Monday, November 4, 2019

The Artist’s Notebook: Blessed with Color

Tis the Season!

This is the most creative time of the year, when we pull out all our very best art supplies to color cards, decorate our homes, and make special gifts for friends and family. Your Copic Markers, colored pencils, and pretty watercolors get a real work-out in November and December.

So right at the start of the season, before you find yourself completely overwhelmed by piles half finished hand-colored Christmas gifts…

Let’s take a few moments to appreciate our blessings.

We are very lucky to have beautiful art supplies at our fingertips. So many colors, amazing products, all in beautiful packaging.

We are fortunate to live at a time when high quality art supplies are very accessible.

Hello, my name is Amy Shulke and I’m the illustrator and art instructor over at Last month, we talked about how to create eye popping color palettes. Today I’d like to show you behind the scenes of my latest coloring project, Silvered Pumpkins.

Today, let’s pause for a moment to appreciate the art supplies we have.

Now I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes at me,  thinking:

 “Sure, I’m grateful and all… but honestly? I don’t have a full set of Copics yet. I still don’t have a lot of colored pencils and someday I want to buy beautiful tubes of watercolor. Then there’s that cool pen and ink set, oh and that pretty gouache stuff, and the…”

The truth is, we never have all the supplies we want.

There are always more colors and new products on our wish list.

We could be grateful for what we have. But we’d be more grateful if we could just win the lottery and buy out the local art store.

Here’s the thing though:

Even though your color collection is small, you probably own more colors, products, and general supplies than Rembrandt did. 

Or Van Gogh.

Or Michaelangelo.

You may not own a lot, but you have the world at your fingertips.

You don't need every color to make something beautiful. 

The great masters of art who lived and died long before you were born managed just fine with far less than you own now.

In fact, there’s a very strong case to be made that great art comes from almost empty supply cabinets.

There’s a common misconception in the coloring community— that you need to own all the colors and have complete sets to make anything pretty.

You assume that if you walk into an artist’s studio, you’ll see every color ever made. And in some cases that’s kind’a true. Artists can be a little bit pack-ratty; we tend to collect a lot of stuff.

But then ask the artist how many of those colors he or she actually uses on a day to day basis? The artist would point to maybe eight tubes of paint.

The Silvered Pumpkin project here is a case in point.

I didn’t use any Copics or Prismacolor pencils here that I haven’t been using daily for the past several years. The supply list for this project is pretty similar to last month’s fox and last year’s maple leaf.

Students who have taken my classes long term can attest to the fact that we use similar markers every time. We use them in different ways and in different combinations but the supply lists all draw from the same core colors. I teach a monthly local class using a starter set of 42 Copics and we’ve been using the same markers since 2015.

My markers and pencils don’t change much from day to day.

I have more markers, that’s not the point. When I need a gray, I tend to pull out the same grays. When I need a gold, it’s the same golds. And I use the same greens over and over again until I can’t stand the sight of them any longer.

I may own a full Copic collection but I use less than half of them.

One of the biggest ironies in Copic is that the people who own a full collection often use them like children use Crayola Markers. They cram as many bright colors as they can into every project. Color intense projects can look happy and playful but it can also look primitive and juvenile.

The blessing of a large collection is actually a curse.

With a large selection of colors, people tend to grab the precise color they want. So if they’re coloring orange pumpkins, they’ll pull out an orange marker.

What you want when you want it? It sounds like a blessing right?

But it’s not. Owning every orange is a crutch.

Artistry comes from layering and mixing colors to make new and unique colors.

It’s not about the colors you own, it’s about the colors you create.

I did not use any orange markers or pencils in the Silvered Pumpkin project.  The pumpkins were colored with deep yellow, bright red, grape juice purple, and a mossy green.

My pumpkins look artistic and unique because I didn’t use the same old orange Copic combination topped off with a Prismacolor Orange pencil.

Anyone can color that pumpkin. Everyone colors that pumpkin.

It’s the artist that finds a different path to orange.

My unique orange started with this photo reference. 

When I looked closely at the orange stripes, I saw more than one color inside the stripes. When I let my eyes focus on the details of the color, I realized I wasn’t seeing orange at all. I see a bold yellow that shifts to red in the deepest parts of the valleys.

At quick glance, most people see orange. But the slower, deep-thinking part of my artist’s brain sees yellow and red.

So yellow and red are the pencils I started with. Then by swatching on scrap paper, I found that I could deepen the red with a grape jelly color. Further swatching showed me that I could shade and neutralize the yellow-red-grape areas with a mossy green.

At quick glance, most people see orange but I never actually used orange.

Beauty and artistry come from using more than orange.

This is the blessing that comes from having really good art supplies. You can’t do this kind of color mixing and experimentation with school pencils and cheap markers. The fillers, additives, and low grade pigments used to price them inexpensively also make them hard to predict and difficult to mix. Copics and Prismacolors were born to be mixed reliably and consistently.

But wait. It's easy to read advice.

“Mix your own color” sounds very reasonable and super simple when I write about it here in a blog post.

Then when you sit down to color on your own, you feel lost. How are you supposed to know which colors make pretty orange? How can you tell which colors make ugly orange? Where are the instructions? Where are the rules?

That’s why you keep feeling under-blessed.

Because you feel lost, you naturally assume that you’re missing something. That you don’t have quite enough to make it work. Maybe with just a few more markers or if you had the bigger pencil set… you’re always just a few purchases away from feeling confident and knowing what to do.

Having more art supplies isn’t going to solve this.

How do you know which colors to mix to make pretty orange?

Use your blessings the way they were born to be used.

So here’s my Artist’s Notebook challenge for you this month and I know you can do it.


Color little test swatches and experiment to see what colors your artist grade tools can make. Challenge yourself to leave the standard blending recipes behind. Make a new combination and then next week challenge yourself to find an even odder combination.

Color more frequently and choose the kind of images that feel just a wee bit harder than usual. Stretch yourself rather than sticking to what feels easy and comfortable.

And don’t go into every project expecting it to end up as a fabulous card. Experimentation is an ugly process and not every experiment will be gift-worthy or even fridge-worthy.

When you use your blessings, it snowballs. Compound blessings.

Your artist grade supplies are a gift. You are fortunate to have them but if you waste their potential, you expend your own potential too.

The blessing is not the actual marker or the pencil in your hand. The blessing is what you can make with them. What you can learn from them.

The more you experiment with color, the more you’ll learn. The more you learn, the more confident and more blessed you will feel.

Don’t squander your precious gifts.

Do you want to color Power Poppy’s Pumpkins and Pears with me?

My Silvered Pumpkins project uses Marcella's darling Pumpkins & Pears digital stamp, available here. Silvered Pumpkins is part of the Vanilla Livestream series for intermediate to advanced Copic colorers. This lesson covers how to begin thinking about color as a tool rather than a decoration. We’ll add depth by controlling the temperature of our colors the same way still-life and landscape artists do.

You can find out more about Vanilla Livestream demonstrations here.

And hey, I’ll see you next month for another glance into my Artist’s Notebook!


Annamarie's Blog said...

Loved this post. Really interesting and informative.

Marcella Hawley said...

Amy - Your post is blowing my mind! Truly helpful in a hundred ways!! You are the bees' knees, thank you for sharing your wonderful artistry and knowledge!

Chark said...

beautiful and well said!

Katy McGloin said...

The artist practice lesson for a lifetime. Thanks, Amy (and Marcella, too!)

Henriëtte said...

Always great to read the Artist's Notebook posts. Very informative and I learn a lot or read things I do in my way confirmed and deepened .
Thank you so much for sharing your tips and tricks Amy.