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Studio Views: Gliding on Paper

Illustration by Erin E. Stead. Photo: Shara Hardeson.

Illustration by Erin E. Stead. Photo: Shara Hardeson.

I have been asked to write about my favorite medium, and I happen to be writing this after a night in the studio wherein I was ready to throw my favorite right out of the window. Loving art supplies can be a little like loving family — unconditional, mysterious, and often lacking a clear understanding of the expectations of one another.

First off, I should say that I love art materials. The smell of oil paint, the feel of charcoal on paper, and the kerchunk of a printing press can all get me to flash an unguarded smile that is often lost in adulthood. I say flash because that smile is usually followed by a moment of “Oh, wait. This isn’t right.”

Years ago, I thought that I did not like painting. My assumption that it was not for me was based on insecurity. I didn’t understand painting (dilute with turpentine here, oil here, make your own stand oil…what the heck is stand oil?), and oil painting in particular didn’t seem like something I could just sit down and master. And so, what was a frustrating mystery to me soon became my major in college (no surprise, really). I have always loved science, and some of the ins and outs of oil painting needed the scientific method. I like that.

All of that being said, oil paint, which I love for its difficulty and slow drying and gleefully toxic smells, is not my favorite medium. I am a person who married someone she knew at sixteen. I am a romantic who is partial to first loves, and that love is the pencil. What I love about the pencil is the exact opposite of what I love about paint. It’s direct. In the lines in my drawings you can see how my hand shakes, presses down harder at some points and lifts back up, and that is a way I can tell a story. Good pencils glide on paper like ice skates. They smell good, too, like elementary school and potential. I just never tire of them. Any out-the-window frustration comes from me. Pencils are simple with a little fragility, and I tend to be partial to those characters.

From the March/April 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Illustration. Click on the tag Studio Views for more illustrators.

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