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Studio Views: Sharpie Markers to the Rescue

Markers for art were a happy surprise. I was a pre-marker child and learned to draw and color with crayons. Markers were for addressing packages. Until Best Friends Think Alike, I illustrated my picture books with watercolor and black ink in a technical pen.

Tools--SharpieIn designing each of my books, I try to match method and medium. As I lay out the pages, the story takes shape, the text evolves, the art and the words begin to interact. Best Friends Think Alike is a play — written in dialogue — about playing. I looked for ways to indicate the speakers and to convey the interaction of fantasy and reality. Colored names, type, and clothing — red for Ruby and blue for Beryl — would identify the actors.

Markers are not just watercolors in a different delivery system. A limited palate of watercolor offers a limitless variety of color. A marker, like a crayon, asserts its own color. But I found that dotting, swirling, striping, and stippling created new colors and built contours and textures. Like watercolors, washable markers are transparent, and become deep and rich when layered. Unfortunately, their color can run when one line is drawn over another. Sharpie markers to the rescue. Like technical ink, Sharpies are not waterbased, do not smear, and make clear lines. This property suggested the use of colored outlines to define the boundaries between the everyday world and imagination — black for reality, and each girl’s color for her fantasies — and inspired the design for the endpapers. Throughout the book I had used purple — a mixture of Ruby’s red and Beryl’s blue — to express the friends’ agreement. In the pattern of the endpapers, red and blue meet in crisp stripes to make a purple grid — simple with markers, too difficult with a brush.

Like watercolors, markers reveal the activity of the artist. This gives the art immediacy and energy, but comes at a price. Both media are unforgiving when there is a mistake. Each picture is quickly drawn, but often must be drawn again and again before it is right.

Not every picture book calls for markers, but I look forward to being surprised again by their happy vitality.

From the March/April 1998 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Picture Books. Click on the tag Studio Views for more illustrators.

About Lynn Reiser

Author/illustrator Lynn Reiser's books include Margaret and Margarita / Margarita y Margaret, Hardworking Puppies, and Any Kind of Dog. She is also a practicing psychiatrist and a professor at Yale University School of Medicine.

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