Studio Views: Tiny Pieces of Paint

Tools-h2brushI grew up behind the Iron Curtain. There was a shortage of everything (freedom most of all) — and only one kind of paper, one kind of ink, one kind of paint. I was one happy artist when I became an illustrator in the U.S.A. So many materials! I settled on oil pastels, which I scratched into. That created lots of residue, tiny pieces of paint everywhere. It didn’t matter as long as I was single. It started to matter a bit when I met my wife-to-be and we lived in a loft. It mattered a lot when we had our first baby. It mattered even more when Madeleine began to crawl. We built a wall, but I had nightmares about her getting into my paint thinner and X-Acto blades. I switched to watercolors, but I still wasn’t sure how safe they were. On the other hand, I found out that baby formula dissolves aquarelle. Madeleine loved it. I had to look for a studio outside the house. No more paints at home. I found myself a studio — a little apartment, really — with a kitchen.

I have to fix dinner every day at six p.m. Watercolors dry too slowly, but I can dry them in front of the oven, and bake while I’m drying my pictures. I notice people’s surprise when they meet me in the street carrying a bag smelling like a roast or a chicken. Some of the shapes on my pictures just might be sauce. Now that I have gotten used to watercolors, Madeleine paints at home (with oil).

From the March/April 1998 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Picture Books. Click on the tag Studio Views for more illustrators.
Peter Sís
Peter Sís
Peter Sís is the 2012 winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Illustrator Award. His books include The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, Tibet Through the Red Box, and Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei.

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