Thrilled to introduce my latest concept: “Draw Upon A Time” books! A fun and interactive new series of Sketching Stuff picture books. This has been a dream come true, as I’ve always longed to write and illustrate picture books since I was a little kid. I’m still a big kid at heart and so I wanted to create something for both children and big kids like me! For people of all ages! I simply needed a concept that combined my passion for inspiring creativity and prompting others to make new things along with my positive, always hopeful, inclusive, and life-affirming way of writing. So, Draw Upon A Time books were born!
I decided it would be awesome if folks could join one little character on a quest and add their own drawings to help tell the story along the way! Any pencil, pen, or crayon becomes a magical wand and whoever holds it during the story becomes a bit of a wizard, helping our hero throughout the quest. Parents and grandparents can read the story and have the child do the drawings along the way. Then, when the story and doodles are complete, you’ll have a wonderful, bound keepsake of your child or grandchild’s art to treasure forever!
I hope you’ll grab a copy for yourself and someone you love (it would mean the world to me! And if you can leave a review, that would be awesome as well). The first full color book, “One Little Mouse”, is available on Amazon in both paperback and hardcover editions! (also, in many other countries, though it might not have arrived in yours yet). And, if you’d like to learn more about this concept and my process of creating the Draw Upon A Time picture books, then please read on!
Most of you who have read my blog posts or listened to the Sketching Stuff podcast know that I typically tell non-fiction stories about myself and my little family that I hope will resonate on a universal level. So, when I switched to fiction writing, I wanted to try to get that same feeling of inclusivity across. While I was spinning tons of ideas in my head at the end of last year, a little mouse visited me one night as I was dreaming. When I woke up the next morning, I immediately scribbled the first few pages of what I could remember. Sure, the mouse was in my head so it was pretty much just me talking to myself. Then, I realized it was actually my inner child talking to me. And what I discovered was that if the mouse talked directly to the reader or listener then I could make it super universal by creating stories for not just all ages, but equally, all races, genders, and gender identities.
I was super excited, so I kept writing and the story flowed out of me quite easily. I had written a book! Then, I realized it was meant to be a picture book, so the real challenge lay ahead of me. How was a guy who normally only sketches random stuff, isolated on white paper, going to be able to create 40 pages of fully illustrated art, with a consistent character, and with backgrounds!! Yikes! Yeah, for a moment, I felt more than a touch overwhelmed. Yet, a complete lack of knowledge and/or skill has never stopped me before, so why should I let it now! But, I had a lot to learn. This is why I stopped my daily posts, as I needed to take that time back so I could learn some entirely new skills. Starting with one little mouse.
While I had begun sketching more whimsical characters, and quite a few mice, I hadn’t really stayed with only one specific mouse. Folks said they enjoyed my “mouse characters,” in the plural form, which meant I lacked the consistency required to recognize a single character in various poses.
So, I started sketching and sketching various mouse characters in my sketchbook until I had one that I really liked. Then I had to figure out how to envision that mouse in all different angles. I poured over books and videos to try to figure out how to proceed. I even ordered some modeling clay and tried to mold a mouse. This was not very effective to get the drawings I wanted, for me at least, but my inner child had a total blast playing! Then I tried the more traditional approach of drawing character turnarounds to work out proportion and see the character from different views.
I felt like I’d made progress, so I kept right on sketching that same mouse over, and over, and over again to practice. Eventually, I could conjure up the little creature with at least enough consistency that it seemed like it was always the same little mouse. Then I started playing with colors in watercolor. Many of my sketches were a bit small, so I switched to mini detail brushes (if you’re curious, the kind I used and enjoyed were the ZenArt Fine Line Detail brushes).
Then I had another thought which suddenly struck me. I was planning on creating a series of these books, which meant that I would have to make all sorts of characters in this similar style. They wouldn’t appear at the same time, but I wanted them to feel like they were all part of one big animal family with a consistent look. So I stopped drawing mice for a bit and tried several other animals. Soon, I found that I could easily morph just about any kind into this style. It was still my style, after all, since that’s rather inescapable.
Indeed, all of the choices I made for this first book in the series, were choices that I would have to embrace for all future books. And, this included an approach to not simply the characters, but also the book covers and scenes in which they appeared. That last part gave me pause as I didn’t have much experience in painting scenes. As it turned out, while initially a bit overwhelming, it gave me the option to totally experiment and come up with whatever approach felt the most fun for me!
For these books, I knew I wanted to create scenes that evoked a sense of place without too much specificity. After all, there are only two main characters for each of these books, and one of the characters is the person outside the book who’s adding the drawings during the story. And I wanted a little touch of fairytale as the name Draw Upon A Time evokes that feeling. I wanted to create a sense of visual familiarity, a sort of universal place that would feel welcoming and wonderful. And all of this would be from the vantage point of just one little mouse.
Since my trusty sketchbook wasn’t large enough or appropriate for this purpose, I switched to larger illustration paper. If you’re curious, I used and adored Hahnemühle Bristol paper. The smooth bright white of the paper, combined with the ability to completely erase pencil marks cleanly was amazing. I was constantly rethinking things early on and so I could just scribble, erase, and try again until I got things as I saw them in my mind.
Next, an interesting thing happened. Because it was so easy to erase, I found myself sketching a lot looser. I could plop in a bit of trail, tree, or patch of grass that was just a few lines, but got the idea across. In my mind at the time, I had planned to go back and “fix” these things. But instead, I left them alone as it added more character to the scene itself having those scribbled elements.
At this phase in the process, I decided to research lots of other children’s illustrators or ones with a whimsical style to determine how they approached painting scenes, color, etc. Not surprisingly in this day and age, most illustrators used an iPad Pro and created digital illustrations. So, I took another turn, read some books, used online tutorials and feverishly taught myself how to use Procreate. I wanted to see if I would enjoy that approach. As it turns out, I totally enjoyed it! And much like the Bristol paper, the ability to easily “undo” meant I soon stopped bothering and just let my loose style come out to play! But, the little kid in me wanted to incorporate everything I’ve done and learned, so the story didn’t end there.
Next, I stumbled across a few illustrators who combined both! Bits of drawing and painting on paper scanned and combined with bits of drawing and painting with a stylus by hand. That was for me! And the result looks like everything you’d expect from me, but the process of creating it was way easier in the end when it came time for tweaks and editing. So many bits and pieces had to be moved just so in order to make room for both the text, but also, the blank areas where our wizard adds their own drawings.
Draw Upon A Time
One thought that came to me early on while I was creating this Draw Upon A Time idea was that I was asking folks to join me and sketch something right then and there on the page. For young children, this is a perfectly natural thing to DO! For older kids and adults, this wild courage and confidence often starts to fade. So, I decided that I would create the entire book using my own inner child. He wrote it during an actual dream after all.
For the drawings, I didn’t use any references that weren’t outside my window or already in my mind. All 20 spreads were created entirely by hand without looking at anything but my own art being created while I was drawing and painting. It felt like a breakthrough for me. I felt pure joy and artistic freedom, and I hope that whoever grabs that magical wand in the form of a pencil, pen, and crayon and joins me will feel exactly the same way.
Thanks to everyone who has encouraged me on my art journey. I’m thrilled for this next chapter and anxious to see all of the little characters that will appear. I truly hope you’ll grab a copy or two (makes a great gift!). As, I mentioned the first book: Sketching Stuff “Draw Upon A Time” – One Little Mouse, is available now on Amazon in both paperback and hardcover editions! (the hardback is a tiny bit larger and super cool, particularly if you’re using it to capture and keep the art of a child.). And I’m rubbish at marketing, so I’ll mention again that if you could also leave a review that would be lovely. In my excitement, I didn’t create a proper launch strategy, so please share with everyone you can!
I hope you’ll enjoy this book as much as I did making it! And, as a clever little mouse once said in a dream: Wand at the ready? Let’s Draw Upon A Time!Recommended7 recommendationsPublished in