One of the joys of being a children’s book illustrator is the frequency with which I get to create whimsical animals. I’m not a nature artist in the traditional sense, so I don’t often paint realistic flora and fauna. My animals lean cute, or as I tell my clients, I’m on a scale of whimsy to whacky.

Lately I’ve been drawing a lot of creatures, animal and human, directly on the tablet, with no preliminary sketches. My recent Astronomy Girl, Wait-Up, assorted lightbulb characters, and others have been drawn this way. There’s a method to my whimsy.

For my assignments I certainly produce preliminary roughs for approval from my clients. These impromptu pieces, like this polar guy, are done with no forethought other than a desire to be spontaneous, fun, and direct. I start with a shape, like a nose, a circle, or an organic form, and see where it goes. The method, if any, is to think visually and quickly, so that I’m the one surprised by what happens. The idea is that if I get a kick out of it, so will my audience.

I will disclose that when I found out my playing around was turning into a polar bear, I did pull out a photo reference just to make sure it looked more like one than not. The reference helped settle the proportions and features that define polar bear.

When I discuss my whimsy to whacky scale with a client, so as to discern which direction they want to go, I like to add that if at some point I laugh while I’m working on their project, that means they will be getting my best work. It’s always best if I’m as surprised by the fun as they are. It looks to me like this polar bear is as surprised to see me as I was to see him. I’m glad he’s smiling.