Crocodile to dragon transition

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My crocodile became a dragon as I’ve been working on a new childrens book. I’ve been alternating work in both my poetry sketchbook, the orange book on the left, and my black visual sketchbook on the right.

Below is a look at my handwritten poem text in my poetry sketchbook.

I also have a 3 ring binder in which I have collected sketches and drafts of the poem text. Initially I was calling my poem “How to paint a crocodile”. My idea was to do a coloring activity book featuring a human child and a realistic crocodile. But the humanness didn’t feel right to me. And the crocodile felt too, well, reptilian.

So in my black sketchbook I tried a few more cartoon-like crocodile drawings. I’ve done many sketches and am only showing a few here in order to keep this post brief. Also not pictured are my sketches of various animals along my way to a decision to make the human child character into a rabbit.

The crocodile kept feeling too sinister in my sketches. So I dropped, temporarily, the coloring book concept and just painted who might be the main adult-like logical no-nonsense left-brain character to play opposite my rabbit right-brain creative playful child-like rabbit. The “adult” character it turns out is a dragon.

So I went with the dragon! In subsequent sketches I resumed my coloring book notion. The working title for my coloring book poem now is “How to draw a dragon”. I’m using the word ‘draw’ in the sense of ‘attract’ in addition to the usual sense of drawing with a pencil. Below are a few sketchbook drawings of the dragon in which I aim for busy adult postures – grumpy perhaps but not sinister.

Besides rewriting my poem in my poetry sketchbook I have also rewritten my poem on scraps of paper which are kept in my binder. There are -tons – more rewrites and sketches than I’ve shared in this post. Here I’m sharing just enough, I hope, to give you a sense of my working process. When I felt my poem was settled, more or less, I wrote it on a stiff paper so it could stand on my easel as I work. You can see it below.

When I spoke in a my last post of “having my crocodile project all over my studio” the photo below perhaps gives you a sense of what I mean. In this photo the papers on my easel look blank but there are pencil drawings on them. There’s also a blizzard of drawings in ink on tracing paper.

Multiple drawings on tracing paper enable me to draw a character similarly but holding or doing different things as the character goes through my story. Below you can propably see what I mean.

Yes, I know there are computer programs that would enable me to copy and paste character elements from one page to another. I have used such programs in the past. But I find it more satisfying to do original hand made drawings for every element within a book. I fancy myself as like a chef who prides herself on using local ingredients and cutting them up fresh when a dish is requested. A chef’s hand made dish is better, I think, than a frozen box meal reheated. But I digress.

Below is a “scene” or a stage set upon which my characters will act. I’ve made a master template in ink on tracing paper which I will use for reference – and for story foreshadowing – throughout my poem book.

Below is a look at some of the rabbit character sketches on tracing paper.

Below is a look at a few of my dragon character sketches. I feel I’ve finally found a balance between a grumpy adult appearance while not being too sinister.

Here’s a closer look at the Rabbit character.

As I build these pages I will do my story foreshadowing using many visual elements. So even after I get the entire book drawn the visual foreshadowing will still need to be carefully edited. But first I’ll get the entire book roughed in. Lots of work to do.

To help get me to my studio work more quickly in the mornings most of the evenings I’ve been making overnight oats. Into lidded mason jars I put some raw uncooked old fashioned oat meal, some milk to cover the oats, maple syrup, fruit like raspberries or blueberries (or both) and yogurt. Then I add a bit more milk as needed, put the lids on and put the jars in my refrigerator. In the mornings I don’t have to think of what’s for breakfast or spend time cooking. I can get right to my sketchbook work!

This week Storyberries added an audiobook to my On Looking At Odditorium book there! How nice is that?

Also this week I delivered the artist books that the Aurora Gallery had requested along with some signed bookplates! You can see more about each of these books on my portfolio page.

My plan is to work steadily on my Dragon, a bit of work almost every day, until it’s finished. Some days only a short burst of work will happen but other days I’ll have more time to spend.

So along with my tracing paper templates I’ve made a strategy, a loose agenda/schedule, of items to be done on this project which I’ll use as a guide to enable me to pick up wherever I left off even if I only have 10 minutes of time to work. I’ll use the same guide if I have hours of time. Such a project schedule is a guideline – a suggested working rhythm – it is not a god to be worshipped or slavishly obeyed. My guide is a way for me to keep this project in small manageable chunks. Keeping it small helps me to maintain momentum and to keep it fun. (There’s even a business article here about the kind of strategy I’m talking about.)

I have already spent months working on this poem and have only just this week outlined, and otherwise prepared, 32 pages to draw, ink and hand letter over the coming weeks. In other words I am just now ready to begin in earnest. Forming a good steady working rhythm now is crucial. So is focusing on the fun.

Some sort of strategy – I like to call it “planning the mundane” – some consideration for keeping long haul projects like this manageable, not overwhelming, is important. But it’s the fun that is the lynchpin of what keeps a creative project sustainable. So I consider having fun the most serious aspect of living a creative life.

Hope your creative week is sustainably fun too! See you next Monday.

9 thoughts on “Crocodile to dragon transition

  1. This post is just fascinating, a real inside look at a children’s book in the making! I like “grumpy but not sinister.” I think that’s what I’m going for myself!

    1. Oh I’m pleased that you enjoyed my “tell all” post!! Here’s to “grumpy but not sinister” – cheers! ๐Ÿฅ‚๐Ÿฅฐ

  2. What a fascinating post Sue! Those of us that draw like a child have no idea the work that goes into your books. I love that you draw your own images and donโ€™t use the computer, thatโ€™s what makes them so special! Great idea with the oatmeal breakfast too!

    1. Thank you so much!! Yes, there is a lot that goes into a childrens book – at least the way I create them. I really do see my work as akin to a baker or cook who plans and works hours or even days to make something yummy to eat that is eaten in a few minutes! I do appreciate all of your work that you put in to your blog and recipes!!
      Thank you for your wonderful comment!!

  3. Very enlightening! You must be a very effective time manager to write the poetry, illustrate the book, as well as blog about this whole process including even your breakfast!! Puts me to shame! ๐Ÿ’๐Ÿ˜‰๐ŸŒบ๐ŸŒน๐Ÿ’๐ŸŒบ

    1. No shame is intended!!! I think your artwork and what you share is wonderful!! I am glad my post was enlightening for you. My mantra is to often do whatever makes me glad to be alive and I count myself lucky to be able to focus my time on these pursuits. Please, no shame is ever intended in any of my posts.

  4. A lovely walkthrough your project and process. I love the transformation to a dragon! I quite agree there is something less sinister and more appealing about the new character. Yet you’ve kept the mystique and ‘only approach carefully’ feeling. I liked one of the quotes you pictured so much that I made a printed copy and taped it to my calendar. ‘The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.’ I like the application to many things, and as a general outlook. But I think it will also help me quit struggling to lose weight I gained in 2020 and instead enjoy living my healthier lifestyle again. It’s easy to wallow in defeat of what I’ve done to myself and lose the energy to do the things to improve – even though I actually like eating well and being active. With a new mindset I can just do it how I like it from here forward!! ๐Ÿ™‚ Not that I won’t mess up. That’s ok too.
    Enjoy your current project, Sue!! I think it’s fun you returned to the coloring book idea. I’ll look forward to seeing continuing updates. Have a great week!!

    1. Thank you for your delightful comment!! I love your description of my new ‘only approach carefully’ dragon !!
      And yes I too keep the quote ‘the secret of change is to focus energy not on fighting the old button building the new ‘ handy too! It is handwritten on a card thumbtacked to my art studio wall. Even so I forget this concept now and then which only serves to illustrate to me again how much more pleasant my life is when I remember to do things because I *want* to do them for some pleasurable reason rather than struggling and fighting. I even made a coffee mug that says “focus on the fun” to help me remember ๐Ÿคฃ

Thank you for reading and sharing encouragements!