The Man Who Wanted to be a Penguin

These are two posters commissioned by the Stuff and Nonsense Theatre Company for their new production, The Man Who Wanted to be a Penguin, which premiers this December and will be touring through the Spring of 2020. The show combines live performance and puppetry to tell a a joyful tale that celebrates individuality through some cracking storytelling, beautifully crafted songs and even a chance to learn how to speak penguin!

The posters offer two quite contrasting designs for the show – which is your favourite?




The Balloon Man

A little story about how this picture came about:

Not long ago I was having lunch with a friend of mine and on the wall opposite me in the café we were in there was a set of three framed pictures. Two depicted rustic vegetables – a carrot and a potato – drawn in a stylised way. But the third featured this odd balloon-man, with a little pointy hat, who seemed totally out of kilter with the otherwise vegetably theme. I was kind of fascinated by this mismatch, trying to work out what the connection might be, or why anyone would decide to create a set of three pictures like this, racking my brains for any cultural references that might link vegetables and balloon-men satisfactorily. I could not come up with anything.

When we got up to leave I took a closer look and it became clear. The balloon-man was no balloon-man at all. He was an onion. It all made sense: three vegetables – carrot, potato, onion. But in my mind’s eye I could still see the strange character I had originally noticed. So I went home and drew him.

It got me thinking about how inspiration can sometimes be found in the things you don’t see first time, the mismatches and the misunderstandings, the illogical gaps between sense and coherence, those strange moments when our minds trip us over and momentarily lead us somewhere a little odd.

The Nowhere Box at Selby Community Primary School

In my first picture book, The Nowhere Box, George uses a cardboard box to transport him Nowhere to escape his annoying younger brothers. Nowhere soon becomes a cardboard world of adventure and George has a great time until he begins to feel that the very thing he was escaping is the very thing Nowhere is missing…


The kids at Selby Community Primary School have been reading The Nowhere Box in class and making corrugated cardboard collages in the style of the book, taking George on some incredible new adventures. They were kind enough to share these with me and I am very pleased to be able to share them in turn, here with you (click on the images to enlarge).

Let’s go Nowhere…

Leona and Madison sent George to the moon. I love the pun – ‘spacetacular’!


In the book, George fails to find any dragons, though he does go looking. Sean and Lewis have remedied that by creating this fire-breathing monster. I’m glad they also gave George a sword and shield so he can look after himself.


Sam (great name) has provided George with a colourful cardboard vehicle. Nice work!


Martin sent George somewhere magical, and he looks like he’s having a great time. I love the multi-coloured arch.


Anna, Chloe and Shannan have upped the adventure and got George back in touch with nature in this scene. He looks like he’s about to go exploring a forest…


I love what Lewis and Ryan have done with their composition, especially the little blue windows along the bottom. Brilliant work, guys.


Teagan’s collage is a candy-inspired adventure sure to appeal to anyone passionate about sweets.


Noah has extended George’s rocket-based adventure, taking him to ever greater heights. ‘Epic’ is a great description!


Mateusz and Tomas have included the entire solar system in their collage – impressive.


Wayne and Harry have also sent George ever further spacewards. I really like the little planet Earth in the corner, showing just how far he’s journeyed.


Nowhere is prehistoric for Brandon and Matt, who took George all the way back to the dinosaurs. I’m glad he’s still smiling, some of those dinosaurs look pretty mean…


Alana and Charlye also took George back in time, and even let him hitch a ride on a dinosaur taller than the treetops. I bet the view was magical.


James and Jamie sent George swimming with the dolphins – or is that a shark? Uh-oh…


Thanks SO much to all the kids for their amazing collages. There’s real imagination on display, I’ve loved seeing all the new places George has been. A letter to the class is on its way to you, as well as signed copies of The Nowhere Box.

Are you a teacher who would like to use The Nowhere Box as part of your teaching? Although I’m not available for school visits right now I’ll happily be involved in any other ways I can – responding to the children’s work and things like that – so do get in touch if you’d like to chat things over in more detail.

Writing Process Blog Tour

I’m taking part in a Writing Process Blog Tour this week, which I was invited to join by writer, illustrator and SCBWI buddy Katherine Lynas.

Without further ado here are four questions, complete with four answers…


1)    What am I working on?


Illustrations for the third book in the series ‘The Misadventures of Edgar and Allan Poe’ by Gordon McAlpine. Book 2 was published by Viking Children’s Books last month and book 3, the final in the trilogy, is due out next year.


Illustrations for a 2-player board game called ‘Stormy Weather’ involving two scientists going head-to-head to control the weather in an increasingly chaotic bid to win a gardening competition. We launched the game on Kickstarter last month and, by the time you read this, will have about one day to raise about £9,000. We’re going to need all the help we can get so if you fancy finding out more click the link above for a peak.


I am also working on writing and illustrating a new picture book, which will hopefully be out in 2016. More details to follow as soon as official announcements can be made…


2)    How does my work differ from others of its genre?


It is the only work to come to you direct from inside the head of Sam Zuppardi. There’s nothing else out there that can claim to pull off quite that same trick.


3) Why do I write what I do?


I write and illustrate children’s books because childhood is a fascinating time, because we never quite leave it behind and so thinking about childhood is always interesting and arresting. Thinking about childhood is a way of thinking about our selves, about how we build our identities, and the implications and consequences of that process. It’s an important time and writing and drawing about it feels like time well spent. Children need interesting and thought-provoking things to read from as early as possible. I like being involved with providing that.


4) How does your writing process work?


Well this is how things tend to work when I am writing a picture book:

I start with an idea for a story. Having an idea is about fostering a state of mind in which you are open to ideas, where ever they might come from. I write down the idea as quick as possible, even if it’s just a couple of lines or a random sentence. Sometimes I’ll sit and draft out an entire picture book and it all flows out beautifully. Other times it just stays as a line or two. I write on my computer, in sketchbooks, on the back of envelopes, whatever is to hand. The important thing is to get SOMETHING down in writing so I don’t forget it. Don’t kid yourself you’ll remember an idea you’ve just had. It may feel vivid and amazing and brilliant at the time but in a day or two you’ll not be quite sure whether you’ve remembered it correctly, and you’ll kick yourself. Also, it may not be as amazing and brilliant as you first thought. But if you haven’t written it down all you’ll have left is that memory of how amazing and brilliant it was and you’ll wonder if you’ve remembered it right. If you have it there in black and white you can reassure yourself it actually was a pretty lame idea after all, and move on. Even then you might find something new and exciting develops out of what you’ve written. Just get it in writing. You don’t want to be chasing the memory of how amazing the idea was, like a dream you can only half remember.

After the idea is written down I put it aside and think about other things for a few days or months or years. Letting things brew is really important. The ideas that have yielded the stories I’m most pleased with in the past have been the ones that have grown and developed naturally, without feeling forced. That said, you want to strike a balance between letting things brew and forgetting about them. You have to be able to hold stuff in mind without feeling something has to be done with it immediately. You have to trust in your mind’s ability to think while you’re not watching it. If you put an idea aside but allow it a corner in the back of your mind where it stays alive, your mind does incredible things. It stays with it like a puzzle and works at unfolding and developing it, until something clicks. When I feel that click I go back and write some more, add to the original stuff I wrote and see how it feels.

Finally, when I have draft I’m happy with, I leave it aside again and work on other things. The picture book world moves at a leisurely pace so there’s no rush. When the moment is right, I’ll send it off to my agent. From that moment the writing process becomes collaborative. Other people get involved – agents, editors, art directors. So from that point on it’s a whole different kettle of fish, and almost a different process altogether… I’ll tell you about it sometime.


If you’d like to follow the blog tour on from here, here’s where to go next:


Paul Morton is an illustrator, graphic designer and the creative force behind Hot Frog Graphics. With 33 years in the graphic design business he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to every new project. CLick his name to visit his blog.

Mike Brownlow is the writer and illustrator of many children’s books, including the Little Robots series and Ten Little Pirates, which came out last year and has recently been shortlisted for the Nottingham Children’s book awards. Click his name to find his website.


Both Paul and Mike will be posting their tour entries some time next week or the week after so stay tuned. In the meanwhile, thank you for stopping by here.

Baby in a Hat

One of the challenges of illustration is trying to keep the spontaneity and energy and – for want of a more accurate technical term – the ‘feel’ of a sketch, across the various tweakings and reworkings that mark almost any picture’s progress from sketchbook to finished product. How do you keep something looking fresh and off-the-cuff when in reality it’s (often – not always) carefully constructed, planned, and practiced? More difficult still – how do you preserve that indefinable ‘something’ from the sketch when it comes to reproducing  the image for the final presentation? Sometimes I find myself frustratingly unable to do it. I suppose that’s what a light box is for, and mine is very useful but even so, tracing from an original sketch isn’t always a sure-fire way to preserve what you loved about that first sketch.

Just such an impasse occurred when I made the sketch below, which was to form the basis for a finished, colour piece. The sketch all fell together exactly as I wanted – the expression of the baby, the texture of the paper, the texture of the pencil lines – all came together perfectly as I wanted. But when I came to try and recreate it for a more polished final version, something was lost. I couldn’t get the facial features to line up right. The smile became a different smile, the expression – to my mind – distorted. Ok, so no one else would know it was distorted as they wouldn’t see this preliminary sketch to know the difference – but to me the new version was off-kilter and so the whole effect I had wanted was compromised. Further, the pencil lines were different, the positioning subtly skewed. Something indefinable but impossible to ignore had been lost – the ‘feel’ of the piece.

So rather than the finished piece this week I figured I’d just share the sketch itself, which is now also the final version. Sometimes, you just can’t beat your unpracticed first attempt at something. No amount of subsequent refining or honing can make up for the loss of that initial spark.

What do other people call that indefinable something that  lives in the heart of a first sketch or a piece of writing before it undergoes alteration – spirit, soul, ‘feel,’ spark?


The Museum of Childhood

Last time I was in Edinburgh I happily chanced across a place called The Museum of Childhood, which turned out to be quite amazing inside. It was free to get in and I’d somehow expected a rather sorry single room of lacklustre knick-knacks. Instead, there was room upon room of all manner of ephemera relating to childhood – not least a ton of old toys. My favourite room was packed with shelf after shelf of dolls of all shapes and sizes – about 90% of them horribly sinister. I was inspired to do some sketching of my favourites, some of which I later painted, and which I hope to share with you over the coming weeks.

Ragged Queen Anne Doll

This doll was apparently of a standard type known as the ‘Queen Anne Doll.’ It looked battered, dishevelled and so thoroughly unimpressed I was inspired to draw it. I love the way toys like this, designed to evoke childhood play and to be companions for children, appear so cynical, unfriendly and all-round fed up. I think it’s this strange and often inadvertent  balance between the friendly and the sinister that I find so appealing about dolls. It’s as though their maker had one role in mind for them, but in the course of being made and being out in the world they have somehow taken on their own, very different character. 

Tall Doll

I couldn’t work out what this doll was supposed to be dressed as or why, but it seemed as though, as a character, she would have an intriguing and mysterious story behind her. Again, she was half sinister, half appealing.