I was pretty happy to finish up a new illustration for coloring a few days ago, and since there’s not a whole lot else we can do while isolating ourselves from a virus gone wild, I spent a day coloring the illustration to use as a sample for my Etsy listing. The coloring turned out fine in the end, but I did run into some issues with the card stock I used to print the design. My watercolors bled. Really bad.
I grabbed a sheet of card stock from a pile of miscellaneous stock under my desk, so I don’t know which brand it was, unfortunately. I started the coloring by focusing on the tiger and used light layers of Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils to give me a base of browns and ochres, then once dry, started adding layers of Polychromos. I know I have mentioned this in prior posts, but I like to use a base of watercolor under my pencil work because it provides a nice base of color and tooth. Next, I used a waterbrush to fill in the sky with Karen Spencer’s handmade watercolor micas (Blue Gold) over a light layer of Albrecht Durer Helioblue reddish. I may have used a little too much water but that’s when I noticed the bleeding issues begin.
Dilemma. Do I keep going (I was pretty happy with the way the tiger was turning out) or scrap it, reprint on better card stock and start again? I decided to keep going and spent time working on the leaves and the center of the sun image which is sort of mandala-like. I tried to keep my colors balanced and not let the mandala overwhelm the tiger, and also played around with adding some pattern into the shapes. For this, I used a really sharp Irojiten pencil (Plum) to draw tiny circles and then burnish the shapes with a Caran d’Ache Blender Bright stick.
Note: when using a Blender Bright to burnish, because it is waxy and creates a nearly impermeable layer, be careful not to let it overlap into areas you have not yet colored—especially if you plan on using paint. The paint (watercolor) will likely be repelled. Burnish carefully, or wait until you have all your color down before burnishing. I am impatient and get ahead of myself sometimes.
Once I had most everything colored in, I started working on the swirly rays of the sun using Karen’s micas (Gold, Golden Orange, Sunset Orange) and ugh the bleeding got really bad in spots. It wasn’t the fault of the paints—it was partly my ratio of water to paint, but mostly, as suspected, poor choice in card stock. And, certain areas of the stock seemed to be more prone to bleeding than others.
Ugh, now what? So close to being done with the design and I really didn’t want to give up because I was happy with the overall color palette and balance … and I probably had at least 12 hours into coloring it.
I forged ahead. My first step to mask the bleed out areas was to use a Phthalo Blue Polychromos to color over all the blue sky, paying close attention to covering the bleed out areas as best I could. Coloring over micas takes away some of the shimmer, but it still retains a lovely sheen. Next, I used a Caran d’Ache Buff Titanium to help white out the bleeds and blend with the Phthalo. Not perfect coverage, but not too bad. A glimmer of hope anyway.
Nest step: the Crimson Irojiten pencil to outline all of the sun rays. That took some time and hurt my fingers after a while, but it was helping. Maybe not so much up close with scrutiny, but from about a foot away, it was looked pretty okay!
In some areas, where my mica was too thickly applied, some of it flaked off. I also think I should have been more patient and let it completely dry. But I am not always patient.
Here’s how it turned out– not too bad all things considered!
If I end up using this art for a book cover or product, I’ll probably pull it into Photoshop for a little fine tuning, but overall, I am content. She might look pretty on a tote bag!
If you want to color this tiger yourself, she can be found here on Etsy along with a whole collection of downloadable, printable PDFs for coloring. And in case you haven’t seen it, I have a few free designs for adult coloring (and kids too) in my Mama Bear post.
Thinking of you and all my creative friends during this time—hope you are all being smart and staying healthy as best you can!
I’ve had a few people ask about essential coloring tools recently, and since I just put together a new case of said tools, I thought I would share them with you.
I have a decent mix of colored pencils (not nearly as many as some of my colorist pals, but decent) and I like to organize them by color instead of brand and store them in zippered cases which are much more protective and convenient to use in my humble opinion. Organizing by color works well for me, though I know others prefer organizing by brand and keeping their pencils in the original containers. There’s no right or wrong way, of course—do what works best for you—though that may change over time as your needs and habits change.
The Polychromos pencils are a solid, must-have in my collection. They are versatile, hold a great point, blend well and have a decent light-fast rating, yet are not as expensive as the Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils (which many of you know I really love working with, too).
Polychromos rainbow coyotes in the 2020 Creative Companion
I normally keep all my colored pencils in cases organized by color family and keep them up on a shelf above my work space. Since I have to stand up from my chair each time I need to grab a case of colors (and since I don’t have a ton of desk space to work on) I thought it might be smart to finally put the stuff I use on a daily basis in one “workhorse” case that can live on my desk.
Greens; browns; purples; reds, yellows and oranges; blues; gel pens; and two cases of watercolor pencils on the shelf above my desk area
The case I ordered through Amazon, a grey RiLiKar with 184 slots, turned out to be the perfect size for my most-used tools, flips open and has “pages” like a book, and has a carrying handle which is a nice touch. My other pencil cases are made by Soucolor and BTKSY (also found on Amazon) and so far, with heavy use, they have been holding up quite well.
The first “page” of my workhorse case holds my brush (essential for getting rid of pencil dust and crumbles and is much better than wiping with your hands); a Sakura Sumo Grip eraser (love it); and fine and extra small, black Faber-Castell Pitt pens. I also keep a metal dental tool in my case. It is perfect for so many things like digging broken tips out of pencil sharpeners, scraping paint splatters off my desk, prying watercolor pans out of their tins, etc.. I’ve even used it to tighten the itty-bitty screws that hold my eyeglasses together. Pretty sure I’ve had it since the 80s.
Next is a pencil extender (the only one I have and it really hurts my fingers after a while, but it’s okay in a pinch), then my Tombow Mono Zero eraser and tube of refills. Really great for tiny spaces. Next to the triangular architect ruler is my Rotring Tikky mechanical pencil, and then an odd “picker” tool I’ve had forever but have no idea where it came from or what it’s technically called. Basically, it’s a wood handle with a long needle jammed into it. Next is a Derwent Academy sketching pencil, and then a collection of Sakura Pigma Sensei pens.
Pages one and two
Page two holds a white Uniball Signo pen, several Prismacolor Colourless Blender pencils, and a Lyra Splender blender which I just got and have not have much of a chance to work with yet. Not sure if the Splender blender will stay in the case. A few Sakura Souffle gel pens (I seem to use the white, turquoise and blue the most), a few coveted Caran d’Ache Blender Bright sticks (I use these for burnishing all the time), an Artist’s Loft blender (that probably won’t stay because it is useless), a Papermate “Tuff Stuff” eraser, a few Gellyroll sparkle pens and a Ubrands sparkle pen, then two more Pitt pens.
Page three has a mix of some of the non-Polychromos pencils I use a lot or want to keep handy for the current project I am working on. There’s something I love about the Pumpkin Orange Prismacolor and it seems to sneak into a lot of my work. Same with the Aquamarine and Light Aqua Prismacolors. The short dark pencil next to the Pumpkin Orange is my coveted Rexel Cumberland Derwent Studio Burnt Carmine 65 pencil. It is getting smaller. I have had it forever and cannot seem to find an exact replacement which is a shame. The color is so deep and rich I’d really love to find another one. The longer dark pencil next to it is a Derwent Studio Burnt Carmine 65 and it’s just not the same. I keep a few Irojitens on hand for detail work, and also a few of the Caran d’Ache Buff Titanium pencils which I love for blending over the small designs and patterns I often draw over colored shapes in my work. There is something magical about the ingredients that make up this particular pencil—there is nothing quite like the feel and blending ability of 801 Buff Titanium. Another Pitt pen (I use them a lot) and a white General’s Pastel Chalk pencil which is useful for lightly sketching on black paper.
Pages three and four
Page four is the start of my Polychromos collection. I just ordered the last missing pencils from my set from Blick, so in a few days it will be complete. Almost. I didn’t order the Gold or Silver because (sorry Faber-Castell) I don’t like the metallic copper pencil at all. I want to like it (copper is one of my favorite colors) but it just doesn’t work for me—too hard? Not enough pigment? I also didn’t order the Cadmium Yellow Lemon by mistake.
Pages five and six (above) and seven and eight (below) fit the rest of my Polychromos collection. And yes, I number them myself since I have a hard time seeing the tiny gold lettering on the barrels. I just wrap a piece of washi tape around the top, write the number with a Pitt pen, then wrap that with a piece of clear tape. I’ve also numbered a few with a white Signo pen.
Aside from being a handy way to keep these heavily-used tools close and organized on my desk, it’s easy to zip up the case and bring it along to wherever I want to work for the day.
Polychromos color chart from the 2019 Creative Companion
Finally, since I am using my 2020 Creative Companion to keep track of all my art projects, books, and other important tasks, I took the Polychromos color chart out of my 2019 Creative Companion and plan to trim it down and laminate it (back to back) so I can keep a color chart in my workhorse case as a quick reference.
Last, but certainly not least, my treasured handmade watercolors by Karen Spencer: these I keep in special tins inside a metal tray inside a plastic box near my workspace. I pull them out almost every time I start a new piece because not only are they beautiful to work with, but I find the colors so incredibly inspiring. The ceramic-coated tray is super handy because I can mix colors directly on it, and my extra half-pans with magnets on the bottoms stick to the tray, too. Why do I keep paints and pans in yet another box? Dog hair and parakeet feathers. Remember that little picker tool I mentioned above? Perfect for picking junk out of paints and brushes. 😉
Some of my treasured handmade mica and watercolor paints by Karen Spencer
I just received my personal copy of the 2020 Creative Companion in the mail and am pretty excited to get it ready for the new year ahead. My 2019 Creative Companion (which will disappear from Amazon at the end of the year) turned out to be quite valuable to me and I used it to plan out all of my projects, keep track of my art supplies, and more.
Though the book was originally designed with coloring book enthusiasts in mind, there are many ways you can customize this journal to fit your own creative needs whether you are a coloring book fanatic or not. If you like to sew, for example, you can use the book to save instructions and even fabric swatches. Jot down your ideas for projects and tape pics you grab from magazines to the pages. You can even stick yarn or embroidery thread samples to the charts in the back of the book. Although there are several pre-designed charts for colored pencils, there are plenty of blank charts, too. Use them however you like!
Speaking of colored pencils … even if you are not a coloring book fanatic, grab a set of colored pencils anyway. Faber-Castell Polychromos work beautifully for me on the paper in these books, though any colored pencil brand is perfectly fine. I find that coloring the small pieces of art helps me not only relax, but also encourages new ideas. The Creative Companion is less for coloring masterpieces than for playing with colors and sparking creativity. No one has to see what’s in your journal, so take chances, experiment, and get your wild ideas down on paper.
You can, of course, use the 2020 Creative Companion as it is in simple book form. But you also have the option of deconstructing it for use in a binder or binding system. Once the spine is cut off the book, you can either have it bound at your local office supply store, or punch holes in the pages and insert them into a ring binder of your choice. You could also use a “discbound” system which uses a series of discs to keep the pages bound together. If you are not familiar with this system (which is super customizable) check out this article for a great overview. And check out the Cira disc-bound notebook system, too.
Why bother cutting up a book and putting it back together? I like flexibility! I like being able to add and subtract and move things around as needed and for me, using a ring-binder is ideal. Most of the time, the binder lives on my desk flipped open to my current project notes. But I also like being able to flip to my calendars and to my color charts easily while working on art. And I like that I can toss the whole thing in a bag and take it on the road. It holds my most important numbers, information about all my books, ideas for future projects, etc.. It’s where all my essentials live.
Since I am looking forward to filling up my 2020 Creative Companion, I thought it would be a good idea to show you how I deconstruct it and put it all back together in case you wish to try this DIY binding yourself at home.
I recorded a bunch of steps off-the-cuff to give you an overall feel for how this will work and I ramble a bit, of course. I am not a professional videographer and don’t aspire to being one so pardon my skills in that department. But do give each of the steps a watch before you start cutting up your own book!
Step 1: Before you start:
Consider having your local office supply do it for you!
Ask them about your CUTTING / binding options (i.e. spiral-bound, ring-bound, etc.)
Make sure they cut as close to the spine as possible
Step 2: Bind at Home – Tools Needed:
Consider the size of the folder / binder you wish to use.
The Creative Companion measures 7.5 inches wide by 9.25 inches tall by about 3/4 ” thick
Make sure you have the basic tools needed:
Paper hole punch
X-acto or other sharp metal blade
Cutting matt (I use an Omnigrid (from JoAnn Fabric)
Step 3: What Type of Binder?
Large or small?
Bigger = more room for stuff (depending on ring size), better edge protection
Smaller = more portable
Determine ring number and placement (i.e. 3-ring, 4-ring, 7-ring, etc.)
What type of paper punch will you need to put holes in your pages?
Consider ring size: This is the diameter of the rings themselves. A 1.5″ to (better yet) 2″ ring is ideal for the 2020 CC which has 333 pages.
My new binder has a 1.25″ ring diameter – okay but not ideal. I highly suggest going a little bigger so you can more easily insert additional pages and pockets.
Step 4: Assessing the new binder
My new binder (a 7.5″ x 9.5 x 2″ deep Franklin Planner) uses 7 rings. I don’t have a 7-ring paper punch so I’ll need to use my single-hole paper punch! In this video, you can see my 2019 CC inserted into my new binder to check the fit.
Step 5: Time to make the cuts!
Pay attention to the natural fold line:
Not too close to the very edge because of the glue in the spine.
Make sure you are cutting on a surface you are not worried about scratching.
Line up ruler along the fold line.
Press down on the ruler firmly and keep fingers and thumb out of the way.
Pull blade firmly down edge of ruler a few times.
Pull loose cover and first few pages off book.
Set pages aside and pay attention to page order.
Step 6: Keep cutting!
Use new cut edge as your guide.
Take your time.
Keep pages in order.
Step 7: Still cutting …
Tip: stay as tight to the edge as possible.
Step 8: Still cutting …
Tip: trim off little slivers of paper that may get in the way so you can keep a straight edge.
Step 9: Final cuts!
Bend back spine to give you a little more space.
Be sure you firmly hold book so it doesn’t slide around while cutting.
Consider trimming the inside edge of your book if you like.
Step 10: Making a hole punch guide
Use heavy card stock or plastic and cut to size of book cover.
Line up guide in your binder to figure out where the holes should go. Center to the top and bottom of your binder and make sure the holes will all fit on the page.
Mark the holes.
If you don’t have a plastic pocket or folder that already fits your binder, draw a line 1/4″ from the inside edge of your page. Each hole should be punched 1/4″ from the edge of the paper.
Step 11: Punch your guide holes
Match up to guide/template to book and binder again to be sure everything lines up properly.
NOTE: Once you are happy with the template, write “TOP FRONT” on the side of the template that will face you – the holes should be on the left (the inside edge). You may have a little more (or less) space between the top hole and top edge of your guide depending on how you lined everything up. Be sure you punch all pages using the guide from the same side. See Step 13 for how I messed this up! 😉
Step 12: Keep punching and keep your pages in order!
Step 13: Keep punching
Step 14: Punching and trimming excess paper
Yep, my hands are getting a little stiff but not bad…
Step 15: Final punches!
Step 16: Putting the pages in the binder
I mistakenly said my rings were 1.5″ – they are 1.25″ so I ended up having to take a few pages out. You’ll see, at the end of the video, I popped my rings open because I had too many pages in the binder.
Come to find out, once I enlarged my punch holes a little bit, I could fit those pages back in. Necessity is the mother of invention, yes? Since the single-hole punch I used has a rather small circle, the first holes I punched didn’t allow my pages to flip freely enough. Enlarging my holes seemed to greatly help and I could even add in my November and December pages from my 2019 CC to finish off this year. Bonus!
Old 2019 CC at top in black binder, new 2020 CC in blue binder
Tabs: I love tabs! I pick them up on sale at places like Target and love them because they make it easier to find things in books, and many of them are removable so you can move them around as needed.
I used one on my Index page and started a list of the books I have published so far, plus a list of simple notebooks I’d like to make soon.
I like to use pencil in my Index so I can more easily make adjustments if needed. I tried to keep a lot of open spaces in the Index of the CC so you have room to add whatever entries you need to stay organized.
The back of my planner has pockets for my sticky tabs – yay!
Here’s how my books pages turned out. I like having a quick reference to my ISBN numbers, publication dates, sizes, how many pages are in each book, etc..
By the way, it wasn’t until I finished taping little thumbnails of my books to these pages that I realized I have illustrated and published 9 books in 14 months! Of course, 3 of them are simple notebooks, but still. I used the whale on page 89 to write myself a little motivational reminder to help keep me moving forward with my goals to eventually be able to support myself doing what I love to do.
Life is short – enjoy each and every day!
And use your planner to keep track of those days however best works for you!
I fully intended to sleep in this morning but woke up at 7 to the sound of rain. And for some reason, when it’s raining, I get the urge to pick up my paints and pencils and do something creative. Maybe splash some color around to brighten a dull sky? Negative ions in the air? Who knows. But I’ve got this fish design that’s going into my upcoming Oceanimaginary book and I’ve been dying to test it out with a little color. I printed the lighter grey-line version of this design (which I always include with my downloadable PDFs on Etsy) on Neenah Bright White 65 lb. card stock.
I find I enjoy coloring over the grey lines more than I do black lines. It allows me to use different colors (like reds, browns, blues and greens) over the grey to add more depth and line interest, plus there is less of a chance the black ink (I have an old Epson Inkjet printer) will smudge when I am using paints and lighter colored pencils.
The first thing I did was paint the fish’s body with a mix of Karen Spencer’s mica paints. I really like using waterbrushes (the kind with the reservoir you fill for continued use). I typically have a few ready to go and use a different one for each of the general colors I am working with so it’s easier to switch while blending. In this piece for example, I had a brush for gold, one for orange and one for my reds—including a gorgeous red Karen named Ruby Charm! Be still my heart! Once the micas dried, I used Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils to blend in more yellow, orange and red. This can take away a little of the shimmer, but not much. The flower petals on the fish were colored with Pablo Orange Yellow and then burnished with the Blender Bright. Next, I used my harder Irojiten pencils (Crimson, Plum and Black) to carve in some outlines around the petals, swirls around the face, and fins.
As many of you who use mica and pearlescent paints know, it can be tricky to capture those stunning shimmers in a photograph, but wow do they look gorgeous in person.
I also used Sakura Gellyroll Glitter, Moonlight, and Sakura Souffle gel pens to add embellishments … usually dots to add interest to different areas of the coloring.
For the flowering anemone, I used Caran d’Ache Luminance, Pablo, Irojiten, Prismacolor, and Derwent Lightfast pencils. If you are not familiar with the Lightfast pencils but love the Lumis, give them a try. I bought a few through Blick and am now a huge fan. They feel a lot like the Lumis but require even less pressure to lay down color, and they sharpen beautifully, AND they are not as expensive which is a big plus for me.
I usually use the Luminance pencils as my first layers (and now the Lightfast) because I love the way they blend. I also find that the Prismacolors blend fairly well with them, too. There are a few colors in the Prismacolor Premier set that I can’t seem to find in other colored pencils sets—the Aquamarine for instance. It just has a beautiful hue and gorgeous saturation. I used it where the flowers (and buds) join the stems of the anemone and blended down (with a Prismacolor colorless blender pencil) with Lightfast Mallard, then Luminance Moss and Dark Sap, and then Lightfast Forest for the darkest areas.
For the flowers, I used my Luminance White and Buff Titanium pencils to blend my blues. I intentionally left a little oval of white paper at the base of each petal and colored a layer of Middle Cobalt Blue and Light Blue (Luminance) around the edges. The White and Buff blended them together and carried a tiny bit of pigment into the “naked” area of each petal. I used Irojiten Teal to outline/define the petals, then I used a blue Gellyroll glitter pen along with yellow Sakura Souffle dots for the centers. And a tiny dot of Gellyroll orange in each center once the Souffle dried. Sometimes it takes a while (especially when it’s humid like today) so to help hurry along the process, I either pull out my heat gun, or just set my art under my halogen desk lamp (which gets really stinkin’ hot) and that does the trick.
This is as far as I got for the day … time to get back to layout work for the pages for Oceanimaginary! The book is coming along nicely, and I’ll be hard at it for the next week or so until I send it off for publication. Once that is off my plate, I’ll be loading all the designs from the book into my Etsy shop, and I’ll be working on the 2020 Creative Companion and a few other surprises as well as we head toward the holidays and wrap up the year.
Thanks for being along for the ride—cheers to creativity and happy coloring, everyone!
It’s official—the Ruby Charm Colors project now includes simple arty notebooks in its collection of products! While there are plans for a total of 12 different cover designs in the 8.5 x 11″ format, I’ll also be adding smaller-sized notebooks as well as square books in the coming months.
For now, the 8.5 x 11″ notebooks featuring the Insectimaginary, Little Bird and Flying Pig artwork are available on Amazon. Each book is 118 pages and has a velvety soft, full-color front and back cover. There is room along the spine to write in your own title (if you would like) and in addition to lined pages, there are also a few blank pages to help divide up the notebook and give you room to sketch or map things out.
Each book includes a little Ruby Charm Colors line art that coincides with the theme of the cover that you could color if you wish. The Insectimaginary design was inspired by my Insectimaginary coloring book and was completed with a mix of mica watercolors, colored pencils and gel pens. Little Bird was colored on black card stock with pencils and a few gel pen embellishments. And Flying Pig, inspired by the Chinese New Year and 2019, the Year of the Pig, was also colored on tinted card stock using a mix of watercolors, pencils and pens. The next design to arrive on Amazon, book four, will be Spring Rabbit (March Hare).
These notebooks are handy for all sorts of things including journaling, planning trips or projects, keeping track of what’s growing in your garden, lists, exercise routines, creative writing, brainstorming … whatever you need. I’ve already started filling one up with technical notes about using some of my design software and another will turn into a trip and travel notebook.
Pretty and practical, these notebooks make fun gifts, too!
Full page of line art as a decorative first page (and you can color it if you like!)
The past few weeks have been busy for the Ruby Charm Colors project director (that’s me) and book maker (that’s me, too) since there has been renewed excitement over the Black Magic coloring books. The original Black Magic has been around for over a year, but Black Magic 2 made it’s debut this month and I could barely keep up with the orders for both of these special, unique handmade books. That’s a good thing! Given their highly labor-intensive nature, however, I will only be making them in limited batches a few times a year now, so if you see them in my Etsy shop, grab them before they are gone. You can also add your name to a “restock request” in the Etsy listing so that you are notified via email when the books are available again.
Better yet, join the private RubyCharmColors Facebook community of colorists to stay in the know. Once you get to the main RubyCharmColors Facebook business page, just click the “Join Group” button, answer a few quick questions so we know you are legit, then someone will let you in. Once in the group, you can see a beautiful collection of RubyCharmColors illustrations colored by members of our wonderful little community, and some of them are on black—lots of inspiration, and lots of support in the form of tips and encouragement, too.
Each book is personalized with the new owner’s first name embossed in gold, silver or copper, and I have recently added Sapphire blue to the newest batch of Black Magics.
Two covers of the original Black Magic books embossed with hand-colored and embellished bird designs prior to binding.
Each cover takes about an hour to personalize from start to finish because I hand-color each bird with colored pencils (and sometimes watercolors) and also embellish them with metallic and gel pens, and a little Wink of Stella. Every book cover is unique to it’s new owner, and though they may seem expensive for a coloring book, based on the quality of the materials I use and the time I put into each one, they are actually quite reasonable.
The Black Magic 2 books feature the heart with cicada design on the cover, and I follow the same process to personalize each one.
Black Magic 2 cover in the process of personalizing.
Black Magic 2 close-up.
Once the covers are complete and fully dry, I add a clear plastic protection cover, an introduction page with a few tips, 25 illustrations printed on one side of each page, two blank black pages for testing your colors, a heavy black sketchbook backing, and I then bind the books together with a spiral coil across the top for ease of use. I also include a heavy plastic page you can move around the book to protect the page below whichever page you are working on.
Quick FYI—my Artist Edition books can only be found in my Etsy shop and are not available with the mass-produced coloring books, art journals and notebooks I sell on Amazon.
My muse, Ruby Charm, is included in the original Black Magic book.
Coloring on black pages can produce beautiful pops of color, though it does take a little getting used to. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your different pencils brands, and you can use some watercolor as well (as long as you don’t completely soak the page). All of my handmade Artist Edition books are printed on 65 lb. card stock so they are fairly sturdy and take pencils and some watercolors quite well. You can take a look at two of my previous blog posts about coloring on black here and here for additional tips.
If you don’t want to spring for one of the Artist Edition Black Magic books (sadly, they are quite expensive to ship overseas) you can still try your hand at coloring on black by downloading PDFs and printing them at home on black card stock.
I highly recommend using a laser printer! Ink jets will work, but the black lines will be a bit more faint and difficult to see on the paper. Laser-printed pages offer a little more contrast and the ink is shinier so it is a little easier to see. Several craft stores (like Michaels) carry black (or very dark charcoal) card stock and my favorite so far is the Recollections 65 lb card stock found in the scrapbooking aisles. If you have an inkjet printer, maybe try charcoal tinted paper along with black (just in case the black doesn’t allow you to see the black ink adequately). And of course you can experiment with other colored card stock tints as well.
It’s always a challenge to capture the reflective nature of metallics in photos, but in person, these paints have a truly magical shimmer!
I am currently taking pre-orders for both Black Magic books and will begin shipping them at the end of June. Once this batch is sold out, they probably won’t be available again until November (in time for Christmas).
Happy coloring! And if you give one of my coloring designs a try on black paper, tag #RubyCharmColors on Instagram so I can see it!
I’m so pleased to have had the opportunity to spend time with Isabell Vestermark, also known as Passionista Colorista, at the end of April to talk about Ruby Charm Colors. Isabell, a journalist who lives in Umeå, Sweden, was such an engaging host with lots of great questions for me. I am so happy we were able to chat about art and coloring—thank you, Isabell!
Please visit Isabell’s website which has links to her blog and social media accounts, as well as her podcast series—so many wonderful voices with a passion for art, coloring, colored pencils, and more.
Art has the power to bring people together from all over the world, and since starting the Ruby Charm Colors project, I’ve met a few that have made my world a better place. Someone who has inspired me recently is Karen Spencer, also known as @indigoartgb on Instagram.
Karen hand-crafts absolutely gorgeous watercolors that have comfortably nestled their way into my collection of art supplies and I just adore them. Not only are they high-quality and an absolute dream to use, but I love knowing they are made by a real person—an independent artist who struggles and finds joy in art just like me.
Originally from Carlisle, Cumbria, Karen was adopted and brought to Blackpool where she has lived her whole life. Blackpool is on the Lancashire coast in northwest England, and is a lively seaside resort town with piers, amusement parks, and casinos. It also hosts the annual Punk rock Rebellion Festival and one of the most famous light shows on earth, Blackpool Illuminations.
Growing up in such a vibrant and colorful place likely had some influence on Karen’s artistic nature. As a child, she was drawn to music and the arts and dreamed of illustrating books for children. She went to art collage but money was tight at the age of 18, so she worked nights at a rest home and started making her own acrylic paints to help pay the rent on her first flat.
Holding down several jobs while trying to get through classes took it’s toll and Karen had to leave college before she got her degree. But, she worked at a number of jobs that allowed her to keep honing her artistic skills. Since the promenade along Blackpool always has room for artisans, she worked as a glass engraver and as a candle carver, and was an acrylic nail artist, too—for 20 years!
Following a few life-altering experiences, Karen took stock of what she really wanted to do. After noticing artists in the YouTube videos she watched were making a living, she opened her Etsy shop, KJDesignByKaren, in 2016 to sell handmade earrings and hand-printed totes (which she also sold on eBay). Around that same time, she noticed handmade watercolors appearing on the market. Since she had already been collecting a variety of pigments over the years to make acrylic, oil paint, and egg tempura gouache paints, she decided to give it a try.
Karen’s beautiful paints started selling, and as she attracted more customers and followers, her business gained traction. She introduced mica paints to her lineup, and her rich, shimmery tones caught the attention of artists and adult coloring books fans who craved unique, high-quality paint, and who wanted something extra with her new mica paints to spice up their work.
I was introduced to Karen through a dear friend who sent me a set of Karen’s micas. They were a surprise gift, and as I opened each carefully wax-paper wrapped rectangular pan, I felt like I was opening the world’s most special piece of candy. Seriously. Little pans of delicious jewel tones. Not runny like honey or molasses, but viscous enough to easily leave a fingerprint when pressed. Each pan made me gasp and ooooh and ahhh (just ask my daughter) and I couldn’t wait to grab my brushes. I was immediately struck by the creamy texture of the paints and I am now hooked.
And Karen has been coloring and painting my illustrations! In addition to being a skilled paint-maker, she is also a very talented artist. The first coloring she posted on Instagram took my breath away. Against a gold background, she worked some major magic on my “Cicadas” line art using a mix of Faber-Castell Polychromos colored pencils and her handmade watercolors:
She also colored (and painted) “Mice in Freesia” and blew people away with her blending skills and color choices using the Polychromos pencils again with her watercolors. Just look at those rich orange hues of the flowers against the deep blue ground and the delicate greens tinged with yellows and purples—lovely:
So what about Karen’s paints? Why are they so special?
Paints generally contain a basic mix of superfine pigment particles (which gives the paint its color) along with a liquid “vehicle” that suspends and binds the pigment in such a way we can use it as paint. Different paint makers use different combinations of pigments from natural and synthetic sources and vehicles (like humectants which attract and hold moisture) in their mixtures, and many are kept under lock and key.
Karen’s paint-making is a labor of love. She told me that single-pigment, artist quality paints take longer to make, and that every pigment she uses for her colors reacts differently with the special humectant she uses.
Her top-secret humectant is what makes her paint exceptional. It is a recipe she got from a friend a long time ago when she was making gouache paints. As far as she knows, nobody else is using this recipe, and it’s why her paints re-wet so effortlessly. One of the first things I noticed about Karen’s paints was that one touch of my wet brush instantly brought the paint to life. Compared to traditional dry pans of watercolor that require a good bit of “scrubbing” with a brush before the pigment lets loose, the difference was immediately noticeable.
Once she blends her pigments with her special humectant, she waits a few days until most of the water evaporates. Some of her pigments take several weeks. And then she pours them again.
“My paints contain no fillers whatsoever—they are pure pigments and humectant, unlike the bigger commercial brands.”
The mica watercolors are a lot quicker in comparison, although some of the colors “shrink back” during the evaporation process and she has to top them up.
The pigments Karen uses are all high quality, artist grade from a nearly 200 year old shop in London. (For a good primer on pigments, click here). Aside from Alizarin crimson (which was originally made from the madder plant and likely to fade over time), Karen’s pigments have the highest light-fastness rating so they should stand the test of time and not fade in the light.
“I have no idea how lightfast the mica paints are, as they are a new thing” she told me. “I don’t use cosmetic grade micas—only art and crafts micas (so the sellers tell me)” and she sources them from all over the world.
My understanding is that iridescent or pearlescent mica paints are pretty stable since they are made from mica which is a mineral that reflects light and gives paints that shimmery look. My guess is that the pigments used with the mica is what affects the lightfast quality of the end product, so if you are using high quality pigments and humectants, the mica paints should be high quality (and lightfast) as well.
Karen’s secret laboratory and workspace
Karen said she wants to continue doing what she does. “It’s very hard work and sometimes I’m up till 4 in the morning, but I don’t mind—I love it. I’d like to employ a couple of like minded people maybe in the future. I don’t want to be rich, I just want to be able to support myself without having to slog it out for someone else.”
That sounds very familiar.
In our back and forth notes the past few weeks, I realized I found a kindred spirit in Karen. Like me, she surrounds herself with color and said that her house looks like a mad woman decorated it. “I believe colours can affect your mood,” and I agree.
“When I start a piece I can see the end result in my mind’s eye, so I just start with a colour then pick up the next colour I think will compliment it. I do try to limit myself to 5 colours though (you can have as many shades of that colour you like, in my 5 colour rule).”
And have you seen the pic I posted on Instagram of the gorgeous red mica paint she sent along? She labeled it “Ruby Charm.” Be still my heart!
In addition to art having the ability to bring people together, it also has healing powers. “I’m a great believer in the healing that comes from art and being able to express yourself when words fail,” said Karen. And she knows from experience. She volunteered doing art therapy classes at a drop-in center for the homeless and drug and alcohol addicts, and will be returning this year to volunteer again. Blackpool “has a massive drug and alcohol problem here (like many places) with a lot of hurting and broken people.” If art can play a role in helping people refocus and heal, that’s a very good thing.
I am looking forward to seeing what Karen does in the future, and am excited to try out her single-pigment paints when I add them to my collection of micas. Keep your eyes on her: check out her Etsy shop and give her a follow on Instagram, and if you try her paints, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.
Cheers to art and the artists who make our world a better place, and thank you, Karen, for sharing your craft and artistry with us!
UPDATE! To see a full review of these mica paints by the talented Colour with Claire, check out this helpful review on YouTube:
You can also see Karen’s paints in action in this great review by Hungry for Paint on YouTube: