The Unexpected Mummy: combining creative writing with art history


I’m continuing to lead a series of workshops through CWC called Picture Perfect: Exploring Creative Writing through the Lens of Art History.

We started with prehistoric cave art and moved on to ancient Egyptian art. The students built miniature mummies out of clay. Then, after letting them dry for a week, they “embalmed” them with plaster and decorated them with paint and jewels.




These props inspired the students to write short stories about characters who die unexpectedly and go through the mummification process. The hitch was that they had to write the story from the first person point of view, which meant describing what it feels like to die and enter the Egyptian afterlife.

Here are the final version of their props. In addition to many human mummies, we ended up with a falcon and a couple of cats. Some students chose to do mummies with luxurious decoration, while others took a more humble approach. It all depended on the character situation in the individual story.















The dragon hatchery expands

I’m continuing my work as an artist-in-residence with a group of teens at a local specialized learning center. A key goal of the residency is to provide a safe and fun place where the participants can create and do some art therapy.

In the first few weeks, we worked on building and sculpting dragon scales. This quickly migrated into the creation of dragon eggs—a far more ambitious project, and one that requires a great deal of patience.

The students have shown that patience and have enjoyed coming up with the styles, textures, and shapes to go with their eggs. There are many different approaches to this project, as is shown in the photos below . . .











Many of the students have ambitious ideas and plans for their eggs, so there has been a lot of problem-solving required. Depending on the student’s plan, I’ve had to go and fetch very specific materials or tools to help them achieve their vision. As part of this process, we’ve decided that we should now build “nests” for these eggs. That’s going to be tricky, since I’m sure everyone is going to have a completely different plan . . . but oh, well! That’s what I’m here for.

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).


Designing dragon scales


I spent the last few weeks building a dragon egg prop. I had so much fun with this project, and I had enough material left over at the end of it, that I decided to experiment with making dragon scales.

I began by cutting shapes out of a plastic soda bottle, which had a natural curve well-suited for the shape of the scales. I decided that I wanted the scales to be heavy and sturdy, so experimented with different ways to achieve this.

For two of the scales, I shrouded the plastic base with a layer of plaster. For the third one, I glued a layer of leather on top. The leather one still seemed to flimsy, so I coated the back with plaster to give it extra weight.


Once the plastering was done, I coated the scales in modpodge, which helped to smooth out any imperfections.


For one of the plastered scales along with the leather one, I decided that I would just proceed to painting. For the third one however, I decided to texturize it with acrylic beads. After this was done, I gave it another coat of modpodge.


Then it was time to paint!


Here are the final scales. The gold one, which was just painted plaster, didn’t really turn out, but was kind of my base experiment anyway. I’m quite happy with the leathery (green) scale and the more armored (red) one. Into the museum of magical artifacts they go!


Advanced dragon egg building ~ the finale

I finally completed my dragon egg prop! Ultimately, the whole project went a bit quicker than I thought it would, even with the many glitches and setbacks I experienced along the way.

Here are some final photos . . . the last one shows the new egg next to the first one that I built. (Which hopefully illustrates why I called this new one the “advanced” one!)

The egg is now on display in my studio, but will certainly make the rounds with me as I visit schools and libraries in the coming months!


Advanced dragon egg building, part 3

I’m finally updating my progress on my dragon egg building. I call it “advanced” not because I’m doing anything that clever, but because this process is more advanced than the one I used for the previous prop I constructed.

After I finished bejeweling the surface, I coated the entire structure with mod podge.


This took a whole day to dry and then I decided to spray paint the entire structure to provide a base color. This turned out to be a disaster. If I had been thinking clearly, I would have tested this paint out on some sample mod-podged jewels. For one thing, I didn’t like the color. I had picked the most metallic red I could find, but it came out too rose colored.


I decided to paint over the whole egg with a burnt orange color. However, the acrylic paint just didn’t bond properly to the spray paint beneath, bubbling in certain areas. It’s hard to see in the photo, but I just wasn’t satisfied!


So, as a solution, I mod podged the whole egg again and then decided I better restart with a dark base and build up color from there.


This time, I painted the egg a dark metallic brown then started adding in different tones of red and metallic colors.


This is always a tricky and time-consuming process. I’m not actually sure what I want the final color to be. What I do know is that I don’t want any flat colors—there needs to be many gradations and textures to bring visual interest to the surface. So now I’m in the phase of adding fine detail and dry-brushing detail.

Almost there . . .

Advanced dragon egg building, part 2

In an update of the dragon egg prop I’m building, I have finished constructing all the ridges and am now in the long process of bejeweling the surface. (As you can see, my cat is fairly unimpressed with this entire project.)


These many beads will provide an interesting texture for the egg, especially after I paint the entire structure in mod podge and paint.



Advanced dragon egg building, Part 1


Earlier this year, I built a smallish dragon egg, and chronicled the process. While I was quite happy with the result of that project, I always knew that was just a prototype, and that I wanted to try a bigger and more complicated version.

So, after wrapping up a busy touring and speaking schedule, I find myself with some studio time, and a bad cold to boot. That combination (I find it impossible to write when I’m this stuffed up) was enough to spurn me onto the bigger dragon egg project.

For the base of the egg, I used a plastic form that I bought at the local craft store over the Easter holidays. It came covered in glitter, so it was a bit of a chore to get all that off (and my wife says she’s still finding glitter on the front patio where I did the deed).

There is an unsightly seam in the egg, but I’m not too concerned about that; it’ll be unnoticeable after my sculpting and greebling.

The first step has been to try out my idea for adding ridges to the egg. For this part, I’m using plaster strips. It’s essentially the same material they use to build casts for broken limbs. I’ve been getting it to bond to the plastic shell by adding in some glue.



I was fairly happy with the result, but I wanted to get a stronger inkling of what the final would look like. So I bejeweled a section of the egg and then coated the area with a thick layer of modgepodge; this has smoothed out the ridges slightly and helps hold the greebling in place.



Everything looks good, so now it’s time to continue building ridges . . .

Costuming characters


I’m currently working as an artist-in-residence at a local school, helping a Grade 5/6 class create heroic characters. In the first week, we started by brainstorming. In the second workshop, we really cranked up the fun factor, tackling our characters from the perspective of costumes and props.

To help with this, I brought in my gadget kit and my costume kit. The gadget kit is essentially just a box of stuff that other people throw out—odds and ends like milk bottle caps, wires, pipes, plastic rollers . . . you name it. All of this looks like junk, until you add it to something like this:


The above contraption is a piece I built for my wife’s halloween costume. None of my students are building something quite so elaborate, but are concentrating on more achievable things, such as smaller gizmos, such as decorated keys. (I found these really expensive keys from the craft store and many of the kids have hot-glued plastic jewels or metal gears to give them an other-worldly look.)

The other fun part of this class was costume design. I brought in a kit of fabric swatches, buttons, and hair samples and the students have collected samples to go along side the character profiles they are developing. The students had a lot of fun picking out the exact hair color of their characters and the different textures for their clothing. This gave them a different way to visualize their characters and helped enrich their understanding of them, too.

Here’s some of the photos from all the marvelous mayhem . . .


One of the students informed me that this was her favorite project all year (which I could tell because her and entire group of friends opted to skip recess to keep working on their designs.)

For the next workshop, we will be concentrating on illustration tips and techniques.

Kendra’s whisper

This is a photo of my latest prop: the bottle that contains Kendra’s secret from The Box of Whispers.

I’ve been working on this prop for ages. At first I wanted to suspend glow-in-the dark paint in a vial of clear glue. The result? The glue slowly absorbed the paint, so that I ended up with a murky mess. I tried putting in layer of glue and letting it dry, but eventually abandoned this plan in favour of using a strand of cotton lightly glossed with the glow-in-the dark paint. I hope you like the results!

Kendra Whispers