This image is the closest I could come to what I have in my imagination. I am not certain Zelie had colored pencils. In any case, I have never seen any. She will acquire other supplies as the story goes on but at least this image suggests a young girl. And a question to keep in mind throughout the story: is she the main character?
Zélie de Marais grew up in the old part of town where her father ran a print shop. Odd and interesting people did business there, giving her a view of a world she was allowed only to observe. She could take no part because she was a girl and easily overlooked. She watched the editors who brought in the texts for newspapers, writers with their manuscripts wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, and political candidates who needed broadsheets to pass out on the street. The men in top hats and long coats who went to the back room to talk in low voices to her father were from the various societies that delved into philosophical and esoteric mysteries. Some part of them seemed to have gotten lost there for though they were animated, their eyes were fixed and glazed. Zélie’s father would always listen with interest for they brought him much business but he was usually too busy to go to their meetings.
Zélie was forever in the shop, allowed to run free about the place provided she stayed well away from the presses when the men were running them. They pulled the heavy bar with a sharp jerk and then held it down to press the ink into the paper. That was for the pictures. Or they turned the large wheel that for many years was taller than she was to make the broadsheets move through. They paid no attention to a little girl, her nose smudged with ink and her curly hair tied up in a crooked ribbon, always peering at the activity, taking it all in.
Zélie might have gone to school with proper girls but her mother had died when she was born. If it was strange to others that a working man would raise a girl alone, it never seemed so to her. Her days were full of interest and as she was generally ignored she could do as she pleased. Her father kept an eye on her without appearing to do so, satisfied with how much she learned about the shop and the way it was run. Yes, she will do fine, he thought, when the time comes.
Zélie gathered up the ends of pencils and scraps of paper trimmed off from the printed sheets and made a miniature workroom of her own behind her father’s tall desk that housed the orders and accounts. She piled the papers together and kept the pencils in a little space between the boards. She would take up a vantage point in the room and draw the men at work. At first she was more interested in big machinery than in people but as she grew older she began to draw the men – how their heads moved as they turned the wheel, how they used the muscles of their backs to give force to their arms, how their posture changed as they grew tired. There was always something new, even at the same press, one day after another.
Zélie did not know when she began to draw more than she saw. She always tried to draw faithfully, to put onto paper the moment that had caught her attention. Then she would put the drawing away – by that time she had boxes and boxes of them – and when she looked at it later she would notice something she hadn’t known was there at the time. One of the men was jealous of another: it showed in the glance of his eyes. Another had a subtle change in his posture, a little off-kilter – evidently the result of a night of drinking. The oddest signs were when the drawing was clearly one of the familiar men but younger. She would look at the drawing and see the young man’s eagerness that had matured into self-assurance or the ambition of another now soured by disappointment. She did not know what to make of this and at first it alarmed her, as though she was prying into their private lives without their knowledge and certainly against their will. After that she would try very hard to be straightforward, just to draw what was in front of her, and she hid the drawings that had their own story to tell. So long as she kept up with the lessons he gave her, her father let her draw as much as she liked and she didn’t want him to change his mind.