During my middle school years, I spent a lot of time with my friend Ben. We met in 6th grade in 1988 and immediately had a lot in common. Nintendo. Rap Music. Skateboarding. But, most importantly… drawing. We both drew constantly. On our folders, on the back of worksheets, in our textbooks… You name it. And once I started spending the night at his house on weekends, we’d draw well into the late hours of the night when we weren’t busy unlocking codes on Mega Man, or playing Palladium RPGs. We skewed dorky, for sure. Whatever. They were the glorious buffer days of post-elementary kid-dom, before the awkward uncertainty of unavoidable high school teenagery wreaked havoc on our fragile psyche.
Ben had a cool, seemingly-mysterious older brother, Josh, who was an absolutely crazy-talented artist. A true professional-grade illustrator. He was six years older than us, and I had never met anyone that weilded a pen and pencil with his level of ability. Just being around him made me feel like an absolute hack. He was really into anime and his drawings looked like they belonged on screen with any of the characters in his extensive VHS anime collection. Josh also had something else I had never seen or been aware of. A set of super-awesome markers. Not the cheap drugstore kind. The professional kind. The tools of a true artist. Berol Prismacolor markers.
Some nights, Josh would let Ben and I use his markers to color our drawings. This was a huge deal. Not only were these markers great to use—they were expensive. A couple bucks a piece back then. It seemed absurd at first, but, the first time I touched them to paper, I instantly knew why. They were inexplicably glorious! Vibrant… Heavily saturated.. They left absolutey no stroke marks. I remember thinking that they made my drawings look like animation cells. Like paint. They took my illustrations to another level from which I knew I could never return willingly. I could never again sully another piece of my artwork with the inferior grocery store markers of common laymen. I knew too much now. It was one of those awe-struck moments of young discovery that defines a time-period. I felt like I had learned something special. Something secret.
Fast forward to 8th grade. Unexpectedly, on a Christmas morning in December of 1990, I came downstairs to a monumental surprise. My parents had gifted me an entire 3-tiered set of Berol Prismacolor markers. What!? Unreal. I couldnt believe it. It was something I wouldn’t have even asked for because I thought it unattainable. It was magnificent. I still remember staying up as late as I could that night, trying out every color with silent intensity.
I continued to use the markers through middle school and the following four years of high school. My love for drawing never ceased, and I’d periodically find myself up late at night during some moment of inspiration, weilding my Primacolors with the gusto that only angsty youth can provide. After high school, during my years at The Art Institute of Atlanta, my Prismacolors served me well on countless projects. They had gone from simply facilitating a hobby, to actually helping me further my education.
After college, when my graphic design career started in earnest, most of my for-fun drawing fell by the wayside. And when I did get the non-work-related itch to illustrate, I drew in pencil, then used Adobe Illustrator to complete them. So, when I moved out from my parents house soon after graduation in May of 2000, my once-beloved Prismacolors stayed behind.
Time passed. I worked. Moved. I got married. Moved. Worked more. My twenties ended. Kids were born. My thirties ended. I kept working. Then, only a few years ago, my parents were cleaning out their house. They sent an old box of my stuff home with me. It was mostly old documents. School stuff. Some photos. But there was also an old plastic schoolbox inside as well. The kind that would hold pencils and erasers and glue when you’re in 3rd grade. But when I opened it, I was completely blindsided. There were my old Prismacolors from 1990… No way… Angles sang. I grabbed the nearest paper. And while a lot of my oft-used, go-to colors from back in the day were toast, the majority of the markers STILL WORKED! Almost 30 years later!? How?
My daughter—who is also artistically inclined and was 10 at the time—helped me go through them all one by one, keeping all the markers that still had life in them. I explained to her the glory of Prismacolor and how they were not to be weilded lightly. How these were not Crayola Magic Markers by any stretch. They were tools. I explained how she could color something red or yellow, and then go back and use 25% or 40% cold gray on top of it to create epic shadowing. I was able to hand them off to the next generation… Give them a second life. She witnessed their awesomeness. She got it. It was a whole moment. Shortly after, we got her a new basic set of her own Prismacolor markers to augment the ones I had passed down.
To this day (almost 31 years later as I write this) my still-functioning 1990 Berol Prismacolors—the same ones I held as a 13-year-old while coloring Ninja Turtles, Simpsons characters and Mechas—are within arm’s reach. Well past their expiration date. And they’re glorious.
[Honorable shout-out to my boy, Chris Moody, who—though not a visual artist at all—managed to gnaw and chew a surprisingly significant number of my marker caps.]