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Robbi’s New Toy

by | Feb 13, 2015 | Creative Process | 3 comments

I remember being a kid and wanting a toy and wanting it so bad that it eclipsed all other wants and even needs, becoming the abiding force in my life and causing me to forget about such trivial details such as eating and using the bathroom. Now the toys I crave are few and far between. Because, let’s face it, writers just don’t need much gear. It’s a gripping enterprise, but mostly an interior one.

Not so with illustrators.

We have a longstanding rule that whenever Robbi needs/wants (the line is so hazy) something or other for her art, she can have it (provided we can afford it; I had to put a kibosh on the full-time life model who would have lived in the storage room). This usually results in appealing stacks of cold-pressed watercolor paper and pleasing boxes of nibs and bottles of ink and the occasional collection of colorful pens. But last week, Robbi declared that the time had come to upgrade her drawing tablet.

And so she did. And so I bore witness to that flood of unparalleled little-kid toy enthusiasm once again.


For those of you who geek out about these things, Robbi’s new Cintiq is superior to her previous one in various ways.

  • higher resolution
  • better color accuracy
  • higher pressure sensitivity
  • slightly textured surface for a more “paper-like” touch
  • smaller and more lightweight 

These tablets are not inexpensive, but they are marvelous machines, enabling Robbi to sketch and revise in a fraction of the time that it would take her to do it all manually.

Lately, I have been working on a book for elementary school kids. The book is about a spirited-yet-impatient girl named Maggie (who thinks she is a crack detective but actually isn’t) and her understated-yet-observant brother Herman (who is actually quite good at thinking through problems). Together, they figure out who stole the school’s beloved mascot, encountering various opposition and misadventures along the way.

Robbi has been spending one day a week developing the illustrations for the pitch that our agent will send out to publishers.

Here are Maggie and her little brother Herman.


And here is Maggie’s hapless homeroom teacher Mrs. Bunyan.


And, last and definitely least, the principal’s awful secretary, Mrs. Breath.


Robbi is doing all of these developmental sketches on her tablet, which means she can scribble and scratch and then take a screenshot and send it my way. No need for erasing or scanning or using up piles of paper. The tools are getting so good that they even do a fairly good job of approximating the kind of organic, splattery feel of Robbi’s pen and ink work.

Lest you worry, she still does plenty of that, too, though usually only to create the finals for our books. All of the initial sketching happens on the computer at this point.

Here are some of the original pen and ink drawings for a book we’re working on now. She tends to do all the drawings in one marathon session, the result being a room literally covered in dozens of drying paintings.


That’s all I’ve got for this morning. I sit here vaguely wishing for a toy, but not really needing one.





  1. Aimee

    Lucky Robbi! My husband has been coveting one of those tablets for quiet some time. They are tres cool.

    • Robbi

      Yes, Aimee!! I feel very lucky. And if your husband can scrape together the cash, it’s totally worth it – saves me lots and lots and LOTS of time that I don’t have to spend sketching and erasing and scanning etc. The best. :)

  2. Jenifer

    crack detective …
    is crack an adjective or a noun?
    (you see, I spent many years in Washington when it was mayored by Marion Barry)


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