Toffle Towers – character design

To celebrate the upcoming release of Toffle Towers book 3, I’ve prepped a bunch of behind-the-scenes blog posts. I’ll show you how I designed the hotel’s interior and exterior; how I designed the cover of book 1; and how I designed other elements like the shuttle bus and the title typography. But today, I’m showing you possibly the most important part of prepping for this series: how I designed the cast.

Toffle Towers is a chapter book series, fantastically written by Tim Harris and illustrated by me. Tim wrote a HUGE cast into the series, and I had to create all their character designs – partly based on descriptions Tim included in the text, and partly from my imagination.

Chegwin Toffle is the main character, so of course I started with him. Chegwin is a 10yo dreamer who inherits a hotel and becomes the manager.

Because I’d be drawing Chegwin so many times throughout the series, I drew a quick turnaround sheet for him too.

Continue reading “Toffle Towers – character design”

Free online workshops in June

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– subscribe to new posts via the little box on the right.
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Month of June: drawing demo and Q&A (for kids, ONLINE)

AVAILABLE: the month of June
COST: free! Simply watch the video above.

Thanks to the City of Gosnells libraries for commissioning this session.


June 20: Character Design workshop – (for 10-17yo, ONLINE)

In this workshop participants learn how colour, shape, costume and body language all make great unique characters, and learn to design their own characters for their own stories. Thanks to Victoria Park library for organising this session.

A link will be sent to registered participants prior to the workshop for access.

WHEN: Saturday June 20th
TIMES: 1-2pm
WHERE: online
AGES: 10-17 yo
COST: free
BOOKINGS: essential, via the Victoria Park website.

Win $500 in prizes in the ‘Connecting Through Creativity’ competition

Calling all young creatives in Western Australia – it’s your time to shine and WIN up to $500 in prizes!

To explore how creativity can play a part in staying connected, Scribblers Festival and CBH Group have joined forces to launch a new visual storytelling competition: Connecting Through Creativity.

Connecting Through Creativity – what’s it about?

Create your artistic response, to the theme Connectivity, in any visual method that inspires you! Some examples include 2D Arts (drawing, illustration, painting, collage, photography, comics, etc.); Video (video diary, performance, stop motion, interview, short film, etc.); and 3D Arts (ephemeral art, land art, sculpture, pop up books, etc.).

The competition is open to Primary and Secondary aged kids from ALL OVER Western Australia, with $500 in prizes up for grabs!

Want Some Inspiration?

I’m one of four ‘creative mentors’ helping the project (along with Cristy Burne, Beci Orpin and Remy Lai ) – we’re sharing tricks of the trade through a series of video and blog posts over the coming weeks. We’ll help guide you on your artistic journey with inside peeks to our own creative processes, how-tos, and answers to your burning questions.

I made a video for the competition about how being curious helps your creativity.

I also wrote a blog post about curiosity and creativity which you can find here.

How To Enter

Check out the official competition page on the Scribblers website for more info. Entries close June 26.

Good luck!

Free resources for homeschooling + 10% my books!

Hi everyone! I hope you’re all staying safe and well in these strange times.

Looking for free stuff to help with your homeschooling? I’ve got you covered.

FREE RESOURCES

check out my Teacher resource page. It’s a comprehensive list of resources related to all my books. There’s a bunch of bonus activities and content at the bottom of the page.

FREE VIDEO LESSONS

Check out the free videos below (if the videos don’t come up,  please try the online version of this blog post).

Also – while schools might not be going back to normal for a little while, I’m still available to do presentations for school groups – either live or pre-recorded. Get in contact to find out more.

There are heaps more videos on my youtube channel and also on my Teacher resource page.

Littlescribe also has a bunch more free creative writing lessons on their Youtube channel. They also offer full terms’ worth of creative writing programs for a fee via their website; each writing program is developed in conjunction with professional Aussie children’s authors (including me).

10% OFF MY BOOKS + FREE ACTIVITY PACKS

My publisher Fremantle Press is offering 10% off my junior graphic novels, and is throwing in a ‘Kids At Home’ pack too – a bunch of freebies and activity sheets! Use the discount code ATHOME at the checkout to get your discount and freebies. Head to the Fremantle Press website for more info.

*** This offer lasts until Easter 2020. ***


Look after yourselves – wash your hands, keep up your social distancing – and we’ll meet up again on the other side of this.

 

– James

My three top tips for aspiring writers

A primary school student contacted me recently and said they want to be an author when they grow up; they asked if I had any tips. I boiled it all down to three things: read, write, and have fun. This may sound super simplistic, but I think these are ultimately the basics you need to have.
Note to aspiring illustrators: these tips apply to you too! Just replace the word ‘write’ with ‘draw’, and ‘author’ with ‘illustrator’. 

1. READ.

Read lots of things. Read lots of different types of things. Even read things that you think you might not like (and even read things that you know you don’t like). The more you read, the more you learn about what kind of stories you like, but also about how stories work. And if you’re reading a story that you don’t like, ask yourself – why isn’t this working for me? What would I change to make this story better?

2. WRITE.

Write a little bit each week, just for fun, just for you. You don’t have to show it to anyone. Try writing things out by hand. Try writing things on a computer. Try writing different types of things. The more you write, the more you learn about WHAT you like to write, and HOW you like to write. You don’t have to wait until you grow up to be an author; you don’t have to wait until you are published to ‘be’ an author; if you write stories then you are an author.

3. HAVE FUN.

If this is your main aim then you can never really fail, and you won’t put yourself under unnecessary pressure in the creative process. But if your main aim is to sell a squllion books and get super rich and famous, then you’ll probably get disappointed! Also, if you’re having fun then it’s easier to persist and persist and persist until the work is done (because writing takes a loooooong time).

So that’s it – my three top tips for aspiring writers! If you’d like to read some more detailed advice, check out some of my earlier posts:

 

Behind the scenes of Gastronauts, part 4: final cover illustration

My new book Gastronauts is out now in bookstores and online.

Today I’m taking you behind the scenes to show you how I illustrated the front cover.

Step 1: cover design

Here’s my final rough:

Continue reading “Behind the scenes of Gastronauts, part 4: final cover illustration”

Behind the scenes of Gastronauts, part 3: cover design

My new book Gastronauts is out now in bookstores and online.

Today I’m taking you behind the scenes to show you how I designed the robots and vehicles in the story.

Quick recap: Sally Tinker is the world’s foremost inventor under the age of twelve. In Gastronauts, Sally’s baby brother Joe swallows her latest invention. So Sally and her friend Charli shrink themselves down in a tiny submarine and journey into Joe’s body.

Here’s how I designed the cover.

Step 1: really bad first sketches

Sometimes you get the cover idea pretty quickly and clearly from the start.

This was not one of those times.

I struggled with this a lot at first; I couldn’t figure out how to show the reader that Sally and Charli were inside a sub, inside Joe, and make Sally and Charli big enough so that they were recognisable, without being too big that the scale stopped being anatomically correct.

None of these ideas really work, but I’ve included them here to show you how a cover design process can go. There are usually lots of rejected, fairly ordinary ideas.

Continue reading “Behind the scenes of Gastronauts, part 3: cover design”

Behind the scenes of Gastronauts, part 2: submarine & robot design

My new book Gastronauts is out now in bookstores and online.

Today I’m taking you behind the scenes to show you how I designed the robots and submarine in the story.

Quick recap: Sally Tinker is the world’s foremost inventor under the age of twelve. In Gastronauts, Sally’s baby brother Joe swallows an invention called the smartCHIP, along with a bunch of tiny robots called smartbots, and also a tiny shrunken submarine containing Sally and her friend Charli.

Here’s how I designed Sally’s SUB and the smartbots. But:

**SPOILER ALERT***

I’ll discuss plot points for the book, so if you haven’t read the book yet, go do that first, then come back.

All good?

Have you gone and read the book?

Ok, here’s how I designed the SUB and the smartbots.

Continue reading “Behind the scenes of Gastronauts, part 2: submarine & robot design”

Behind the scenes of Gastronauts, part 1: illustration process

My new book Gastronauts is out now in bookstores and online.

Today I’m taking you behind the scenes to show you how I made the illustrations.

Here’s one of my favourite spreads from the book. It’s where Sally leads her friend Charli into the SUB (Sally’s Underwater Boat) for the first time.

I thought it would be easiest to show the insides of the SUB by just drawing a massive cut-away diagram. Here’s how I drew it.

Continue reading “Behind the scenes of Gastronauts, part 1: illustration process”

FAQ: What advice do you have for aspiring writers and illustrators?

Many people think they could write or illustrate a children’s book.

Few could.

Some try, and

a small number are actually published.

Partly this is due to skill level. It takes many years to get your work up to the professional standard suitable for publication. Most people do not persevere and see it through.

In my opinion, the most inspiring advice for aspiring writers and illustrators comes from Ira Glass, the US radio broadcaster. Here’s a little snippet:

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good … a lot of people never get past this phase.

Does that sound like you? It perfectly sums up the early part of my creative journey, when I was struggling to get my work up to standard and to get my first book contract.

Ira goes on to explain how to close that gap between your skill and your ambitions. The full quote is insightful, simple and brilliant. Rather than just copy and paste the whole quote verbatim, I found a short film-version put together by filmmaker Daniel Sax (see below). It’s brilliant too.

If you’re struggling with staying motivated on your own creative journey, please please please watch this video. Then turn off the internet and go make your art!