coloring skills.

The goal of Over the Top retreats is to encourage you at your personal level. We will improving the skills you already have and fill in the gaps where you've missed important art concepts.

Most of all, you will not leave the retreat with a bunch of copy-cat projects that look exactly like the instructor's sample.

Learn to color like you! The way you were meant to, in your own style and with your own voice.

You will learn:

  • Color selection based upon photo references rather than supply lists

  • Color interpretation- coloring what you see instead of copying an instructor

  • Developing realistic texture, vibrancy, and desaturation through layering

  • Best practices for starting your own original projects

  • How to push through the awkward phases to the beauty that awaits you farther into the process

  • Encouraging your instincts and trusting your artistic judgement

Amy opens herself up to you and your questions. Every demonstration becomes an open Q&A time where we delve into what you need to learn and what you want to know.


Sample Projects:

Every retreat uses fresh images, each with a specific goal in mind. Here's a sample of what to expect.

Color Sampling  Learn to choose your own colors for realism with an easy-start confidence building project.

"Window Box" by

Texture Sampling  Learn to develop unique stroke patterns to duplicate the textures of a realistic scene.

"Pocket Watch" by

Highlights & Lowlights  Capture realism in a product illustration that stretches your eye for detail.

"Dahlia" by

Beautiful Shading  A final complex floral project will push your mental boundaries to develop accurate shade.


Student Reviews:

The retreat allowed me to put all of the pieces together from Amy's classes so that I could work through a whole project to the end myself. Her input was invaluable to helping me break through some of my hangups that kept me from finishing projects. Her straight-forward advice was helpful. I also liked the ability to get away and concentrate on the art with like-minded folks.

- Jennifer (Marker Painting Foundations student)


Vanilla Arts Company online classes are fantastic. However, there is no substitute for hands on training that you will get from attending a retreat with Amy Shulke. For those that attended the first retreat, a common take-away was that the online training we had worked through came together. You will not only gain knowledge for your craft, but confidence in your art.

- Kathy (Marker Painting Foundations and Colored Pencil Plus student)


Amy's retreat was a gift I gave myself. Her thorough knowledge of the subject matter is what makes her teaching style so superior. She is organized, confident, articulate and generous with her time and critiques. I know these traits come out in her on line classes to some extent, but being with her in person is exactly what you might need to get your art to the next level.

- Marsha (colored pencil student using the retreat as her first Vanilla class)


Four days of instruction

Day one focuses on getting you comfortable with the art supplies, the projects, and the student group.

Day two focuses on the artistic processes required to complete your group of projects. Relaxed demonstrations with open ended Q&A sessions give you a true perspective of how to apply professional methods to your coloring process.

Day three is for the details. By this point, you’ll have lots of questions, about your project and about art in general. We’ll take more time for questions and discussions on this day.

By day four, you'll want to color without interruption. We’ll let you work and only disturb those who ask for help. Amy will use this day to meet with all students for an individualized 20 minute session. Talk about your retreat projects or bring one project from home for advice and encouragement.

"Tangerine Basket" by

Skills & Prerequisites:

For “Over the Top” Copic + Pencil Retreats:

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Projects will be a balance of Copic Markers and Prismacolor Soft Core colored pencils.

Intermediate to advanced Copic skills are required with some experience using colored pencils for details and depth. You must be able to blend both standard and non-standard Copic Marker combinations for gradation and blends and you should understand basic color sculpting techniques (many teachers call color sculpting “shading for depth”).

Students who have taken the Marker Painting Foundations 12 week course will feel at home with our retreat projects which basically resume the online course with what would be Week #13 type lessons. Marker Painting Foundations is not a requirement for Over the Top but the skills you learn in the MPF course will be incredibly helpful.

Students of the Colored Pencil Plus course will enjoy the expansion on CP+ techniques and style. Colored Pencil Plus is also not required. Good colored pencil technique taught by a quality art instructor (not a craft demonstrator) should be more than enough to prepare you for our retreat projects

Those who have studied under other instructors may struggle at first with dark to light coloring or our colored pencil techniques. I do not want to discourage you from attending but know you will face a hurdle if you have never taken a mixed media class or course from Vanilla Arts before.


For “Slightly Beyond” Colored Pencil + Watercolor Retreats:

Projects will lean heavily towards colored pencil due to the fact that most students are relatively new to watercolor. Even those with moderate watercolor experience still may be nervous about their water control skills.

Amy will cover basic watercolor technique in depth! Do not worry. If you have struggled with watercolor before, Amy will get you on the right track with proper water ratios, color mixing tips, and correct brush technique. 

Intermediate to advanced pencil skills are required. You must be able to layer colored pencils for gradation and blends (without use of solvents). You should understand basic color sculpting techniques (some teachers call color sculpting “shading for depth”).

Why combine colored pencils with watercolor? A watercolor underpainting reduces the time it takes to develop vibrant colored pencil colors. Watercolor simply makes colored pencil easier and less stressful.

Besides, Amy prefers watercolor over Copic for a lifetime of artistic work. As fun as markers are, they have definite limitations that watercolor does not. Watercolor can grow with you in a way that markers will not.

Students who have taken the Colored Pencil Plus course will enjoy the expansion of CP+ techniques and style.

Vanilla Arts marker-only students may struggle at first with pencil-focused techniques. Do not panic! All of the color, underpainting, and sculpturing techniques will be immediately familiar to you. This warning is not meant to discourage you from attending, it's simply notice that some experience with colored pencil before the retreat is highly beneficial.

For those who have not taken CP+ or any Vanilla Arts classes/courses, please make sure that you have taken colored pencil classes using artistic techniques rather than craft-level coloring or "make a card" type classes.