Crayon master turns Crayola colors into works of artColoring with crayons is a pastime many people remember from their childhood, but 83-year-old Don Marco is more interested in the hobby now than he ever was as a kid.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
Coloring with crayons is a pastime many people remember from their childhood, but 83-year-old Don Marco is more interested in the hobby now than he ever was as a kid.
Forget the unique pencils, specially designed paint brushes or sticks of compressed charcoal found in art supply stores. A simple box of Crayola crayons and some paper is all Marco needs to create fine art that is sometimes mistaken for photography.
“I’ve been called a liar right to my face: ‘Don’t you tell me that that’s crayons,’” the Red Wing resident said, imitating someone who had seen his art for the first time. “To me, that’s a compliment.”
Even though he never meant coloring to be a way to make a living, Marco has spent more of his life drawing fine art with crayons than he did working with air traffic control in Hawaii before his retirement in 1973.
With lots of free time on his hands during retirement, Marco decided to teach himself how to create realistic art with crayons.
“It all came together well enough that in two years’ time I came out with my first print,” he said. “And I’ve been gung ho ever since.”
His 38-year-long hobby has attracted public interest and ended up making money for him since he offers most of his drawings for sale on his website, www.themastercrayonartist.com.
The hobby has also helped Marco acquire a few luxuries in his retirement, including a Cadillac.
“That’s what crayons can do,” he joked.
Making a masterpiece
Crayons are a simple enough medium to find in stores, but there’s only one specific brand that gets Marco’s business — Crayola.
“For the quality,” he said.
No matter what creatively named Crayola crayon he’s using — including “inch worm,” “macaroni and cheese” or “unmellow yellow” — Marco said he can typically get five or six drawings out of one crayon. Black and white are the two exceptions, of which he uses a lot more.
In order to keep his drawing utensils sharp, Marco shaves off a lot of the crayons and estimates that he only actually draws with about a third of each color, shaving off another third and throwing the remainder away because it’s difficult to hold when it gets too small.
Marco has drawn everything from animals to landscapes to seascapes to people. Portraits are his favorite, even though he had trouble creating realistic skin tones when he first started learning.
“Crayola at the time made a color called flesh,” he explained. “There was never anything as misnamed as that flesh color.”
By experimenting with different colors Marco eventually got a grasp on drawing skin tones. His drawing process starts with using a light peach color to place certain features on the paper where he’ll want them. Yet even with a process to follow, Marco is unsure about the appearance of his work until it’s nearly finished.
“I’ve found that so much of what I do doesn’t look right until the end. And then wham-o,” he said.
The “master crayon artist” used to spend eight to 10 hours a day on his drawings, which are sometimes finished in a week and other times take longer.
“One of the reasons you don’t see crayon artists on every street corner is it’s a slow process,” Marco said.
Although his experience adds up year after year, his pace has slowed compared to what it was in his 40s.
“I’m not quite as quick as I used to be,” the 83-year-old added with a laugh.
Having previously lived in Red Wing, followed by Hawaii, California and Duluth, Marco isn’t a stranger to the area but has spent many years away. Since he only moved back to Red Wing at the end of June, Marco has yet to find studio space in town and as a result isn’t working on any projects at the moment.
“I’ve really got itchy fingers,” the anxious artist said.