Character Design: Commodore Thomas

Designing characters for the Boathouse series is challenging. Not only do you have to figure out what exactly they’re going to look like, but you have to design all the expressions, physical movements and limitations, and then take all of that information and be able to reproduce that look for consistency throughout the whole book.

I think it’s my favorite part of illustrating!

The Cat and the River Thames introduces a new location and various new characters, including some pirate rats and another boat builder. These were fairly easy to design; okay, so the rats gave me a little trouble, but it only took me a day or so to really get them where I wanted them.

But the book also introduces a bigger character, and let me just say, it was not easy designing him.

Continue reading “Character Design: Commodore Thomas”

New Booth Displays

You may have seen in my AppleUmpkin post that I made some new updates to my booth displays. The displays that I had weren’t quite working for me, and I knew that I was going to need more and better displays for new products.

After browsing Pinterest, I really didn’t have any ideas on what I wanted for my note cards and new earring style. I found displays I liked, but I didn’t want to spend a ton of money if I wasn’t sure I knew that was going to be the display I’d use for a really long time.

I started to stress about the festival, and I was running out of time.

There was a day about a week before the festival that I was taking a van load of donations to a local second hand store, and at the bottom of my pile was a cardboard box full of wooden boxes. The boxes had been given to me years ago, full of art supplies. The boxes didn’t quite work for me for storage purposes, but I loved them too much to get rid of them.

Wooden boxes, before…

So in my basement they sat.

Last year I decided I should get rid of them, but I could never quite bring myself to actually take them out of the house.

And I’m so glad I didn’t!

They have dividers in the bottom half and a hinged lid, and are super sturdy. After some playing around, I figured out how to turn them into my displays!

I took two boxes and removed the hinges and hardware, then painted them black. The bottom halves became note card displays; I used to have them displayed in baskets, but you couldn’t see what styles were in the baskets, and this allows shoppers to see what styles are available at a glance.

Testing it as a note card display

The tops I took and hinged together. Once put on it’s side, I attached some ribbon for hanging the earrings on.

Box lids before…
Box lids after!

One box I left the top and bottom together, but removed the handle and latches. After painting it black, it became the display for some of my Christmas items!

Testing out Christmas display layout

I didn’t take one of the box bottoms to the festival; it was supposed to hold my Christmas cards to sell. Yet again, the Note Card Gremlins attacked. Before one of the last festivals I did, all of the settings for the printer got messed up and note cards wouldn’t print properly. This time, my blank note cards disappeared, so I had to reorder new ones. After they arrived, my printer would print about 3/4 of the note card beautifully, but for the last couple of inches, the note card would get pushed crooked and print incorrectly. My tech guy (aka my husband) will be checking the printer and trying to remove the Gremlins from it soon, so I hope to have Christmas cards available soon.

What would you use these boxes for?

Designing A Booth

My canopy for doing art and craft fairs will arrive this week! It was supposed to arrive yesterday, but during it’s long journey from Tennessee, it encountered two storms over the past week, which delayed the delivery.

Now I really need to get serious about designing my booth and figuring out layout, displays, color schemes, product placement….there’s so much to do!

Here is my super quick design so far:

Here’s what I definitely need:

– Tables

In my research, someone recommended these from Target. I was thinking about two of them for now, one for the newsletter sign up, business cards, giveaway, and portfolio to sit on underneath the framed art, and the other one to go towards the back of the tent for the prints, note cards, and check out. I’ll also need table space for when the Boathouse Mouse books are available (YAY!), so the tables need to be big enough for flexibility with my products.

I’d also like a smaller one to go under the jewelry display. I haven’t decided if all of the jewelry will hang, if the mirror will hang, or if anything will be on display racks on the table. I’ve seen collapsible bookcases, so maybe one of those with a tablecloth on it would work for this. I also have a white table about the size I’m looking for that our piano keyboard sits on…it’d need some repainting, but it would work great for this!

– Tablecloths

I definitely want a nice gray color; nothing too dark like charcoal, but a nice medium color, maybe like graphite. I found a tutorial making them out of bedsheets, and even found sheets at Wal-Mart that would work, but I’m afraid they’d still look like bedsheets once I sew them up. I don’t want to buy them pre-made as they’re so expensive, and sewing them really doesn’t take a lot of time or effort.

I’m planning on getting more fabric that matches the runner I used for the show I did in December (you can see a little bit of it below in the jewelry display section). It’s a great mixture of purple, blue and gray, all colors I use for my business. I hope I can still find it!

– A sign with the business name on it

Goodness, there are so many opinions on this one: do you just put one outside the tent along the top? Just inside on the back wall? Both places?

I definitely need at least one sign. Banners are expensive, so I’m thinking about making my own. I definitely want one on the inside, and was thinking about having it be on white or light gray fabric or board in a black frame with blue fabric draped behind it similar to this:

For outside the booth, I’m not sure exactly what I’m thinking, other than it would have to be long and narrow. I think I might have one professionally made so it will stand up to wind and rain as needed.

– Jewelry displays

For the show in December, I used fabric covered cork board in a frame with straight pins to hang the earring papers on, and also had other earrings in a bin:

I didn’t really care for the display, but it was quick and easy to do at the last minute. I really like the idea of having frames echo along each wall as I’m an artist, so doing a couple big frames with ribbon like this might be nice:

Or I could do smaller ones on the table and have a framed mirror hanging above them. I should definitely get a mirror though; either a framed one for hanging on the wall or a tabletop one. Thoughts?

– Displays for my framed originals

I really really liked these:

They’re priced great, looked sturdy, and if necessary I could attach them to posts or the top of my tent for extra stability. However, the shipping is ridiculously expensive and more than doubled the cost of them.

Then I found a tutorial for making something similar. I’m not sure about the fabric covering them; I’d spray paint the metal wire white, but am afraid it would look cheap. Jury’s still out on what exactly I’ll do for display racks, but I definitely want them on the wall instead of table top.

Things that would be fun but not necessary:

– A tall camping chair or collapsible stool

Everything has to fit in the back of my fan, so portability is a must. Some of these fairs are all day events, so I’m going to want to sit at times. I do have a tall stool with a back that I could bring, but it is bulky. I have camping chairs that I can borrow, but they’re so low. I want to be able to see customers and look approachable, so hiding behind a table isn’t always the best option.

– An indoor/outdoor rug

Apparently it’s been found that if you have a rug in your booth, it’s more homey and people tend to spend more time in your booth, causing sales to go up. Who woulda thunk it?

I’m totally in love with this one, but the price is waaaay out of my budget:

I’ve found cheaper ones (for less than $20!) in a dark gray, and I could always paint a design on them similar to the one above. That would also be a nice option because if it gets ruined on a really muddy day, I won’t mind quite as much if it doesn’t get clean and I have to replace it. However, this isn’t a necessity, just something else that makes the booth feel pretty.

– A hand truck or dolly

This may have to go to the need list. If I have to park far away from where my tent is, there is no way I’m going to want to have to carry everything, especially with my bad back and in the summer heat.

Am I missing anything? Any suggestions for improvements to the booth?

Behind the Scenes: Illustrating Book One

Can I confess something to you guys?

When RV approached me before Christmas about illustrating his children’s book series, I jumped at the chance. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a few years, and hey, I could cross something off of my bucket list! Woo hoo!

However, part of me wanted to back out. All these fears crept in and I would start to panic. I mean, how am I supposed to take some one else’s character that they created and bring it to life as a visual image, all while being true to my work yet true to the original idea? What about the setting? I have no idea what boats really look like or the other settings from the book. How am I going to color it? What about layout, how are my illustrations going to work around the text? How in the world am I going to fit the time into my crazy life to do this and do this well? What if my illustrations are awful and ruin the books for RV?!?

The first few times I would send an image to RV, I would expect an email back saying that I wasn’t a good fit for his book and that he was going to find someone else. As you can tell from my Facebook posts and RV’s blog, aside from a few tweaks and adjustments here and there, we are moving along in the process and all of my fears have been (mostly) irrational.

The Process:

RV was totally awesome, and when he sent the first draft of the book for me to look over, he sent along initial sketches of the cover and first few pages of the book. This helped me get a feel for what the character looked like and what RV was envisioning for each illustration. He also gave me the freedom to take each of his initial sketches, change things, and just run with it. I got to be creative, yet still follow his lead with his initial concepts and ideas of what he was thinking.

But illustrating really isn’t just drawing pretty pictures to coincide with the story. I’ve spent so many hours researching boats, settings, period clothing, and getting input from RV. It’s been a long process to get just the concept sketches done, but even though it’s time consuming, it’s so much fun!

What I’m Learning:

The more research you do and the more reference images you have, the better your pictures will be. I’m probably not even using half of the reference images that I’ve found, but I have a better understanding of each piece of the pictures from all the research. I tend to like to skip this part and just start working, but I really do need to slow down more and put more effort into the work before I start drawing or painting. My computer screen looks like this more often than not when I’m doing a concept sketch:

I know next to nothing about boats. Thankfully, RV is an expert as he builds boat for his job and as mission work (you can check out Mission Navigation here!). He has been ridiculously helpful with explaining everything. I’ve also been getting brownie points with my kids; now that I have some sort of an idea what I’m talking about (or at least I pretend really well), I’ve been teaching the kids terms and parts when they’re building their LEGO boats 🙂

It’s not always going to go quick, but it’s not always going to be slow! Some illustrations were done in one quick initial sketch (I love you, pages 6, 11, and 13!), yet others took many sketches (here’s looking at you, page 14) or even two weeks to get the idea “right” (that’d be you, page 5….*shudders*). No matter how long the process takes, it’s always worth it to just get the right amount of fun and detail and story in each picture.

Mice feet are super weird. So are their noses. But in order to get Boathouse to be mouse-like and be believable as a mouse, I had to really study what a mouse looks like, even if he’s pretty anthropomorphic. I think I spent a couple days just drawing mice features over and over again to get a feel for what they look like! Most of that was because we had no idea what Boathouse’s feet were supposed to look like; every other part of him came together easily, but man, mouse feet…they’re difficult!

It’s okay to not know what I’m doing. A couple days after RV approached me, I stumbled across an online class that focused on illustrating children’s books that have animals as their main characters, and it was even on sale!!! I mean, what are the odds that I’d find that class when I needed it?!? I took it in January, and it was so helpful. It helped me really figure out what Boathouse should look like, how to figure out the best compositions, all those artsy things that I was freaking out about a month prior to that. I really was able to gain confidence from this class and really add more to each illustration.

What’s next:

I’ll be honest, I don’t know when the book will be out, but I’m hoping that it will be sooner rather than later. A lot of this is taking longer than I anticipated as I’m working 10 – 12 hour days for my in home daycare 5 days a week, and then spending time with my husband and kids as well as attempting to have a life on top of that. I am hopeful the hardest part of the process is hopefully behind us and it should move quicker from here on out.

Now that all of the concept drawings are done, I get to take all the thumbnails and make them the approximate size of the finished product. I’ll be adding in details that I couldn’t add in before (like buttons, detail on a fence, etc), and I hope to have that done this week, end of next weekend at the latest.

After those are done, it’s color testing time, and then finally the final draft which will be scanned and used for the book. Whew!

Gosh, this post has been so hard to write. It’s hard to show restraint and not tell or show you more about the book or illustrations! I hope you all will love the book when it’s done, because I think RV has done a great job writing this book and creating the world of Boathouse Mouse. And I am so very very thankful I get to be a part of this!

Throwback Thursday: Funky Bunnies!

And this week’s Throwback Thursday piece is…..

Death of the funky bunnies

Title: Death of the Funky Bunnies

Medium: Permanent marker on paper

Size: 24″ x 54″

When: My freshman college intro to art class; spring semester 2003

Purpose: Class assignment

History: In my class, we were learning about positive and negative space, as well as making interesting compositions. One of our homework assignments was to draw 10 random interesting objects. I think I had chosen things like my scissors, a pile of hangers, a hand, my light…things like that. I remember feeling frustrated after putting time into sketching in details of all the objects to just go in and fill them in with permanent markers.

For this assignment, we had to take those drawings and do a large three panel drawing. One panel had to have one image repeated, another had to have four images collaged together into one large image, and the last panel had to have one image but it had to divide in half so one part would have the image positive space, the other half would have the image as negative space.

Thought process: This was one of our first assignments for that class, so I didn’t really know what I was doing. Our professor wanted to three panels to flow together, and I remember it being hard to get the flow. My middle panel took awhile to get it to mesh well with the left panel. Most of my classmates divided their last panel either horizontally or vertically, but I did mine at a diagonal as I thought it mimicked the angle of the scissor handles coming down as well as created more flow for the white traveling into the last panel.

Problems I encountered: Have you ever tried doing a huge project in winter in a small room with just permanent markers? Hellooooo fumes! And headaches. And dying markers. I think I went through four or five of the big fat permanent markers for this project.

Fun tidbits: How did this piece get it’s name? It was totally unintentional, but when the piece was done, it looked like this really silly looking rabbits were falling to their death in the left panel. In the middle panel, it looks like a priest hand blessing them as they are heading towards the light in the right panel. Random, I know, but the title stuck and it’s one of my favorite pieces because of that!

Favorite part: I love the flow of the piece, how it draws your eye to the right. I also like how the middle panel turned out.

Least favorite part: I don’t like how streaky the marker is. I’m such a perfectionist!


What do you think of the title? 

Mother’s Day Project

The week before Mother’s Day I posted a picture on Facebook of a project I was designing, and then a quick little teaser of the piece done. I have to apologize as I said that I didn’t have permission to post the full after picture yet as it was a surprise gift someone commissioned. And that’s not exactly true. You see, that piece I was working on was for my own mom; I just knew I wasn’t going to see her anytime soon and didn’t want to ruin her surprise 🙂


Graphite and colored pencil on linen parchment paper.

Size: 8″ x 10″, framed

Purpose: Gift for my mom 🙂

Time to complete: From starting to design to completion, I’d say about 4 hours with doing other odd jobs in that time as well

History behind the piece: My mom LOVES genealogy, and is in fact pursuing opening her own genealogy business. I saw this family tree design on Pinterest a few weeks ago, and knew that I had to do something similar for her as a gift at some point. Mother’s Day sounded like as good as any time, so I got to work.

Thought process: The original piece is done on a pillow case. I wanted something that could stay nice for a long time, and as there are 6 people and 2 animals living in my parent’s house, I didn’t think a light colored pillow would be the best option. Something that could hang on the wall, even in my mom’s computer/office area might be nice. I didn’t exactly like how the names on the left side of the original piece were upside down, so that ended up getting switched so all the names are easier to read. I thought the piece needed some more color, which is why instead of the knot in the tree, I added a heart 🙂 All the names are lowercase; I was going to try and do capitals where necessary, but knowing that a ‘P’ would just look funny was not the best option. I think it turned out okay regardless of capitalization or not.

Detail of trunk

Problems I encountered: Oh. My. Goodness. Getting those tree branches to be spaced just right was ridiculous! And as there are an odd number of people in my family, and knowing I wanted both of my parents at the top was just crazy to figure out design wise. I think it took me an hour and a half AT LEAST to get the branches positioned in such a way that looked okay. I even had to trace my sketch onto the final paper as that was the only way I could get the position to stay just right.

Design stages

Another problem was my niece and nephew have longer names than my kids do, so getting the tree to not look lopsided or super awkward as one side was sticking out farther than the other was challenging.

My favorite part: I love the way it looks framed on a wall. It looked amazing on our living room wall that I actually kept it there for a few days after photographing it. I just like how simple it is. I may even make another one just of the five of us for my living room!

My least favorite part: I don’t know if there’s anything I don’t really like. I wish I could have put more leaves on the trees, but that would have made it very crowded.


What did you do for your mom for Mother’s Day?