I Tend to Color Outside the Lines

Despite what the title of this post might suggest, no, this isn’t some metaphor about breaking boundaries or the status quo. The truth is of the matter is, I literally color outside of the lines all of the time and it drives me crazy. Admittedly, I do it less that I used to but it still happens.

When you’re creating detailed artwork, precision and accuracy are pretty important. In art school, we were graded on our “craft” regularly. I think in truth that’s probably where my neurosis with this started. In a professional sense, this is super important. It teaches you discipline and gives you a standard for your work. In an artistic sense, the mental berating that can sometimes go along with trying to make your work perfect and be exhausting and in some cases unhealthy.

So how does a girl keep the balance between high-quality work and artistic OCD? I found that the simple answer is to give yourself break sometimes. I truly believe you should always strive to be better and improve your skills set in your artwork. If slip-ups occur, or something isn’t executed as well as it could have been, however,  you can usually always fix it and learn from your mistakes. Try to avoid abandoning a project altogether, and look for ways to turn a mistake into a happy accident. You’ll learn the most from those experiences, compared to doing something “perfect” every time.

Try practicing the technique or skill you are trying to improve in smaller form or in a sketchbook. The old saying “Practice Makes Perfect” really does have some truth to it. The more you do something the better you will become at it, by virtue of the repetition of doing it. Making a regular habit of this practice will benefit you in the long run so stick with it.

Most artists are their own harshest critic but remember that unless you are in school no one is grading your work. Yes, people are evaluating it in a sense, however, everyone starts somewhere. Every artist is at a different skill level so try to avoid comparing yourself to others in the process in a negative way.

Use the skill set of others to motivate you, or ask them for tips. In my first year of design studies, we had a fundamentals class that required us to make designs out of cut paper. One of my classmates had beautiful precision in his paper cutting skills, especially with circles which are notoriously difficult to hand cut. Some looked at his work and either marveled or despaired over their own work. The truth of the matter was, he had purchased a circle cutting tool from a local craft shop that’s used for scrapbooking and was using that to cut his circles. This wasn’t against the rules and he found a way to up the quality of his work.

My final thought on this is to learn to slow down. Creating art generally isn’t a race (unless I missed the memo). Nothing is more motivating than a deadline but it shouldn’t be to the detriment of your work. If you find you are making mistakes because you are rushing things in order to complete it in a certain amount of time, you may need to reevaluate your time management. Giving yourself an extra few days, weeks or months to complete something will do wonders.

Although I still have days where I color outside the lines, I try my best not to beat myself up for it. No one is perfect and that can be a good thing when it comes to art. Learn from your mistakes and keep pushing to improve. Even if it’s never perfect, don’t worry, it’s okay.

Barb Sotiropoulos

Barb Sotiropoulos

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

5 Responses

  1. As a kid, I never could get my crayon marks to stay in the lines of my coloring books. Like you, I’m still very nit-picky about my work, but I’m slowly learning to accept that mistakes happen. Luckily, sometimes you can erase and try again. Other times, it’s best just to leave your “mistake” and come back to it. Sometimes I find that a spot I thought looked horrible one day, turns out to look perfectly fine the next day. We also need to keep in mind that we are probably the only ones looking at our art from only a few inches away and the only ones focusing on every single pencil stroke…something that’s very hard to remember.

    1. I totally agree. I mean other than fellow artists who really want to get up close and personal with your work, chances are no one will notice. I find I need to walk away from something for a bit when I feel I’m making a lot of errors. It usually means I’m tired or have been working too long. If only my body had the stamina of my creativity! Haha!

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Hey, I'm Barb!

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

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