When Adult coloring books started to become a thing, I jumped in feet first. I’m talking an arsenal of books and quality pencils. My bestie and I even made it a thing. We grabbed snacks, a movie, the works. We organized our materials and optimized our coloring space. This was going to be the most epic coloring session the world had ever seen.
Except, it was kind of like a crafting midlife crisis and it quickly shifted to this:
Instead of going into this without a care in the world, two things became our downfall: self-comparison and technique.
Before we decided to try adult coloring books, both of us had seen our fair share of the coloring book Rembrandts floating around on Pinterest and Instagram. We knew that this was some next level stuff. Sure, people want you to drink the “it’s just for fun, don’t take it so seriously” Kool-Aid, but let’s be real here. I have a BFA in drawing and painting, and bestie and I are crafting machines. I didn’t want to dabble in coloring, I wanted to crush it. When I crack open my coloring books I want a holy like to emanate from them so that I may bask in the glory of their awesomeness. So, yeah, expectations were high.
I also know I’m not the only one who feels that it’s not just coloring. We run a coloring group at work, and the number one thing people asked us is “Are they going to teach us how to do it?” People want to walk away from a library program with a new skill or something tangible to celebrate their attendance. If we just say “Nah, you just have at it” you can see the panic start to rise, because the truth is that with adulthood comes a certain amount of self-awareness and criticism. Especially, for people like me whose focus falls less on having fun and more on accomplishing something.
Which brings me to the second struggle: technique. When you see those super detailed masterpieces they aren’t the product of “just coloring”. Contrary to what others might have you believe there is a certain level of skill here, and it’s a far cry from fat-crayon days of your youth. I feel it is important to let people know that they aren’t just slapped together. The solution?
Here are a few tips for coloring book (and art) mastery:
- Put a little color theory in your diet. Grafix has a great poster and explanation to get you started. You can find it here: Color Wheel. The long and short of it is that colors have a working relationship. Understanding how they interact with each other and creating pallets will really help you get the look you want.
- Find Inspiration. There is nothing in the adult coloring rule book that says you can’t troll the internet for examples of what you’d like your coloring pages to look like. There is also nothing wrong with looking at what someone else has done and replicating it yourself, so long as you don’t try to pass it off as your own original idea. Artists throughout the course of history have copied the works of others. It is a traditional technique that allows a student to understand the master. If it takes the pressure off of you and helps you learn, do it. If it was good enough for Michelangelo, it’s good enough for me.
- Choose Wisely. I made the fatal mistake of picking a book a really liked right of the bat and beelining it to the BEST COLORING PAGE EVER. If you are like me, and instantly start working about the final product it would be better to pick something small the toys won’t obsess about as much.
- Testing, Testing, 1,2,3. Scratch paper and photo copies of coloring sheets are your best friend. Test out different color combinations on those bad boys before committing your colors to your book.
- Start Slowly. Adding color should be a gradual process. You want to typically work light to dark and intensify the density of your work slowly. When you start to color just do a light layer at first. You can always go back and make it darker, but if you end up hating the color you put down, and it’s light, you can go over it with another color most of the time.
- Work in Layers. With colored pencils you can combine multiple shades to create new ones. Adding a layer of a lighter color can brighten your hue, just as adding layers of warmer or cooler tones can swing the intensity of a color in a new direction.
- Light Color Pencils Help You Blend. Something that’s really cool about working with colored pencils is that you can use lighter colored as a blending tool. For example, if you colored two shades of blue, side by side, and then go over the whole thing with white, it brightens and smoothes out the colors underneath. Try it!
- Quality Supplies Do Make a Difference. Personally, I prefer Prisma Color pencils. Their core (the colored pigment part) has a soft, wax base that blends better and gives a higher saturation of color. However, don’t run out and drop the cash on them if you aren’t sure you will use them. They can be pricy. My suggestion would be to start with a cheaper version and if you feel that the is a hobby worth investing in then upgrade.
- Relax and Take Breaks. This is the hardest one for me. I have always been the type of person that wants to do my absolute best from the very beginning, every time, no matter what. I’ve got that first child syndrome pretty hardcore. But with art you have to learn to take a step back and focus on the task more than the product. The true gain from doing things like this is that you are building a skill. People often confuse artistic ability with god-given talent, but it’s a complete crock. No one just wakes up and is born with the skill it takes to render something in all of its likeness. Professional artists spend years, sometimes decades honing their craft, and it isn’t unusual for them to spend 40-60 hours a week at their studios. They work at it everyday, and that’s how they get better. The truth is there is no magic artist potion and the only thing that sets them apart is the desire to cultivate that skill. So, enjoy the doing and the skill will come to you. When you feel yourself hitting a wall, leave it for a bit so that you maintain the joy of doing and avoid getting burnt out.
I hope this helps and happy coloring!