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General Tips for Coloring

A while ago, I wrote a post about Tips & Hints for Coloring. I talked about getting comfortable, taking pictures and recording your colors for easy reference. Over time I've picked up several other tips from different artists, blogs, videos and my own experience. You may not use all of them but there are a few that will come in handy sometimes. I'll update this post frequently with other tips I pick up along the way.

You can use a white gel pen (like this one) or white paint marker (Uni Posca) to highlight certain elements on the page like highlights on eyes and lips or any moist/reflective surface. 

Before using any medium in a new book, test it first. Some books offer a palette or testing page for this purpose. If not, just use any of the extra pages each book comes with - the introduction, publisher info or even an actual page with a design you don't quite like.

Test mediums separately for each book and test all your mediums in each book at the outset. Just because your pens didn't bleed through one doesn't mean all books will be the same. It depends on the paper quality.

When using watercolor, use as little water as possible. Some books have watercolor paper which can take multiple layers and a bit of dry brush techniques. But in general, less is more when it comes to water.

I've tried both regular brushes and water brushes for coloring and I prefer the latter simply because I don't have to keep dipping the brush in water. Try out both tools and see which one you prefer.

Single-sided books are great for markers and watercolors even if the paper is not meant for those mediums. You don't have to worry about shadows or bleed through since there's nothing on the other side.

A black marker is very useful for coloring dark/night backgrounds. Cover the area with black colored pencil first and apply marker on top.

Always do light layers. If you make a mistake you can erase light pencil marks but not dark ones. With watercolors, you can always add more color but it's harder on the paper if you try to remove paint later.

I prefer to get art supplies that are available open stock. I can replace individual pens and pencils rather than having to buy a set when I run out of a few colors. Most artist quality pencils/markers are available individually in art stores. Poke around your local art supply store to see what they carry in stock.

Keep one book aside for practice and experimentation. Try out new color combos, techniques, mediums etc in this book. This way you don't have to worry about ruining your pictures. It also helps me get around the feeling of 'What if I ruin this page?' It's just a practice book after all!

Alcohol markers are excellent for shading and blending but work best on marker paper. It doesn't matter how thick the paper is, alcohol markers will bleed through! You can use them on single sided books, canvases, postcard books and artist editions which come with thick card stock.


Mix and match media - pencil, pen, gel pens, markers etc. You can do a foundation layer in watercolor or markers and then shade/highlight with colored pencil. You can also put down a layer of colored pencil first and then use markers over the top to minimize shadowing. Gel pens in different colors work well to highlight metallic or shiny objects. Use fine liners in small areas even if the rest of the page is in pencil. There are so many possibilities to try out!

Water based markers are prone to streaking but generally won't bleed through good quality coloring books. They are not as easy to blend by themselves but give better results if you add a bit of water with a brush to blend different colors.

Soft/chalk pastels are great for coloring backgrounds. You don't need fixative if you use pastels in a single light layer. I've not used it so far but you should consider it if you apply multiple layers to get rich, vibrant color.

Pastels don't stick to colored pencils. Use this to your advantage! First color your image with color pencils and then use pastels for the background. This way the pastels won't cover the image since the color pencil will resist the powder. You can also draw some shapes in white and then apply pastels over it to get wonderful effects.

Keep a sheet of paper – or blotting paper/card stock – underneath the image you are working on. Add more sheets between pages when you finish coloring. You can remove them after a few days. It prevents ink or pencil from transferring onto the next image. It is especially necessary for pastels or markers but it's a good practice in general.

Sometimes we want a shade that is just a bit lighter than the pigment in the pencil. First color with a white pencil and then use the actual color. You'll get a lighter shade and the pencil will go on much smoother over the previous layer.

A good rule of thumb when selecting colors is to pick 3 shades - a shadow, a highlight and a mid tone. Apply several layers and blend them to achieve a three dimensional effect and add depth the image. Consider the light source (if using any) before starting the page and keep it consistent throughout.

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