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The inspiration for my latest poem? Cute, tiny poo.

All sorts of unexpected situations can inspire a story or an illustration. My illustrated poem, "Mouse Droppings" for example, was inspired by some erm, gifts left for us by the critters in our woodland cabin. Read all about my process below!



A mouse with a cookie is trying to fend off another mouse while his neighbor is holding an umbrella and having fun.
Detail from my illustrated poem, Mouse Droppings.

I used to love mice...

If you are one of those poor souls who is absolutely terrified by the sight of a long pink tail disappearing into a cereal box, I understand your pain.


But I used to LOVE MICE! Having spent a lot of time in the forest growing up, mice always seemed like cute little buddies who I would see darting around the wood pile or dashing to escape my grandmother's ferocious mousers. For my 8th birthday my mom bought my sister and I each a mouse. I named my little grey mouse Carly (after my kindergarten friend) and my sis named her plump brown one Brownie.


Perhaps I was inspired to write Mouse Droppings to capture that old loving feeling again. 

Well, it turned out that Carly was actually a Carl. We figured that out one morning when we rushed to their cage to check on them and instead of our 2 fluffy mice, we found 14, 12 of which were squirmy pink lil babies. Wow! We would spend hours watching them clamber over one another and bury themselves in wood shavings. I thought they were so cute with their flat pink feet and black button eyes!


But once I became a parent, that all changed.



PARENTHOOD turned me against mice

Perhaps instead of saying, "parenthood turned me against mice" I should say, "being in charge of household cleanliness and hygiene turned me against mice". Whatever the exact cause, as an adult I have definitely acquired an aversion to mice. I realized this when I was cleaning out the pantry one day in my parents' old cabin in the woods. I think I actually "eeeked" when I saw a mouse peeking its little nose out of a crack in the wall! Honestly, "eeeking" at that mouse is one of the the more embarrassing things I've done.


Instead of being whimsically entertained by the little furballs, I find myself excruciatingly aware of how much they PEE... EVERYWHERE.


And as a parent to a parcel of little 'uns, it often falls to me to clear up all this lovely mouse seasoning. Charming.


So perhaps I was inspired to write Mouse Droppings to capture that old loving feeling again. I want to love mice so I imagined a world where they would leave me things other than their excrement, darling though it is. If you haven't read it yet, you can read my poem Mousing Droppings HERE. Below you will find highlights from my adventure illustrating this adorable, poopy poem.



Honestly, "eeeking" at that mouse is one of the the more embarrassing things I've done.


Character Design

First thing is first. When I get rolling on an illustration I always have to design my characters. It can be truly shocking how much time this seemingly simple part of the process can take but I've learned the hard way never to skip it. This is especially true if I'm drawing an animal that I haven't drawn extensively before.


I began, as usual, by scrounging around on the web for reference imagery. As it happens, a mouse plague had recently hit Australia (oof, tough one mates) so there was plenty of imagery

.

drawings of mice
Some studies of mice, mostly drawn from images I scrounged up on the Google oracle.

After a few hours of drawing mice my eyes were starting to cross. I just couldn't get a combination of shapes that I was happy with. So I drew myself a little encouragement and took the rest of the day off from mousing.




Ok, back to the drawing board. For this round of character designs I really focused on the things I love about mice visually. They have fat, round upper arms that end in intolerably cute pink hands with elegant claws. They also have round, plump bottoms and expressive tails. Long, paddle-like pink feet stick out goofily from their furry haunches. Finally, I LOVE their shiny black eyes and twitchy ears.

Cartoons of cute mice
Whew, after drawing mice for what felt like hours I finally got to some designs that felt right.

Cute mice wearing clothes
Some variations of how the mice might look, clothed and shod.

This time, by leading with the features I love, I got somewhere.



Composition & Value

I sadly cannot find my various composition sketches BECAUSE I DELETED THEM.


WHY?!?!


I always get excited to be done and delete things to save space in Procreate. And then I always regret it! At least I'm consistent, but I do wish I would learn.


Anyway, it was at this point that I needed to nail down my illustration's dimensions. I wanted to create a portfolio piece showing off my ability to design for a magazine like Highlights for kids, so I decide to do an 11"x17" tabloid spread.


Here is the value study I ended up going with:

Value study of illustration, Mouse Droppings.
Value study laid on top of my line drawing. I messed around for a while with how to make the foreground distinct from the background.

At this stage of laying in values I was focused on two things:

  1. Making sure the foreground (inside the cab) was clearly apart from and in front of the background (the view outside the window).

  2. Establishing my focal point on the mouse with the umbrella. You'll see soon how I added color to make that really gel together.

  3. Establish a pleasing composition by drawing the eye in to a focal point then pulling the eye AROUND the illustration.


It was time to move on to color!


Color

It might seem like color is the most intensive part of creating an illustration but, for me, if I've done all of my other stages well I can usually just kick back and watch everything come to life.


First, I always make sure that I'm working with a clearly defined color palette (you can read more about that here if you like). I harvested this color palette from photos of our time at the cabin one autumn.


palette used by children's book illustrator, Emma Tipping, to illustrate her artwork, Mouse Droppings.
"Mouse Droppings" color palette

I knew my mice would be naturally occurring mouse colors so I pulled a bunch of browns and beiges out of the photo.


I also wanted to have a blue sky outside the window so I grabbed some purdy blues. Last but not least, you can see how I became inspired to use a bright red umbrella as a focal point!


Once I had this color palette figured out, I was ready to color! It was by far the easiest part of the entire illustration process and I had a lot of fun adding vivid hues to all the mouse feet, polka dot dresses, waistcoats and knickers!🫢



I always make sure that I'm working with a clearly defined color palette.


Final Art

Here are some of my favorite details from the final:









Mouse Droppings is done! I hope you enjoyed reading about this illustrated poem as much as I enjoyed making it.


children's book illustration of mice playing inside of a car.
Final art for my illustrated poem, "Mouse Droppings".



 


Looking for fun things to do with your kids on those long rainy days?

Click below to read all about the ultimate, creative rainy day activity!





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