• Kathy

What is that color, will this work instead?

Updated: Oct 9

How many times have you asked that question in a coloring class, or simply overheard someone else asking that because you are missing a color that is included on the class supply list.

When I would ask that question I was hoping for an easy answer, a simple yes or no. Not, ”let’s try”. Or worse, “what do you think?” Arrgg, if I knew I wouldn’t have asked the question! That is so like when I would ask how to spell something and I would be told, “look it up”. Look it up . . . how was I supposed to do that when I don’t know how to spell it?! Oh dear, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to take that side trip.


Actually, that little side trip made me realize that there is a parallel between my learning to look up a word I didn’t know how to spell and how to deal with a color that I may not have in my supplies.


The focus of The Practice Corner study this past month has been all about color. Specifically, how do you create a color that is deeper and/or darker than you have in your Copic marker collection. When I started, I had a couple of ideas based on some coloring classes I had taken. But after that, I wasn’t so sure what to do. So I started uncapping my markers and swatching away. I would look at the colors I was creating and I knew right away which results were good and which were bad. Trust me, I know ugly color when I see it! Since I wasn’t looking for ugly color, I would try something else.

I ultimately pulled out a few of my color wheels. I’ve mentioned before how they are more like eye candy than a tool. But I started to move beyond thinking of them as eye candy when I finally learned that to color with realism I would need to start dealing with color complements. Yes, complements not compliments. Wow, took me awhile to spell those correctly. But now I was sitting here trying to create deeper darker colors and the complements weren’t cutting it. So I tried combining colors based on “triads” from the color wheel. Now I was getting somewhere. These color combinations were exciting to me.


But that lead me to thinking, “if only the color wheel had Copic marker numbers (or Prismacolor pencils) on it”. You see, I have nearly all 358 markers and I don’t know which color family (category) a lot of them fit into. Not knowing that makes it harder to know what markers are truly complements, let alone make up the triad.

After searching the internet, I decided that my ideal color wheel of Copic Markers by color family just didn’t exist. Before I knew it, I was creating one for myself. In the end, it’s eye candy and good enough to put on my wall. But will I use it? Maybe, maybe not. Then was it a waste of time? NO. I finally have learned how my markers relate to the color designations on my CMY color wheel. In the process I also learned how I can mix (layer) Copic markers to create new colors.


I no longer fear not having a color that is called for on a class supply list. Instead, I am loving the challenge of figuring out what I can do to create it instead. I find if I ask myself a few questions I can work my way through my markers to do so. The worst outcome, I have to buy that missing marker or colored pencil.


Here’s what I ask myself when I look at a color and try to figure out what it really is:

  • What is the main color I see

  • Do I see a hint of another color (i.e., is there green in that banana peel I'm coloring)

  • Do I perceive the color as light (was it lightened white)

  • Do I perceive the color as dark (was it darkened with black)

  • Do I perceive the color dull (toned done with a grey) or vibrant

The most important step for me to learn what color I need is to “see” the color. When I created my color wheel, I used the CMY color wheel just like a reference photo. I matched my Copic marker ink colors to the CMY wheel as best I could based on what I saw not based on what I thought the color was. By doing this I quickly learned that just because Copic labels a marker in specific family (such as R=red family), it may not be equivalent to anything on my CMY wheel!


You might think I’ve gone color crazy. But there is something exciting about knowing your markers and colored pencils in a way to make them work together to make beautiful works of art. I think it's also great that something that I read three years ago is fresh and means so much more to me today. If you haven't seen this article (or read it again lately), please take a look at this Vanilla Arts blog post. It seems the ability to explore color has been waiting for me to discover it for sometime.


In just a few days the focus of our practice is turning to coloring hair and/or fur. Personally, I'm hoping for a month of good hair days. If you want to get a handle on the hair you color (on paper not your head) then why not join us. There is nothing like having a coloring community to get you in (or out) of a hairy situation when you need the help or inspiration.

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