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In the waiting room of my dentist's, one winter morning in December 2022, I found myself thinking about bears.

I was thinking how every children's book illustrator must, at some point, have drawn a bear. There are countless stories about bears; the most famous among them must be Winnie-the-pooh and Paddington. Their appeal is obvious: cute, sweet natured, cuddly child-like characters, appealing to both children and adults alike. They are also very satisfying to draw. Easy to simplify and manipulate the 5 little elements that make up a recognisable bear shape (head, ears, body, legs and arms). So how could I join the bear club and create something slightly more original? Suddenly a rhyme popped into my head: "A hand-painted house at the top of the stairs is home to a family of patchwork sewn bears". It immediately felt as though this was a fully formed idea - not something that happens on a regular basis! So when these sparks of ideas come, you have to be ready to grab them with both hands.


I began to work on this idea as soon as I could, at the very beginning of January 2023. I knew it would work as the next story calendar. Straight away I could see the appeal of drawing 12 different rooms in an old dolls house, and therefore an opportunity to visit a different patchwork bear in every room. The thought of researching and illustrating loads of toy furniture, as well as dolls houses and fabric patchwork bears...well it was everything I loved to draw all at once! What's more, it had a different feel to my previous calendars (something I always endeavour to create with each new project).

My way of creating some original bear characters  proved to be a time consuming option. The idea of a handmade bear, created using scraps of fabric, allowed me to experiment with pattern and colour. As the story progressed, some months started to include more than one bear, and soon they were doing all kinds of different things in different rooms. Eventually I designed 22 bears in total - and I love that they each have their own little personalities. No two bears are the same. In fact, the more time I spend with them, the more I want to know about what else they get up to (apart from another obvious story line potential: who made them?).

Another character that made its way into the story, was of course, the little brown mouse. The front cover was something that I thought about straight away, and I loved the idea of the viewer physically opening up a door leading up some stairs to the dolls house. The little mouse character, looking up at the door, gives us a reason to take a peek, inviting us to read the story. It made sense for the mouse to be seen on every page, reacting as we would, to each new discovery. Even the mouse could have its own little story, there are so many potentials within this calendar.


By now, the story calendars are starting to take on a life of their own. I find myself giving more and more thought into how I can push the idea of a basic wall calendar. While I was busy placing the bears in their detailed surroundings, to give the viewer as much detail as possible about the rooms they were in, I also liked the bold simplicity of a bear with a white background. I wondered whether this bear image would suit a greetings card. Maybe a limited edition card to go alongside this story calendar would appeal to people? This spurned the idea of presenting it as more of a gift. Before I knew it, I was designing stickers to decorate the tissue paper wrapping, and to go on the outside of the gift box!

Each year I put in more and more work to the calendars and each year I worry that they won't sell! As much as I loved this story calendar, the same fears surfaced. I also realised that the cost of the calendar had to go up because of all the little extras I kept adding on. However, this has been my most successful calendar yet, and I'm pretty certain that it's because of all those little extras. I also have a few customers who come back year after year just to buy a calendar or two...I hope this continues as long as I have ideas to keep on making them! (Reader: calendar 2025 is already in progress, but that is another story...)

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