Wednesday, February 22, 2006

In Praise of Magic Markers

Not exactly an auto racing illustration, but close enough to qualify - and it gives me the opening I need to talk about something that has been a powerful influence on my career: the magic marker.

From the now defunct Magic Marker website:

" In 1952, inventor Sidney Rosenthal developed and began marketing the first felt tip marking device. A chubby, squat glass bottle to hold ink with a wool felt wick and writing tip [this describes the unusual appearance of the first magic markers], Rosenthal named his new marking device Magic Marker because of its ability to mark on almost every surface..."

I got into the business just as these odd little bottle markers were disappearing. But who knows how many illustrators in how many ad agencies in the decades between the 1950's and the 1980's breathed in the heady combination of cigarette smoke and benzene while frantically scrubbing out "renderings" to provide the art directors and suits anxiously hovering over his shoulder with the visuals they needed to sell their ad concept to the client waiting in the board room?

Today, with the arrival of computers, tablets and software like Photoshop and Painter, the term "marker renderer" has been shortened to just "renderer". Outside the industry ( and even within it ) the artists who continue to ply the trade remain largely anonymous. But I am steadfastly convinced that, as a group, renderers are among the most proficient and least appreciated commercial artists. I count myself lucky to be a minor light among some truly great illustrators.

To all of them ( and you know who you are ) this one's for you!


  1. Ah, Leif, you take me back to a golden period in my youth... in the 1970s my part-time job after high school was as an apprentice in a commercial art studio. By the 1970s, marker renderers and layout or comp artists had learned to master these unwieldy markers, and use them like zen masters. It was amazing to watch them work with restraint and precision to achieve the most extraordinary effects. And you are absolutely right about the cigarette smoke and benzene; that aroma evokes more nostalgic memories for me than the smell of a Christmas tree. Of course, now I look back and realize that the benzene and cigarette smoke were highly carcinogenic. Even worse, as a collector of illustration art, I have learned that those unstable chemical markers still bleed and fade decades later. But there was no kid richer than I was, back when I peered over the drawing board to watch those old masters at work.

  2. That's a great anecdote, David. You're very fortunate to have had that experience at such an early age.

    I'm glad I had the opportunity to have experienced life in an art studio as well. So many fond memories...

    There are some legendary characters in the Toronto layout art scene - as there no doubt are in every town with an ad game.

    Perhaps I'll write about a few of those guys and post them here at some future date!

  3. Wow I LOVE your blog, thank you for the hard work you put in.

    Hey I noticed the car art, maybe you'd dig my blog in which I posted samples to a hot rodd comic I'm working on...

    I invite you to visit. my illustration blog.

  4. Thanks Toby; I did just that and was blown away by your fabulous art! I encourage everyone to check out Toby's blog Punkrock*jazz

  5. ...hey Lief....many memories here i told you I learned from one of the best...Wes Champman...maybe I was a not so old Mater...LOL

  6. That's right, Randy - I still hope to put together a week on Wes, with your assistance.

  7. Anonymous12:46 PM

    Fantastic article, I used and trained up in these pens before graduating on to the wacom tablet. Check out my site:


  8. Nothing beats the markers! I preferred Yoken to Pantone. The fine tipped cool greys were great! You had to work quick with markers. They bled quite a lot. I liked them when they aged and dried out. A bulldog clip and a tampon with a bottle of ink was always handy for laying down backgrounds.

    Thanks for the memories!