Steampunking books for the Summer Reading Club


I just wrapped up a busy summer of book-building workshops at local libraries, which was all a part of my role as official illustrator for the BC Library Association’s summer reading club.

My illustrations for the program featured a steampunk book, which I call a “portal passport.”sensa book a trip blk

As soon as I drew the book, I knew I would end up building a version of it, which I did back in the spring. It turned out pretty well, with a spinning dial, a rotating bulb, and a button that can be pushed:


When local libraries started contacting me and asking if I would come in to do workshops, I decided I wanted to roll up my sleeves and do some prop building workshops. I knew this would be an ambitious project, because it’s one thing to putter away at a prop for a couple of weeks—it’s quite another to help twenty kids build one in the space of an hour!

So, I designed a less-intensive model as a test:


After this prototype, I decided the project would be achievable, and the libraries agreed—as long as I could keep the costs within their limited budgets.

So, it was just a matter of collecting supplies. As it turned out, I could only get a limited quantity of the books I had used for both of my prototypes. So I had to source another style of book. I eventually ended up with ones that were a little more “glitzy,” but I think the kids liked them better this way.

I spent many weeks collecting gears, jewels, and “greebles”—household objects such as caps and soda pop lids, which I then spray-painted black. I also purchased many of the pieces from a  great store on Main Street in Vancouver called Urban Source, which sells reclaimed and recycled household objects. You can fill up a paper bag of goodies for under ten bucks!



I thought I was well prepared for this endeavor. I had all my supplies partitioned out into individual plastic containers. I had white glue, hot glue, pins, tacks, brads, beads, wires, gears, and gems. I had a plan: maximum twenty-five students, minimum age 8 years old, and no one gets to use hot glue or pins except for me.


greebles in a bucket



Then, during the first event, 30 kids showed up, and many of them six years old. I’m terrible at being a bad guy, so I let everyone participate. As it turned out, I ended up running an hour over time.

I re-jigged my plan slightly, and then made sure to get help. Thankfully, because it’s summer time, my goddaughter Charlotte and some of my long-term creative writing kids are all on break from school, so they agreed to help me with the construction process. Between them and my wife, Marcie, I did most of my events with a helper and we got the constructing process down to a fine art!




One of the challenging things about such a project is keeping all the kids occupied. Let’s face it, kids aren’t exactly known for patience, especially when they are anxious to have all the goodies on their books pinned and hot-glued. I had the kids do some drawing if they were waiting and feeling impatient. There are many animal characters I illustrated for the summer reading club, so I had the kids design an additional animal hero—and a villain to menace them along the way! This kept most of the kids occupied.





Marcie became known as “glue girl” to the kids, and was even immortalized in one little girl’s drawing!



Well, this workshop turned out to be a resounding success. Over 150 kids ended up with little notebooks that are all steampunked up and are ready for recording thoughts, dreams, doodles, and stories.


The other thing I had to do during these sessions (which hadn’t occurred to me at first) was to sign posters and books. Or course, no author or illustrator ever really complains about that, but I had just forgotten to leave time for it!


I think one of the most fun aspects of this project for me was seeing all the different displays around the libraries, promoting the summer reading club. In many cases, my artwork was reproduced and blown up, or someone redrew their own versions of the characters. I loved seeing these displays!







Of course, I can’t post all the pictures . . . so I post a sampler below from all the different kids who participated in libraries in the communities of Surrey and Burnaby.

Thank you to all the libraries who hosted me and my assistants: Marcie, Charlotte, Jamie, and Chelsea. And thank you to Michelle Andrus from the Surrey Library for letting me use her photo in this post (all the artistic, high quality ones are hers).



The fabulous website for the summer reading program


The BC Library Association recently launched the website for this year’s summer reading program. I had nothing to do with the design or development of this site (all kudos go to Shayne Letain), but it does feature all of my artwork.

What is particularly exciting is how interactive the site is—check it out to click and see some wonderful animation of my characters, vehicles, and settings!

What’s your favorite location?


Proof perfect: the material for the summer reading club

I got a glimpse at the proofs for all the marketing material for the BC summer reading club today. I was grateful (read: relieved) that everything looked so good. Since I digitally painted all of the artwork, this was actually my first time to see the colour artwork on good old-fashioned paper.

All the material turned out really well. The colors are popping on the poster and I really love how the reading record turned out. It has all these little “icons” on it and I was concerned that they might lose all their detail when shrunk down . . . but they turned out as well.



There’s even a fun postcard activity in which the kids draw a vehicle around the critters and then, on the other side, can write a message. The postcard is designed to Canada Post specs, so kids will actually be able to send it.


There is still a T-shirt and medallion to come! I can’t wait to see them.

Book a trip! All the material is ready for the summer reading club!

I spent the fall working on all the illustrations for the BC Library’s 2016 Summer Reading Club and now I’m thrilled to see that  designer Roger Handling has finished all his work. He took all the artwork I produced, many of it just bits and pieces, and has assembled an array of amazing material.

You can check out the official website here and peruse all the fantastic material, but I thought I would post some of the final designs here.


sensa book a trip blk





Reading Record:
(The printed version is huge—30 inches long, and accordion folded.
This is what the kids use to record their reading throughout the summer.)




Building a passport to adventure

Last fall I worked on a project to illustrate all of the marketing material for the summer reading club at British Columbian libraries. Now, as a follow up to that project, I’m excited to be going to visit local libraries to conduct follow up workshops with some of the summer club kids.

I decided that I’d really like to help kids build their own “portal passports.” This summer’s theme is “Book a Trip” and as part of my designs, I created a steampunk-style book that can transform into different vehicles, as is shown in my poster illustration:


This week, I started working on a prototype book that I can show to the workshop participants. It started with a simple notebook from the dollar store and then adding “greebles” to ornament it. I bought a lot of gears, beads, and clock handles from the craft store, but most of the other stuff is just “junk”, items I either cannibalized from old household appliances, or collected from the grab bins at Urban Source, a local art and craft store that specializes in recycled items. The stuff at Urban Source is perfect for the types of building projects I like to do.


I had to pre-paint a few items, including the notebook itself. Then it was just a matter of gluing and attaching. Mostly, I used tacks and hot glue. The big copper button is on a spring, so actually can be pressed, and the clock handle spins. The only thing I didn’t invest time in was the lightbulb—it doesn’t light up. Though, this probably could have been managed with a small LED light.


I love how the final project turned out, but I think this is going to be far too complicated for my kids in my short summer workshops. So, for now, I’m back to the building station to make a second prototype—one that is far less ambitious!


Poster illustration for the BC Summer Reading Club

I’m nearing completion of my project for the BC library system’s 2016 summer reading club. I’ve completed most of the individual illustrations and have now cobbled them together to complete one overall composition for the poster.


The graphic designer will be choosing the font and adding in the text and other required elements. I layered the composition in Photoshop so that individual elements can be nudged here and there to help accommodate the text.

I can’t wait to see the final, printed version!

I’m still fine-tuning some of the individual illustrations. I had a request to show the portal passport vehicle transform into a balloon, so here’s my current rendition:



A portal passport to adventure!

I thought I would post more illustrations from my project for the BC Library’s Summer Reading Club.

The theme is “Book a Trip” and the library team and I came up with the concept of a “portal passport” that can transform into various vehicles that will carry our crew of critters on adventures around the world—and beyond it.

In an earlier post, I showed some of the rough pencil sketches of some of the vehicles I’ve been working on. Here are some “final” versions, inked and painted, including one image that shows the portal passport in its various stages of transformation. (I say “final” because, of course, nothing is final until it goes to print! I’m sure there will be lots of composition and colour tweaking to come.)


All of these pieces will be included in the overall poster design and some of the other marketing material for the library’s campaign. Slowly but surely, everything’s coming together . . .


Designing characters for the BC Library’s Summer Reading Club ~ Round 3 (and 4!)

A couple of weeks ago, I posted sketches of characters that I’ve been working on for the BC Library Association’s 2016 summer reading club material. I’ve been working hard to fine-tune those characters, so thought I’d post some of the updated designs.

There has been some back and forth here, as the team and I tried to narrow down our crew members who will embark on an adventure via a sort of “portal passport.” We finally decided to go with the crew of a flying squirrel (as a pilot), a polar bear (as an engineer), and a travel bug (as a navigator).

Here’s my initial drawings of the final crew . . .

Flying Squirrel - color

Polar Bear - color

Travel Bug - colour - brown

The library team was quite happy with this cast, but did ask for some changes. For the squirrel, they wanted to emphasize that she’s a girl, so I smoothed out her mouth, accentuated her eyelashes and offered some different color combinations for her attire.  Here she is, in blue, green, and purple:

Flying Squirrel - sketchy color - blue clothes Flying Squirrel - sketchy color - green clothes Flying Squirrel - sketchy color - pink clothes

The team also wanted me to explore some brighter colors for the bug’s clothing, so I produced a few options, even playing with the color of his skin, too.

Travel Bug - color - green Travel Bug - colour - brown - alternate clothes 1 Travel Bug - colour - brown - alternate clothes 2

They were pretty happy with the polar bear engineer, so I didn’t make any changes to his coloring or design.

I also offered an initial design of what the portal passport could look like. In our imaginations, this is a sort of steampunk book that takes our crew members on an imaginative journey. The actual name of the campaign is “book a trip”!

Portal Passport 01

Designing characters for the BC Library’s Summer Reading Club ~ Round 2


A couple of weeks ago I posted some of my initial sketches that I’ve been working on for the BC Library Association’s 2016 summer reading club marketing material.

Round 1 resulted in the team picking the flying squirrel to be the pilot on our imaginary crew and the travel bug as our navigator. So, for Round 2, I’ve made a few refinements to these characters . . .

src02_squirrel01 src02_squirrel02


However, the team also wanted to try out some bigger animals, so after flipping through my animal encyclopedia, I picked a few of my favorite creatures and produced the sketches below. My idea is that one of these bigger animals will serve as the crew’s engineer.

Desert Fox




Polar Bear




Who will make the cut? Well, we’ll just have to see whom the team picks . . .