Copic Coloring Guide Level 3: People

Copic Coloring Guide Level 3: People

by Colleen Schaan

ISBN: 9781596354807

Publisher Annie's

Published in Arts & Photography/Drawing

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Sample Chapter


Coloring Faces

The face is the most important part of any image. It shows expression and feeling and conveys character.

Light It Up!

Before beginning to color an image it is necessary to identify the light source to determine where the light is coming from in the image.

Let's start this exercise by considering some common lighting scenarios. If a person is outside during the day, the light source is the sun. If a person is inside a home during the evening hours, the light source is most likely an overhead light or lamp. If a person is telling ghost stories around a campfire, the light source is probably the roaring fire.

The light from a source will illuminate the things around it and create areas of highlight and areas of shadow. It is important to understand where the light source is when coloring images, especially when faces are included, in order to create accurate and realistic highlights and shadows. Keep the following rules in mind to make the task easier.

Rule 1: Always highlight the most important part of the image by having the light shine directly on that aspect. On people images, the face is typically the focal point.

Rule 2: The image should always "face" the light source.

Notice how the young girl is sitting at an angle on the bench. Even though she is glancing down, her face is still facing left. Keeping Rule 2 in mind, place the light source in the upper left corner when coloring this image.

Rule 3: Areas that are closest to the light source are brightest and most highlighted.

Turn on a lamp. Hold your hand up to the light. The side of your hand that is closest to the light is bright and the side that is facing away from the lamp is dark or in shadow. Keep this concept in mind when coloring your images.

Faces — Simple & Complex

When it comes to face images, there are many different styles on the market — from small and simple to largely complex and detailed. Some are cute and whimsical while others are more realistic. Whatever style you prefer, there are some easy tips and tricks to help color them well. If you have never attempted a large, fully detailed face before, it can be intimidating. We recommend starting with simple images and working up to more detailed ones.

Simple Faces

This little girl is similar to many images on the market today. She has a basic, round face shape with uncomplicated facial features. Since the image itself is simple, we want to keep the coloring simple too.

Notice that this image is only colored in two or three values. Any more and it would look too detailed. Keep it simple — a highlight (shown by the white), a mid tone (C1) and a shadow (C3).

Complex Faces

Here's an image that is larger, more realistic and much more detailed. It calls for more values and more attention to detail to create a cohesive look.

This image is shown with five distinct values — Y11 for highlights, white for light areas, C1 for light shading, C3 for darker shading and C5 for darkest shadows.

Focus on Features

When coloring complex faces, it is important to pay attention to the features as they can make or break a composition.

The Eyes Have It

People say the eyes are the windows to the soul. Here are a few tips to help capture the "essence" of the character through the eyes.

The iris is not a flat disk of color; it curves with the eyeball. To portray this, it is important to have a variation of shade. The iris is typically darker near the top and bottom where it meets the eyelids and/or near the corner of the eye when looking toward the side.

The eyeball is round. While the eyeball is typically left uncolored, define its shape by adding a touch of gray or lavender to create a shadow near the edges and along the upper eyelid.

Everyone wants that sparkle in his or her eyes. Create it by using a tiny dot of Opaque White to add a bright highlight to the iris. Note: There is already a tiny highlight in the pupil of this image. Feel free to add another (larger) highlight to the lightest part of the iris.

Luscious Lips

A pretty pout is easy if you remember one thing — the bottom lip is usually fuller than the top lip and therefore sticks out more. Because it sticks out from the face, it catches more light and should be highlighted. Notice that the corners of the lips and where the lips meet and recede are therefore darkest.

The Surface of the Face

A face is not flat. It's a basic sphere, curving away from the viewer above the forehead, below the chin and along the ears. There are ridges and valleys that jut out to catch the light or sink in to create shadows. It is important to think of a face with volume and to understand how the different features "sit" on its surface.


The eyes sit back in the head a bit. There is a brow bone that protrudes above the eye and a cheekbone that slopes out underneath.


The nose is probably the most feared facial feature, but it is actually fairly simple. Most detailed drawings will give you a hint of nose shape and placement. It is up to you to fill in what isn't there. The easiest thing to remember about the nose is that it sticks out from the face and will block light. The bridge of the nose will be the brightest, while the sides of the nose will have a bit of shading. The side closest to the light source will have subtle shading that flows down from the brow bone. The side furthest from the light source will have a darker cast shadow. The tip of the nose curves down and around, so there is slight shading along the edge of the tip. If the light is from above, there will also be a slight shadow under the nose.


These are pretty simple. They stick out from the face, catching the light, and therefore create subtle shadows.


Some images have very prominent cheekbones and others are less defined. If the image has prominent cheekbones, they will stick out from the face catching a bit of light and creating highlights. They may also create slight areas of shadow along the jawbone below the cheeks.


Coloring Skin

"What is a good skin-color combination?" It's a frequently asked question and unfortunately, there's no simple answer. What are you coloring? Is it a young or old character? What size is the image? What sort of tone are you looking to portray?

You're How Old?

Everyone wants to have younger-looking skin. We spend hundreds of dollars on creams, masks, treatments and ointments. What does younger skin look like and why is it so attractive? It is important to understand that the appearance of our skin changes as we age, and making an age-appropriate color choice is very important.

Young Skin

Young skin is typically bright, smooth and moist. Babies and young children often have a peach or pinkish "glow" that is considered youthful.

Look at the toddler in the image below. His skin is very light and has a peach-color base. Also notice how smooth the skin is. This is because baby fat keeps his skin plump and wrinkle free.

When coloring images of babies or young children, make sure to start with a pink or peach base tone. Here YR000 is used to create a youthful glow. Even if the child is of a darker ethnicity, begin by coloring your image in the same manner.

Do not over-blend with the lighter colors as this will create a splotchy, mottled look that isn't appropriate for smooth, youthful skin.

Young Adult Skin

As we age, we lose the "glow" we associate with youth. This comes from a combination of stress, impurities, environmental exposure and the natural loss of collagen that keeps our skin firm and elastic.

Take a look at the young woman in the next photo. While her skin is still fairly smooth and wrinkle free, she is no longer as pink as the toddler.

She still has a bit of a glow, but it is more golden brown in tone. Her face has more distinct shadows than the child, but her skin is still fairly smooth.

Older Adult Skin

Aging eventually causes some very drastic changes in our skin. Old skin looks wrinkled, saggy, thin and mottled. This is mostly caused by the loss of elasticity and prolonged exposure to the elements.

The elderly man in the image below has probably spent years on the water, fishing for his next big catch.

Notice that his skin appears thin. There is a yellow undertone that is sallow instead of youthful. E000 and E42 have been used to create this sallow look. The shadows are very prominent due to the deep creases and wrinkles. The shading is done in cool tones adding to his ashy complexion. Elderly skin is often mottled and blotchy, so going over the darker shadows with the lighter color will help create that splotchy look; just make sure to leave the shadows dark.

Coloring for Size

Now that we've answered the question of age — let's talk size. We've already discussed a bit about the difference between simple and complex images, and in the previous books in this series we explained that more shades equal more contrast which, in turn, equals more interest. Let's take the discussion a bit further and talk about color choice in relation to size.

Two-Color Blends for Small Spaces

In this schoolboy image, the face is relatively tiny compared to the image as a whole — approximately ½ inch. Trying to fit multiple shades into the tiny area will only muddle the features.

Here E30 and E21 have been used. You won't be able to create the dramatic contrast of using multiple shades, but you will keep the facial features clear and visible and the light source identifiable.

Three Color Blends for Mid-Size Spaces

Most people like to use three-shade color combos when coloring skin. If the image allows, this is a definite improvement over just two shades.

This image is very similar in size to many popular images on the market today. The face measures just over 1 inch and has simple, but recognizable features.

Images this size allow for more shades and therefore allow the colorist to create more contrast. This image uses E50, E21 and E34 to create a light skin tone with subtle shading and darker cast shadows. Notice that it is visually more interesting than the schoolboy's face.

Four or More Color Blends for Larger Spaces

This image is quite large at 2½-3 inches and includes fully formed facial features and details. Images like this beg for multiple-shade color combinations.

While it may seem intimidating at first, coloring a large image is not much different than coloring smaller images — it just uses more ink!

Here, a base of E50 is quickly enhanced with E11, E33, E04, E70 and BV02. Notice the stark contrast achievable by using so many different shades. Remember, contrast creates interest!

Color Combinations

The Basics

Once you've taken age and size into consideration, begin choosing colors for the skin tone. There are no hard and fast rules for what colors should be used together. Stick with the basic blending families for smooth natural blends or experiment with a variety of colors and families to create your own favorite combos. Don't feel like you need to stick with the Earth color family. Reach for the YR's or the Y's or even the R's for a variety of looks.

Think about the Copic numbering system — the last number tells the shade of the color. Think about the colors you typically use for coloring skin. What is the darkest shade you use? 0? 1? Maybe 2? If you are courageous you might use a 3.

Guess what? You can do better! Most people are intimidated by coloring skin, and since the face is such an important focal point, they lean toward the side of caution and leave the skin tone too light. If the goal of your coloring is to be realistic, you need to not be afraid of the dark.

In our previous books, we discussed using colors ending in 6–9 to create shadows. While 7s, 8s and 9s are extremely dense shades, they can be used for shading and shadows for skin if used sparingly. Remember that the darker the base color, the darker the shadows.

A good way to practice creating darker skin tones is to "one up" the shade on your normal color combination. If your favorite skin combination is E0000, E00, E01, try adding E02 instead of E01. This will bump up the shade just slightly.

Once you feel comfortable with the look, jump "one up" again, adding another shade to the mix.

As you start to see your skin tones with more contrast and more realistic shading, you will quickly start expanding your skin-tone choices.

It's All About the Amount!

So you've been practicing coloring skin and are feeling more comfortable with darker colors. Here's something to consider when using those darker shades: The amount of each color you use will change the skin tone.

Take a look at the following images.

While both of these images use E00, E21 and E34 for the skin-color combination, they end up looking somewhat different. The first image has just a touch of E34 in the shadows and it is blended out fully with the E21, giving it a much lighter appearance. The second image has more E34 and it is only blended out slightly, creating a much darker skin tone.

Once you find a color combination you like, start playing with the amount of the darker shades to change up the look and give you a variety of skin tones.

Skin-Tone Chart

Experiment & Practice

Use a blank chart as the perfect place to try out different skin tones and play around with a variety of color combinations. Don't worry about getting the coloring and shading perfect — this is just a trial piece.

Print the chart onto the paper you typically use for Copic® coloring.

Pick a skin-color combination and color in one image. Write down the colors used on the line below the image.

Color in a second image using the same color combination with more or less of the darker shades. Try to get a variety of looks from the same group of colors.

Continue practicing and experimenting with different color combinations. Try two-, three- and four-color combos.

Reference Chart

Once you have a number of favorite skin-color combinations, it's time to put them all together. This will be a reference chart, so try to be consistent in your placement of shading and shadows.

Here are two pages from my skin-tone reference charts. They are arranged from light to dark (left to right), each row being a different tone. The first row is peach/pink undertones; the second is brown and red tones. The third is olive tones and the last is gray and brown tones. Feel free to organize your charts as you wish and use as many as necessary.

Creating Ethnicities

I know, I know — you still want to know what color combinations to use for Caucasian skin, or African-American skin or Asian skin. There are no set rules here, but we do have a few tips to share about ethnicities.

Most of the E0 family is very peach and will give a pink or peach tone to the skin. Good for young children, pale Caucasian or sunburned skin.

The E2 family has a brown or golden tone perfect for tanned Caucasian skin or light Asian skin.

The E3 family is reddish and is good for Caucasian, Native American, Latino, African-American and Asian skin tones.

The E4 family is a bit gray. It is often used in African-American or Middle Eastern skin tones.

The E5 family is olive and works well for Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Asian skin tones.

The E7 family is a rich cocoa brown and works well as shading for darker skin tones.

Complement It & Cool It!

In book 2 of the Copic Coloring Guide series, we demonstrated how to add shading using a complementary color and how to cool down shadows. Those same rules can be applied to coloring realistic skin.

Most skin is yellow or orange in tone. The complementary color to yellow is purple and the complementary color to orange is blue, therefore, a blue violet is the perfect color to add realistic shading to skin.

Blue violet also tends to be a cool color, effectively working to cool down those shadows.

Compare these images.

The first image is colored with a combination of E000, E11, E13 and E15. Notice the soft, warm glow in the skin. The shadows are visible, but don't contrast much.

Excerpted from "Copic Coloring Guide Level 3: People" by Colleen Schaan. Copyright © 2013 by Colleen Schaan. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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