Coloring in Layers . . .

Updated: 4 days ago


Does that mean anything to you (coloring in layers)? If you said no, don’t feel bad because It took nearly four years of coloring before it really meant something to me. I can remember the first time I was asked, “how many layers did you put on that”? Layers . . . what the heck did that mean? I had no idea. I thought that layers were just the number of colored pencils I used to color the image.


I now know that the number of pencils or markers used has nothing to do with the number of layers I put down on the paper.

Here’s what I’ve learned about layers as they relate to my Copic markers.


When I am coloring with a Copic marker, the color will change each time I put a stroke of ink on my paper—in this case, the stroke is representing a “layer”. One stroke of the marker onto the paper is the actual marker color. But when you go over it with another stroke of the same marker the color becomes a bit more intense (which changes the color). As you know, when coloring with Copic markers, it’s nearly impossible to just lay down one layer into any size image that is larger than the nib of the marker! So you color carefully as to keep the color as consistent and close to the color you desire. I also know, that when coloring with Copic markers, we don’t normally think of it in terms of layers. Instead, it’s normally a question of how many markers were used to create a blend or color run. In the end, each of the markers are put down in a specific order so it could be said that they are “layers” of color also.


But when it comes to layers, I do believe most people are referring to the application of colored pencils. My total lack of experience with colored pencils was evident from the starting gate. I thought that coloring with pencils would be like drinking a glass of water. We all can do that without giving it too much thought. Well, it’s true, when I decided to color an apple, I didn’t give it much thought. I knew I needed an outline of an apple on my paper and a red colored pencil. I filled in the apple with the red pencil and then to jazz it up, I grabbed a brown pencil for the stem. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Ok, you know it was a disaster. It was as flat as a pancake, the color wasn’t even, the paper was showing through . . . let’s just stop there.


What I now know is that I needed more colored pencil on the apple. What I had thought I had done was color my apple. In reality, all I had done was laid down a base “layer” of color. It would require me to color over the base layer several more times before the apple would come to life. At first, I thought this was boring, coloring multiple layers—why?! Now I find it exciting as with each layer I add I can change the color of pencil I’m using to develop richer color or add the shading that makes this flat image take on the form of an apple.

That is the power of layers. Like building a house, you start with a foundation layer, then you go up floor-by-floor until out of nothing comes this incredible home. So, when you hear that colored pencil is a slow art form, don’t be discouraged. It changes with each pass and you are in charge.


Another benefit for me of finally understanding “layers” is that I find that I now dissect the things I’m going to color into layers. I first look for the what I think is the base of the subject. That is where I will start my coloring. To that I will build up layers of color until my subject has taken on a life like form with shading and contrast. It is then that I will add the finishing details. Doing this has made it easier for me to look at photo references different too. I am learning to block out the details to see what’s underneath it all!

Too bad there aren’t “layer” glasses for colorers. Now that would be a fun tool. Just put them on and you see our subject in layers. Thankfully, we can train ourselves to do this without the glasses.

It may take me longer than most, but once I figure something out for myself I find it exciting because it really does push me to expand my art explorations.

When we think of summer, we think of the sun. Where there is sunshine, there are shadows! And yes, shadows are what we are practicing this month in the Corner.


Adding shadows to your coloring projects will not only anchor the image to the page, they can set a mood, tell you something about the time of day and add depth.

Time for me to get back to my practice. My technical drills are calling. It's never too late for you to overcome the fear of adding shadows to your coloring images.


If you are reading this after we moved on to the next technique, you will be able to find the Practice Technique Pack for Shadows here.

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