Character Sketches: Discovering an Identity

Harper Peeking

I’m just finishing up a sketch dummy for a manuscript I’ve written called, “Harper’s Gathering Storm.” I began writing the story around 2011, while we were living in a sub-urban, forested neighborhood near Hamburg, Germany. We didn’t own a car but walked everywhere we went, which is pretty common there. My two oldest daughters were just barely preschoolers then and still riding in the double-stroller, but we often took leisurely walks along the cobblestone paths and visited the many parks and playgrounds hidden here and there among the woods and moors.

My daughters were (and still are!) big “collectors.” Every day they would come home with something new in their pockets. So I began to write about a little boy named Jasper who liked to gather things into his pockets–I think I must have chosen a little boy character because my husband and I were pondering the possibility of adding a third child to our family. I loved the name Jasper and planned to use it for our son if we ever had one.

Jasper Sketch

jasper peeking

Fast-forward a few years and we are living in the U.S. again. We did indeed add a third child to our family–another girl, born in October of 2013. Once she was about six months old, I decided to revisit my story and began to storyboard and make character sketches. After receiving a professional critique, I realized I needed to do some major revisions and get serious about honing my craft if I really wanted to become an author-illustrator! And drawing from life was something I knew I should be doing.

So, “Jasper,” a boy character, became “Harper,” a girl character.


harper sketch

Really, the change was a no-brainer since I am mama to three little girls!!! Write what you know, right? This change was crucial to the success of my illustrations since I have three little “models” running around here all of the time. Instead of sketching from pictures, I could sketch from real-life. Duh. Why didn’t I think of this in the first place?!

I have fallen in love with my character, Harper. She is like one of my daughters. Her personality is very similar to my middle girl, but really, she is a combination of all three. I love her and can’t wait to share her with the world someday soon!

Harper and Shields in Sun

From the Archives: “Dusk” Book Project Inspired by Old Blog Post

My newest project is a story about a little boy and girl who are fearful of the things they see on their walk home at dusk. The imagery is rich in my mind and slowly making its way onto paper, inspired by the magical, early night-fall of northern Germany. I mentioned in my last post that I used to live with my family in a sub-urban, forested neighborhood near Hamburg, Germany. And I remembered something I had written back then after one beautiful dusk stirred something in my soul. Incidentally, this was one of my earliest blog posts and I loved re-reading it today, more than four years later, now that Penelope’s little sister Lucy-Grace is the same age that Penny was in these photos.

penny dusk

(Written on 4.11.2011): On one of the first warm-ish days of the season, Penelope and I went for an evening walk.  It was Penny’s first walk–we left the stroller at home and ambled among the trees, just the two of us, on the winding network of paths that sprawls behind red-brick apartment buildings.  I chased Penny as she ran after dogs and urged her forward as she stopped to contemplate the passers-by or followed the people who smiled at her.  We spied the first buds of spring and Penny ate some of the pale violet petals.  We stayed out until it was nearly dark and almost still; the only sounds were echoing birdsong and the occasional bright clinging of a bicycle bell.

Dusk is my favorite time of day.  The hour or so before dark has always had a melancholy feel about it for me–the sun sinks low and the shadows grow long as the day creeps toward its end. But I love those last moments when, though the sun has dropped below the horizon, there still remains that soft glow of light.  There is a feeling of tenderness, of longing for a long-lost home, and the warm promise of lamps glowing in windows.


I love how the feeling of dusk shows up in these photos of my walk with Penny.  The air shimmers with a thin mist, drawing a muffled gray over daytime’s vivid color.  You can almost see the quiet hush of day’s end, but any sense of loneliness is warded off by the lights shining in the windows of a hundred apartments where families are gathering around the dinner table.

penny swing

See the little speck of light just over Penny’s head in the last two photos?  That’s a lamp burning on the kitchen windowsill in my own apartment.  Every evening I light the lamp, imagining that people on the paths outside might see it and feel refreshed with new hope as they hurry toward the comfort of their own homes.  And it turns out that it served as a poignant encouragement to me as well.

It occurs to me that the gloomy, wet and misty weather that most often pervades Northern Germany has given this place a nearly permanent sense of “dusk” for me.  Yes, it can be melancholy and lonely at times; but it is magical too.  I like to feel that longing for home and to know that the home-fire is always burning here and in as many places as I have people who love me.


*I will look forward to sharing some of the sketches from my new book project here (hopefully) soon!*