from “pfffft” to “fabulous” – my Filofax hack

I’ve been working on the massive renovation and reconstruction of a novel in progress, but sometimes a writer has to come up for air and do a little cutting and pasting of immediately prettier things instead. SO SATISFYING TO MAKE SOMETHING COME TOGETHER IN A MATTER OF HOURS INSTEAD OF YEARS. This is why I love visual art. I can SEE it happening, instead of the years it takes to bring a book into its final shape.

I love book-hacking (is that the badass cousin of scrapbooking?), and was just about to list my little, ancient Filofax on Craigslist due to dedicated neglect, but then I got excited about making it appealing to use again (or in the first place), because dates and months and little boxes per day and to-do lists with pre-printed lines and tick boxes just do not rock my every-lovin’ no-idea-what-day-of-the-week-it-is and gloriously flakey and unscheduled life.

As someone who has spent more days in pyjamas making stuff than working at a ‘real job’, let me tell you, I do not need an organizer. I need sections for ideas about what to write, what to draw, notes on family life (Who needs new rainboots? Which Value Villages have we checked so far?), and random pockets and tags and nooks and crannies for tiny word-ish treasures and soothing bits of text, or just a picture of my grandma, because she remains one of my dearest friends long after her death. And she is gorgeous. Isn’t she gorgeous? (She’s the one leaning against the car, not the illustrated bathing beauty.)

Behold, the Filofax hack, now a hub for creative jotting and think-y thoughts, and stashing all the sparkly things, which satisfies the magpie in me. Also, and enthusiastically noted, this was proudly done for zero dollars and zero cents, because after decades of cutting and pasting, I have amassed quite the supply of all manner of deliciously crafty goodness and all that it entails.

Some details for you artsy lookyloos:

  • I covered the Filofax standard issue dividers, using papers from an old calendar and a glue stick. All the way to the edges, kids. That’s how we roll.
  • I used some papers that I absolutely love, such as a vintage postcard of a bathing beauty, and another old postcard that I cut down for a more interesting shape. I’ll put my address on one (if found, please return … that sort of thing) and a favourite quote on the other (haven’t decided yet). Also, a little paper tag, and pieces cut from cards or harvested from the kids’ collage box. And a brown paper envelope that is just begging for a tiny precious something to be put inside.
  • Speaking of that little brown paper envelope, I decorated it with washi tape bunting, which makes complete sense if you know me and my current obsession with bunting. (For the camper van! For my friend’s camper van! For the new screen door! For my submissions binder! Bunting, bunting, bunting!)
  • Heck, I’ve even put a few of my own illustrations in there. And speaking of creaky ol’ camper vans (see above), I’ve put in the card that inspired the colour scheme of our gawdy early-90’s Dodge recently christened as “Harriet Van Chariot.” It’s the ruby/orange/lime green/turquoise pretty in front of the nifty Filofax-issue ruler.
  • I didn’t bother trying to make the holes smaller in papers that I cute from scratch. I did reinforce some with washi tape before I used a standard hole punch and a good ol’ pencil to line up the holes.
  • There’s even a little clipboard in there, people. With the cutest little bulldog clip! And behind that? A eensy weensy Moleskine notebook for the win! In lime green. Sigh. Swoon. Yes, it’s true, I have these sorts of things lying around just waiting to be put together.

So for all you stationery lovers and book-hack fans, this one is for you. Or, for me, because I’m not letting anyone near this thing. And did I mention that is also works as my wallet? Why yes, yes it does. Boom.

DSC_0039 DSC_0040 DSC_0041 DSC_0043 DSC_0045  DSC_0047  DSC_0051 DSC_0116 DSC_0118 DSC_0119 DSC_0120  DSC_0123

And now … BUNNIES!

After the last post and its comments featuring sex and violence and censorship, I decided it was time for some bunnies. Nobody wants to censor bunnies, right? Well, I guess they might, depending on what they’re getting up to.

So, bunnies.

I have a commissioned illustration in the works (BUNNIES!), and so I sat down yesterday to do some sketching and research, and seeing as so many of you love to hear about the inner workings of an illustration, let’s get started. (BUNNIES!)

The idea behind the playing around was to end up with a new banner for Twitter and Facebook, and some ideas for the custom piece.

1. Research bunnies. Find pictures of real bunnies. Or if you’re in Vancouver, you could also take some carrots and apples to Jericho and wait for sunset and behold the multiplying multitude of bunnies and sketch from life. (BUNNIES!) Oh, maybe I shouldn’t make reference to bunnies procreating? Whatever. Moving on. I did not go to Jericho and sketch from life because it was raining and it was cold, and, well, Google. I remember going to libraries to photocopy pictures way back when. I had binders and binders full of reference pictures. Sometimes I want to hug the Google.

2. Mess around in your sketchbook. Oh, how I despise showing my rough sketches here, but in the name of honesty, behold:


2. I reworked an old idea, and it bombed. Hello, Giant Zombie Bunny of Doom frolicking cluelessly whilst large, green scaly monster roils up from below. Run, Giant Zombie Bunny of Doom … RUN!


3. Scrap that. Move on. Hello, adorable gender neutral sweetheart bunnies. Watch out for the Giant Zombie of Doom, you cutest things ever.


4. Pick your paper, your medium, your layout. Fail again. Can’t stand it. Hate the grass (What the heck with the bumps, already?), hate the jumpers, hate the paper. I can’t stand that paper. It’s too soft and toothy and it is entirely unforgiving. If you make a line and want to erase it, well too bad, the groove will live on, messing everything up and making you think about Photoshop, which is not at all helpful when the end product is going to be an original.


5. Scrap that.

Jack: “What’s wrong with that one?”

Me: “It’s all wrong.”

Jack: “I like it. It’s way better than the monster rabbit.”

Esmé: “I don’t like their clothes.”

Me: “Me either.”

Hawk: “Can you put my safety goggles over my pirate patch, but leave my hardhat on? And this cape won’t fit over my dinosaur costume. Can you make it bigger?”

6. Ah, that’s better. I really do love my Strathmore Toned Tan paper. So, this one will be the banner, and now I know how to move forward on the custom illustration.

spring bunnies

artful Friday

It’s December, which is my month to hide from the madness that is the standard holiday season. We’re happily hibernating and staying out of stores and off the roads. We’re making lots of art and listening to every version of every Christmas carol that was ever made, except for the easy listening mush that makes my teeth hurt.

So, artful goodness … look at what Esmé made (see awesome heart above)! It joins our wall of heart art. Wall of heart art, you say? I’ll go take a picture. Hold on, I’ll be right back.

Okay, here you go:


The kids decorated the tree. Most of the ornaments were bunched on one bottom quarter section, so when they were all hung, it’s not surprising that the tree promptly toppled over.


A snowman in the window, with a Santa hats and glitter snow. Oh, the mess that is glitter. Sigh.


The Christmas books are on display! (Not including Esmé’s math book. That isn’t remotely Christmas-y.)


Paper snowflake bunting! Esmé and I are getting really good at paper snowflakes, thanks to a paper snowflake intensive at Auntie Ruth’s house. She has really good scissors, and even sent us home with a brand-new pair. We’re on a paper-cutting roll now.


It’s not all seasonal art happening. Hawk is way into creatures of the deep sea, with a special interest in Angler fish. He asked me to draw one for him this morning. It was ridiculously fun to draw.


More paper snowflakes! So many paper snowflakes!



a mulonkey for Susan Juby

The lovely and talented writer Susan Juby is looking for pictures of mules. So I drew her one, because who doesn’t want to draw a donkey? Or a mule. Wait, is a donkey a mule?

Just a sec.

Okay, I’m back. Thanks,  Googleoracle. A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. Who knew? Susan Juby. That’s who. She knows these things. She knows.

If you’re so inclined to draw or paint one for her too, send it to her at her website (or to her via twitter: @thejuby) by November 15th, and you could win an ARC for her next book, Republic of Dirt, which is the sequel to The Woefield Poultry Collectivewhich I loved very, very much.

The Woefield Poulty Collective is called Home to Woefield in the US, so if you’re wondering why there are two books that sound so similar, it’s not a terrible case of plagiarism.

Call it what you want, I loved it. And I can’t wait to read Republic of Dirt, which comes out from HarperCollins in January.

There’s been some discussion on twitter about what to call this donkey mule. Charlotte Gray’s “Big Ears” was categorically turned down, what with recent events at the CBC (which I am not even going to link to … consult the Googleoracle if you must.) So Susan suggested “Majestic Ears.” But then Charotte redeemed herself entirely by coming up with “Madge Yesteryears,” which happens to be a spectacular name for this mulonkey.


rough sketch



But he needed more of a tilt to his head.



Then a quick crop and white background in Photoshop, and Madge is ready for her admirers.

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 5.04.16 PM

Edited to add:

Apparently I can’t leave well enough alone. I can’t unknow what I know now about the difference between mules and donkeys, so here’s proper mule for Susan:


owl always read to you

One of our favourite knock-knock jokes goes like this:

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?


Owl, who?

Owl always love you.

Once Esmé understood how ‘owl’ is a play on ‘I’ll,’ she ran with it. One of the ones she came up with had the very sweet punchline of “Owl always read to you.”

Which inspired this illustration, which now hangs above one of the bookshelves we keep for library books.

I don’t pull a radio flyer wagon to the library, and I don’t have an apron that cute, and I don’t let Esmé perch atop the 100 books we take out each week, and I don’t make Hawk push it home either. But I do pull a really ugly Rosler, and yes it can carry 100 books. And Esmé does often read on the walk home. And Hawk is usually quite eager to help push.

I experimented with butcher paper for this illustration, and used Micron pens and Prismacolour pencils.

photo 1


photo 3   IMG_0242 DSC_0039


anatomy of an illustration

I love seeing how artists work, so here’s a glimpse into my process for all of you studio snoops and creative-process junkies.

See you later, excavator! is a commissioned illustration, and because the customer wanted the text incorporated onto the image and a finished image “like it’s out of a picture book,” I finished it in Photoshop, which is handy for this post, so that I can show you an illustration from start to polished-for-print finished. A lot of my work is sold as originals, and never gets surgically operated on in Photoshop, so this is a good one for show-and-tell.

Some of the tools I used:

  • mechanical pencils
  • Rexel Cumberland pencils: 5H, HB, 2B
  • my trusty Staedler mars plastic eraser … so much erasing
  • Moleskine sketchbooks (small one and big one)
  • design vellum (for tracing)
  • light table (the ever so useful light table)
  • Prismacolor Premier coloured pencils
  • Derwent burnisher
  • Micron Pigma pens (05 & 08, to be specific)
  • Pentel brush pen (decided against that effect … see below)
  • Epson scanner, MacBook Pro, Wacom table (WHOOT!), and Photoshop.
  • Strathmore Bristol smooth surface artists paper, 400 series
  • Scissors, glue stick, coffee & McVities biscuits. Not kidding.



First, research. Thank you, Google images.


Very rough sketches in the little sketchbook.


More sketching and messing about in the big sketchbook. Played with profiles, positioning, googly-eyes, expressions. Cut and paste, erase, erase, erase. Did I mention that I love my erasers? I have a whole jar of them in various sizes and compositions.


Then out comes the vellum so that I can play with the final layout, and try out any changes I might make. For example, the crawler tracks were WAY different in the first sketches. This is when I tried out the ink brush, and decided that I didn’t like it for this illustration.


Here is the completed rough sketch. This is when I test various colours, and get an idea of how the finished image will look.


Then I traced the image onto vellum, and used the light table to lightly sketch the image onto the Bristol.


Then I apply the colour, working from light to dark.


Almost done. This is when I do the final outlining, if there is to be any.


Hello, excavator!



Scanned and opened in Photoshop. Adjusted canvas size, isolated the background, added text.



Saved as a 600 dpi TIFF and emailed to the print shop!