Activities for kids: Design your own travel sticker

I’m posting my latest activity for all of us kids big and small who are stuck at home. Today’s activity: creating vintage-style travel stickers for imagined fantasy worlds!

In a recent post, I uploaded the activity to make a travel brochure. The activity I’m posting today is less ambitious, but just as fun (and, in fact, I used many of my own travel sticker designs to populate my travel brochure example).

What you will need:

  • Paper to print out the template below.
  • Pencils and coloring supplies.

Just download the template sheets, which are filled with various frames and shapes. This project is a great way to brainstorm ideas for different worlds, and distill a setting to its most important feature or essence.

Also, for those young writers who have already created a setting, this is a fun way to celebrate it!

You can download the template sheets here:



And here are some examples of vintage-style travel stickers that I designed for the worlds in my middle-grade books, The Secret of Zoone and The Guardians of Zoone.



There’s an add-on project here, of course. You can cut out your ideas and glue them to your own storage boxes or luggage. (It’s probably no surprise to people that I have Zoone stickers on my actual suitcase that I travel with.)

Stay safe, stay well, and stay tuned . . .


Candy, candy, and more candy: The Ten-Year Anniversary of The Chocolatier’s Apprentice

Candy, candy, and more candy: The Ten-Year Anniversary of The Chocolatier’s Apprentice

It’s that time of year when goblins, ghosts, and ghouls are preparing to creep out and harangue us for candy, so it seems appropriate that October is the anniversary of one of the most popular books I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with.

In fact, this is the ten year anniversary of the birth of The Chocolatier’s Apprentice, written by Victoria Miles and illustrated by me.


It seems like yesterday . . .

In 2007, I was hired by Echo Storytelling Agency (then Echo Memoirs) to illustrate a children’s book to help commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Purdy’s Chocolateir. The company wanted to do something different, something special, and so decided to produce a cute picture book that would celebrate their company and also raise funds for the Raise-a-Reader literacy project.

It was something that I was eager to do. I remember meeting with the team: the folks at Echo, the marketing person for Purdy’s, and the writer, Victoria Miles, sometime in late spring/early summer. The book was yet to be written, but at that point there was a lot of brainstorming.

One of the fun aspects of this project was getting to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of Purdy’s chocolate factory in Vancouver. The factory is open for public tours at different times of the year, but Victoria and I were given the chance to get an extra-secret look.

This tour was really important for Victoria and I to understand the process (and science) of making chocolate. From an illustrator’s point of view, it was essential for me to gather as many photographs as possible. Even though Victoria and I didn’t know exactly what the story would be about, we knew it would involve a chocolate factory, and that I would have to illustrate many different types of equipment.

Here’s some of my original photos from my tour . . .

hedgehog conveyor








Of course, as soon as you say the words “children’s book” and “chocolate factory,” people think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Victoria’s challenge was to craft a book that was charming and compelling, while at the same time NOT deriavative.

She eventually came up with the lovely story of a character who dreamed of being a chocolatier. The story follows his progress from todler all the way to master chocolatier. My challenge was that I had to draw this character at all these different ages!

There was also the challenge of working many different stakeholders. Not only did I need to work with Victoria and the team at Echo, I also needed to make sure we had corporate approval from Purdy’s. They were great to work with—honestly—but, of course, it was one more voice to chime in on my early concept sketches.

I really had a lot of input when it came to our main character, Eli. Some of the team wanted him to be intellectual, others a sort of muscular super-hero kind of fellow, and others thought he should be more bookish. We eventually narrowed down the final design of Eli and the other characters, and I was off illustrating.

Final challenge? I had only SEVEN weeks to complete the many different spreads. Given the time factor, I’m pretty happy how everything turned out. The book became a national bestseller, selling out its print run of 20,000.

Here are some my favorite spreads from the book . . .

Purdys Book_2.indd

Purdys Book_2.indd

Purdys Book_2.indd

Purdys Book_2.indd

Purdys Book_2.indd

Purdys Book_2.indd

Unfortunately, the book served it’s purpose—which means there was no reprint, and it is no longer available. I wish it still was; I still run into teenagers who remember that book from their childhood!

Oh! Fun fact; I currently live in a two-minute walk from the site of Purdy’s original factory. You can still find “Choklit Park” on West 7th Avenue in Vancouver.



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?


Introducing the crew of the summer reading club 2016

sensa book a trip blk

I spent the fall working on the visual designs for the characters that will populate this summer’s reading club that will be featured in libraries across British Columbia.

During that process, I naturally created stories and identities for each character. As an author, I’m used to writing those stories down, but in this case I needed to specifically concentrate on bringing the characters’ personalities alive with the pictures.

The theme for this year’s program is “Book a Trip” and the idea is that the characters embark on adventure via the wonder of a ship called The Portal Passport—it’s the book featured in the illustration at the top of this page. It has the power to chug through the air, submerge to the bottom of the seas, and rocket into space!

Well, this past week, my contact at the library, Cynthia Ford, asked if I would provide the specific biographies for each character. So I sat down to revisit my three critters for the first time in months, and am now pleased to present you with their official written backstories.

Flying Squirrel - sketchy color - pink clothes

Amelia Squirrelheart, a
 flying squirrel

As pilot of the portal passport, Amelia doesn’t mind getting her paws dirty.

She loves adventure, whether its soaring to the top of the highest peak or diving to the bottom of the deepest ocean.

Amelia has the heart of an explorer—she’s happy as long as she has her ship, her trusty sidekicks, and the wind in her whiskers.

Caboodle Cogsworth, a travel bug

Often called “Cogs” by his friends, Caboodle is the navigator aboard the portal passport.

He is a rare species of insect known as the travel bug, which means he’s restless and can never stay in one place for long.

Unlike Amelia, he prefers to have a plan and is an expert in cartography, astronomy, and instrumentation.

He has many compasses, telescopes, and chronometers—some of them built-in—to help him keep the crew on course.

Fixxer, a polar bear

This friendly polar bear is the crew’s bookwright—or, as you might think of him, an engineer.

He’s responsible for keeping the portal passport running at tip-top shape, so is always tinkering away with his gadgets and gizmos to coax more adventure from the ship.

In truth, Fixxer isn’t quite as daring as his friends, so he’s always glad when they have a moment to pause, rest, and enjoy a frothy mug of ice-cold chocolate milk.

By the way, the BC Library Association is hard at work on the official website for this year’s provincial reading program. I’ve been fortunate to have a sneak peak at the wonderful animation being prepared by the web designer, Shayne Letain—and I can’t wait to show it!

Soon. Very soon . . .


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.)




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:



The Art of Creating Heroes ~ the finale


Last week, I wrapped up my artist in residency at Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary. Over the course of five weeks, I helped the students design heroic characters that they can use in an upcoming writing project.

We tackled this design from many different angles. Not only did we draw the characters in different poses and with different expressions, but we built props for them and even thought about costume by choosing hair and fabric samples. I also discussed with them the “Hero’s Journey”, as first developed by the mythologist Joseph Cambell.

In the coming weeks, the students will prepare an exhibit of their heroes, so I’ll return to the school to view the gallery. I can’t wait to see those displays! In the meantime, here are some final photos of their sketchbooks . . .



Critters abroad

Here’s another series of illustrations that are a part of the project I’m doing for the BC Library’s 2016 summer reading club.

I’ve shown our crew of critters travelling through different environments in their “portal passport” (which you can check out here). Those drawings are obviously focused on the vehicle. This next set is focused on the critter crew.

Since the theme of the project is “Book a Trip”, the aim is to show the characters in a series of settings that will convey the scope of their adventures without showing specific landmarks (like the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids of Giza, or the Great Wall of China). So I chose a variety of zones and plugged the characters into them.

I think my favorite is the travel bug in space!


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 . . .