Hello my fellow homebound, hopefully healthy hopefuls! I am here with some more ramblings about my coloring obsession, and anything else that comes to mind while I’m writing about that, so let’s get to it.
Coloring Tools – Gel Pens!
I should probably start by talking more about gel pens, since it’s related to the title. I still love coloring with gel pens, and I am learning to do shading and blending with them – although that has been a challenge, and one I am just beginning to master after weeks of experimenting.
After working with some different brands, I’ve decided that my favorite set is actually the inexpensive Fiskars 48-pen set I mentioned in my last post. While the Gelly Roll Pens offer the smoothest coloring experience, the set of them I purchased just has so many pens in it that I find useless and icky, which is a bummer considering the high price point, so it’s actually the Fiskars set that I’ve used the most, and have already had to repurchase because I’ve completely used up many of the colors.
Still working on this one, obviously – but it has all the elements I enjoy, both color-wise and image-wise.
In general I’ve learned that I prefer the opaque gel pens in either pastel or neon colors, with the glitters close behind. I really loathe metallic gels, and that Gelly Roll set I purchased has a TON of them, which is one of the reasons it’s a big letdown for me. Out of the six different styles of gel pens included in that set, three of them are metallics, so, ugh. I tossed the card included with the set that listed how many of each style there are, and since I’ve broken the set down and scattered them all to the winds, I wasn’t going to hunt them all down and count them, but I can say that the Fiskars set only has about nine pens total that are metallic, and that is WAY less than I got stuck with from the Gelly Rolls. Plus, the Fiskars pack has some specialty pens that are actually cool, instead of the Gelly Roll set that only has a handful of specialty pens and that are, as already mentioned, metallic.
These are what Fiskars calls “color changing pens” – a description that’s a bit misleading, and that has led to a fair amount of negative reviews about these particular pens in the set. Most people don’t like them because they don’t change color quickly, and if not used properly the different inks will blend together into an unpleasant muddy gray. For some reason, I never had problems using these pens, probably because my style of coloring works well with what they can do. I think a lot of people use gel pens to write, and these would be a real disappointment in that case because you need to cover large swaths of space to get the color-changing effect out of these. For example:
OK now – this was an experiment page that I didn’t color too carefully, and I made some weird choices here because, again, I was just messing around; but you can see how these pens WILL change color over time, just not right away. And once the pen color has changed, it’s not going back to the previous color, which is also an expectation people have that disappoints them, I think. It takes a LOT of coloring to get the colors to change, and when they do the change is gradual, so since buying my first Fiskars set in May I have already completely used up most of these (there are only 5 in the whole set, one each in yellow, orange, green, purple, and blue). In fact, it was primarily these 5 pens that prompted me to re-purchase the entire set; Fiskars doesn’t sell any smaller sets than this one, and I figured since I don’t plan to re-purchase a lot of Gelly Rolls and most of the colors in that set that I like are represented in the Fiskars package, it made sense to re-purchase another one . They don’t flow quite as smoothly as the GRs, but they do have a variety of different nib sizes, which helps. For coloring, the medium and large nibs work better for me as I find fine points too scratchy, but I am learning to work with them since so many colors I like are only available in fine point.
As my first set of color-changing Fiskars started to run out, I searched Amazon for alternatives, and it turns out this concept is fairly common. Most brands refer to them as “swirl” or “marble” pens, and most of them get fair to middling reviews. There are tricks to using pens like this that, for some reason, I am able to figure out easily; again, from reading the negative reviews they mostly come from people who use them for writing, and I can see how these wouldn’t work well for that purpose. After reading and researching a ton of different brands, I landed on these Geddes Swirl Pens – primarily because I could get 50 of them for a decent price; I can’t recall any other reason that prompted me to choose these over others, except that most swirl pens come in small sets of 4 or 5 and I figured, as much as I use these things, I should just get a shit-ton of ’em.
All the shading iou see in the teal here was done using a combination of copic markers and colored pencils, BTW
As you can see, these function differently from the Fiskars, but if you don’t use them properly they will muddy up. I always color using a circular motion with both my gel pens and my alcohol markers, and this seems to work well with swirl pens, but ONLY when I use a really, really light touch – I barely press down on the page at all; these have a medium point so a light touch still deposits a good amount of ink. Also, these pens sputter out different colors in little spotches and spurts, so I pay close attention to that, and do my best not to swirl the little pops of unusual color together too much, so they stand out. You can really see the pen strokes this way, but it’s the only way I’ve found to capture the different inks, and overall I like the effect. I do feel like the “blue” swirl pen is pretty dark and muddy (it’s the portion of the mandala that looks purple and green; even though the occasional pop of blue comes out it tends to get drowned out by the more dominant colors) so I use it more sparingly than the others, but overall the effect is really quite cool. Thank God, because I have a buttload of these to use up!
Now let’s talk about my favorite colors – pastels and neons!
As I mentioned earlier, I have broken down all my sets into different categories rather than keeping them in their original packaging (one tray for pastels, another for neon, etc.) and have banished all but a few of the metallics to a pencil holder stuck on a shelf in my closet, along with my first cheapo set of alcoholic markers that are already busted and useless and a set of Chameleon color-changing felt-tip markers that are total crap (more on that later). I also have a tray of glitter pens that I love, but the glitter ink didn’t show up in the photo so I figured why bother. I trust that you all know what glitter looks like, so you know, use your imagination.
For whatever reason, I don’t use the primary and “basic” colors too often, even though I have a ton of them from all the different sets. I really should make it a challenge to try and color at least one mandala or something using nothing but basic colors, but I’m fairly certain I’d get bored and never finish it, just like I did the time I challenged myself to color a mandala in nothing but grays and browns (ugh, why?). I just gravitate towards the pastels and neons, and end up using the primary colors as accents, or as darker shades to use when blending.
Recently, I decided to add some earth tones to my collection, something that I found more challenging than finding swirl pens for sure. There aren’t many options for earth tones, and most of the smaller sets didn’t include the olive green I definitely wanted. I ended up buying a pretty cheap set from a brand that has several interesting sets with a variety of tones – a set of cool tones with a big variety of blue shades, and a warm set with just about every variation of red and yellow you could want. However, these sets also had a LOT of metallics, but since their vintage set was the only one I found with some of the greens and different shades of brown I wanted, I went ahead and made the purchase. The set also came with refills, which I thought was a good deal for 24 pens at $15.
Tons of browns and greens! And also, sadly, MANY metallics that have already been banished.
Most of these pens really aren’t good quality. The ink doesn’t flow well, and they’re pretty scratchy due to the fine points. But I have already ordered two more refills for this set for two BIG reasons – namely, two of the pens in the set that are a color I can’t find anywhere else.
I freaking ADORE these colors! They also don’t deposit ink smoothly, but I am learning to work with them because I can already tell these two pens are going to be a staple in my artwork (can I call the pages I color from coloring books artwork? Well I just did so there you go). That beige is an amazing neutral that is great for “filler” in mandalas where I want to balance out some of the brighter shades, and that other pen is actually cream, not yellow, which is REALLY hard to find anywhere else – meaning, I’ve searched the whole wide web and not found another cream or ivory colored gel pen anywhere!
You can see the beige in the background of the rectangle with the circles, and that half-triangle at the top of the uncolored, stripey triangle is a blend of the beige with the cream (the cream looks more yellow-y in the photo than it does in reality, but you get the idea). This set came with two of the cream pen, and only one of the beige, so I have already ordered more refills of the entire set so I have several of them in case the company stops making them in the near future – the company not only includes one pack of refills with the initial set, but also sells refills separately, which is a nice touch. I am pretty sure these two colors are going to make it into almost every page I color, so I really want a stockpile of them! The rest of the colors are just OK – some of the options are great, like the aforementioned olive greens and deeper browns, but unfortunately the ink is runny and uneven. They can be worked with, but will probably only be used as accent colors due to the poor quality.
Lots of the earth tones used in this one, but also other pastels and neons worked in.
Coloring Books and Pages
After playing around with a lot of different types of coloring pages, both content and style, I am starting to figure out what I like best. I am a huge fan of coloring pages with black backgrounds, and have purchased several coloring books from Amazon with black pages. Here are a few that I’ve tried, in no particular order:
100 Amazing Patterns: This is the first coloring book I bought, and it is still a favorite. Patterns, particularly mandala patterns, are one of my favorite subjects to color, because the focus is really on the colors and not much else. As a photographer, I have always been obsessed with color as its own subject matter, more or less, and color considerations factor greatly into my choices through that medium. Coloring is no exception to this, and to be able to focus on color without having to consider realism or restrictions due to subject matter is probably the most relaxing and rewarding experience I can have. Based on some of my other choices, I realize I really got lucky with this first book – the patterns are intricate without being too busy, and the lines are strong without being overpowering. Also, I’ve come to realize that 100 pages is a lot for the average book, and there are only a handful of pages I don’t like. So this one is highly recommended, and I can only imagine other books by this same artist would be great also.
F*ck Trump: OK, look. I loathe our current president. But I am not interested in fighting about that, or ranting about it, or judging anyone who doesn’t feel the same way. In fact, I would have left this book off the list entirely except that it has some artistic flaws that helped me narrow down my preferences – even though initially I found the images empowering as a means to creatively express some of my disdain for the man, as coloring pages these just didn’t work for me. While I really enjoy coloring text, sayings, and slogans of various kinds, I found the backgrounds on these slogans to be too busy and rather illogical. And the text font is the same on every page, which gets old quickly. In fact, there’s very little variation throughout the book, and quite honestly it has the feel of something that was created using coloring book software rather than an artist’s drawings. Even the lines aren’t quite right – they’re too thin to be useful as a guide for placing color, and there’s no helpful detail at all. Overall the images on each page just feel – insubstantial, I guess. And the choices often make no sense. For example, one of the pages said, quite simply, “Fuck Trump,” and had a background of – mushrooms? Why? Is that supposed to be a penis joke? I mean, I guess it could have been – but they weren’t appealing, or interesting to color – they had strange horizontal stripes on them and were surrounded by a background of vertical stripes, which, ugh – and then there were random swirly lines floating about, and the occasional stem-less flower thrown down for good measure. Another page had the phrase “Our Country” (using the same font of course) against a background of fish. If there’s a joke there akin to the possible penis reference, I’m missing it. So what I learned from buying this book was that subject matter is important, but if the images aren’t carefully created by someone who knows what they’re doing, well, all the political slogans in the world won’t make it fun for me to color. I ended up only coloring two pages from this one before I got bored. But as I said, it did help me learn what I do and don’t want from the books I buy.
Southern Sayings and Sass/Creative Haven Chalkboard Art: These were the first two coloring books I bought with black backgrounds, and I enjoyed both of them – for a while. An issue with slogan books in general is that they can get repetitive, and there will be a handful of slogans I really love and then a bunch I either don’t care for, or have already seen and colored in other slogan books. Of these two, I found the Creative Haven one to have more pages I really wanted to color due to the slogans being ones I wanted to work with; the Southern Sayings one has some REALLY busy backgrounds that I can’t imagine wanting to tackle, but it did have ONE page that is still one of my favorite pages ever:
If you are not from the US South, you probably don’t even know what “mums” are, and I am too lazy and it is too late at this point for me to explain it to you. But trust me, Homecoming mums are the most Southern thing ever, and as a high school teacher it always tickled me every year when students who were new to the area tried to acclimate to the whole weird tradition. So I love this page, enough that it ended up framed, which doesn’t happen to most the pages I color. By the way, I totally intended this gal’s blush to be softly blended, but I totally screwed it up and had go overboard to salvage the picture. Which reminds me I need to talk about paper later. Oh lord. There’s no way I’m going to get to talking about paper in this post. Moving on.
Beautiful Dresses: Fun! Some of the images in this book are of women wearing lovely gowns, but most of them are of dresses on hangers or mannequins, which is really unique. Up above, I have another picture showing one of the pages from this book I framed, which doesn’t include a dress, interestingly enough – it’s the photo of the jeans, top, purse, and shoes. Such a cute idea, and it really looks great hanging on the wall (my husband referred to it “paper doll clothes,” which he thought was really cool).
This book also has some bustiers in it, too – two of which I colored using alcohol markers and hung in my bathroom:
Many of the pages in this book, I feel, remind me of cute framed pictures you might get at a home decor store or something; they lend themselves nicely to framing and using for decoration. I like that they are not all images of people wearing the dresses, as I find that to be a unique presentation of the subject matter. I really love almost all of the pages in this book also.
Salty Bitches – Vintage Ladies Talking Trash: Oh. My God. Y’all. This book is hilarious. Almost every page is hysterically funny. The problem is, it’s not a typical coloring book. It’s really not much of a coloring book at all. And I really, really wish it was. The images in this book are reprints of classic paintings, and the sayings added to them are an absolute scream – and completely inappropriate. I have sent many photos of these pages to my friends, and every single one is funnier than the last. I really don’t like photographing and uploading un-colored pages as that seems to be unfair to the artist or publisher of the work, so I’m not going to do that here, and I don’t have much to share with you as far as pages I’ve colored because, I’m sorry to say, that coloring these pages SUCKS. They are printed in grayscale, which is a totally different coloring experience, and it’s not one that I enjoy. Really the only way to color on grayscale that works is colored pencil, and I just don’t enjoy using that medium. I’ve tried with several of these pages, but I do not like the results, and I just don’t enjoy doing the work. It’s really too bad, because while there are a TON of so-called ‘naughty,’ curse-word laden coloring books out there, most of them are not particularly original or consistently funny. But THESE are laugh-out-loud hysterical.
I did force myself to complete one entire page just to prove to myself I could do it. It’s not very good, I didn’t enjoy doing it, and I made weird color choices just because I didn’t much care. And I didn’t even choose one of the funnier pages because I knew I was just messing around, and even then it’s still really, REALLY funny:
It actually came out looking pretty good, weird color choices notwithstanding. I used colored pencil in graduated shades and followed the ‘map’ provided by the grayscale, and then I outlined everything with a black gel pen just because I felt it needed something extra. The background was black and textured and it really bothered me, so I sort of slopped a black background over it using one of my alcohol markers and decided I’d use a blue gel pen for the trim around the edges. I don’t know why. Then a few hours later I got my earth tone gel pens in the mail and decided what the hell, I’ll use them on those floral patterns even though they in NO WAY match neon pink and bright blue. So I guess overall it’s impressive that this doesn’t look a lot worse, all things considering. Maybe someday I will try harder with some of the others, and go for one of the more brutal slogans like the image of two Renaissance women standing next to each other under the slogan JUST STANDING HERE PRETENDING TO TOLERATE THIS B*TCH or the lovely portrait of a youthful, Rubenesque damsel with the slogan EAT A BAG OF D*CKS printed underneath. As far as humorous slogans, this book does it right – the contrast between the beautiful, angelic portraits and the COMPLETELY crass sayings hits just the right note, but the images themselves aren’t really made for coloring. It makes a great gag gift though, or a real conversation starter for the coffee table, which seems to be the way most people end up using this one.
Day of the Dead: Sugar Skulls: Although there are an absolute TON of sugar skull coloring books out there, I decided on this one due to the unique feature of having two versions of every skull – one on white paper, and another on black. How cool is that? I thought it might look cool to color both versions of one skull, in completely different colorways, and hang them side-by-side, but I haven’t yet had a chance to color any as I just got this book in two days ago. It’s promising though, and the lines on the artwork are strong and feel solid, just how I like them, and they are patterned without being too intricate. So I think this will be a book I like when I get chance to dig into it.
Mandala Design, Black Background Edition: It made sense that I would eventually get a book of mandalas on black backgrounds, but that’s the not the only reason I bought this one. The designs are also very different from my first mandala book, but in ways I still love. Both black-background mandala pictures I posted above are from this book – the images are smaller and more intricate than the first book, and they take up far less of each page. While in general I dislike super-small details, in this case the designs all really appeal to me – I think the black background helps, along with the fact that it is so different from the previous book I purchased. I also really like the symmetry and geometry of these designs – I have yet to find one single image that I don’t feel excited about coloring. I doubt I will be able to use my alcohol markers on any of these, unlike the first mandala book – black background pages (and in fact, coloring book pages in general) can’t tolerate alcohol markers, first of all, and these designs are too small and detailed for me to use the bigger, brush nibs on my copics or Chameleons. But all of these images are PERFECT for gel pens, as the opacity of my favorites really come alive against all that black, and those fine point tips I generally hate come in handy. Really excited about coloring more of these.
And just for the hell of it, here are some of the other coloring-book subjects I’ve seen that I have no interest in working with, but you might:
- Animals in every configuration possible – cursing, farting, gallivanting, drinking coffee, or just being normal animals
- Country scenes and rural landscapes
- Pro-Trump books (felt I should throw those in there since I mentioned the anti-Trumps ones already)
- Fantasy/magical subjects
- Female empowerment
- Religious subjects
- Patterns of all kinds (geometric, art deco, etc.)
- Forests and nature
- Flowers and florals
- Coronavirus – I suspect these to be more like the F*ck Trump book. I can’t say for sure, but these books would have been rushed into production rather than being created by an artist over time, and the quality may be lacking
- Famous people
- Human Anatomy
- Popular books/movies (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc)
- Ocean life
OK dammit – I have been writing this post for about three hours, and I haven’t even gotten to talking about papers and accessories I use when coloring. And I haven’t had time to mention that since tapering off of Lexapro I have lost TEN POUNDS without even trying – that’s ten pounds in about three weeks, y’all. But, since getting on that medication, I’ve gained about thirty, so it kind of made sense that some amount of that would drop quickly. We’ll see how the next twenty go. And I have still failed to discuss my experiences learning to read Tarot cards (so fun!) and about a million other things. But I will say this real quick-like before I go: if you want to color for fun but you also don’t want to stress about messing up a really cool page while you do it, then do what I do and tear the pages out of the book and copy them onto a separate sheet of paper. I always do this and it has turned out to be a real lifesaver as I’ve made some serious errors on some images I really, really wanted to turn out well – it wasn’t a problem because I still had the original and could just copy it again and start over. The only exception to that has been black background pages, which I only copy if I am going to use alcohol markers on. The black really doesn’t transfer all that well onto another page, but if I want to use the markers I make it work. 😉 There are also better papers you can use – you have to use thicker, better paper for alcohol markers because the paper in the coloring books will just disintegrate, but even for gel pens there is often better paper you can use. I’ve learned about that too and have tried out many different kinds, but I am all out of steam for this blog post and will have to get into that later.
Stay safe y’all! And if you’re in the South like me, and your state or city is currently spiking at NYC-in-April levels, please social distance and stay home as much as possible. It’s bad out there right now.