Piggybacking off our our last post about finally doing Spoonflower’s weekly contests, we’re continuing to carve out a little bit of time every Tuesday to complete the weekly contest and upload by midnight. It was a day already busy with client work and a mid-day pregnancy checkup appointment for Ashley in Chapel Hill, so we may have uploaded it around 11:55 PM.

This week’s theme was simply “llamas”—part of the fun of being an illustrator is that at any given week, you never know what you’re going to be drawing! We had a lot of fun reducing the body of the llama to simple shapes, then adorning him with just enough texture to suggest depth and form. We also decided to go for non-representational colors and kick our little buddy up a notch in lime. You can check him out on our Etsy shop as a print and a greeting card, and stay tuned on our social media outlets as we get ready to officially release him as a fabric line!


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We recently had the pleasure of ordering our first fabric on Spoonflower, which has been a long time coming. Though Spoonflower consists of a worldwide community of designers and users, its headquarters is in Durham, less than an hour down the road from us. We got to work with them and STC Craft a couple of years ago on their first book (slated for release this September), and though we spent quite a few hours lurking around their building with cameras, many other illustration projects kept fabric design on the backburner until we decided to finally squeeze the trigger this past month.

We love fabric design. It’s got a long and glorious history, with a big tie-in to Mid-Century Modern, our favorite era of illustration and design. Illustrating for the children’s market has been our favorite niche for a while, but now with a baby on the way, we have a lot more wind in our sails for launching forward with fun, whimsical, colorful fabric design. It will probably continue to be slow going, since you first have to order samples of your new fabric in order to release it for sale to the public; but we’re really excited about design stuff for our little Sadie, and then sharing our love of whimsical fabric illustration with others, so be sure to stay tuned!

You can check out our Spoonflower shop at the link below, and follow us on Instagram and Facebook to watch for announcements on new fabrics!


We returned to our home and studio in Saxapahaw a little over a week ago and hit the ground running, refreshed from our week visiting Joel’s parents in sunny California. The day before our flight back East, we had the blessing of squeezing in a trip to Disneyland, one of our favorite places of all time. Today we’re featuring one of our favorite Fantasyland attractions based on one of our favorite classic Disney animated features, the Mad Tea Party spinning teacups. Half of the fun of the ride is watching those glowing lanterns at night!




As our East Coast friends braced themselves for another onslaught of winter weather, we hopped on a plane for a much-needed break to visit Joel’s parents in sunny California. These late winter breaks are always so needed because by the end of February we’ve typically been grinding the studio back to running order after the Christmas holiday, and there’s often a heavy dose of cabin fever weighing down our spirits. Yesterday we drove down the hill to Zuma Beach for a picnic lunch, where we were greeted by the spout of a gray whale slowly coasting southward; today we put our pencils to work to commemorate how awesome it is sitting back in the sun and watching the whales.

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On pitted floorboards, where giant cotton spinning machines once churned and where our living room is now located, sits a refurbished antique press. As we wrote way back in 2011 when our buddy Tony personally drove it down from his letterpress warehouse in Syracuse so he could get some proper sweet tea, the press is a circa-1870’s Golding Pearl. It’s an elegant foot-powered machine with a conversation-piece flywheel and a 5 x 7″ chase. We’ve taken what feels like a lifetime to offer in-house letterpressed goods, but we never gave up on trying to make time for it. This week we finally leapt off from last year’s simple one-color black ink jobs and took a dip in bright red ink on vibrant pink French Pop-Tone. The Queen of Hearts never looked so good, and she’ll be hopping into our shop this Monday with her royal husband, the King of Hearts, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

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Buried like a pearl in T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets is this beautiful quote about returning to your roots:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Our stylistic and subject roots are nautical imagery. We drew our first nautical print, The Original Ship in a Bottle, in 2009 from a makeshift studio in the bonus room above Ashley’s parents’ garage, where we landed between apartments after college. Metaphors of sea voyages abound for our freelance career since we drew that first print. Today we completed another take on a whimsical tall ship illustration, this time in the form of a whimsical hot air balloon. When the seas are tempest-tossed, sometimes the best route is to take to the skies!




Today as rain paints the South Atlantic states in soft grays and blues, we’re holed up inside at the drawing board, drinking tea and listening to the whish of wet tires on the road outside of our apartment.

We love working on rainy days. Yes, they make for messy Post Office runs, but they also help you appreciate having a roof over your head—or an umbrella if you’re out. In honor of today’s rain, here’s our tribute to The Blue Umbrella, the theatrical companion to 2013’s Monsters University and one of our favorite Pixar shorts.




In honor of National Hug Day, here’s a fun little Baymax and “hairy baby” spot! Go out and wrap your arms around someone.

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When the client work has reached a lull between projects and we’ve been been steadily chipping away at self-directed work and administrative duties, we like to allow ourselves a slow start on Wednesdays. This morning brought us unseasonably warm sunshine, so we walked to the General Store for lunch and enjoyed a January picnic on a bench perched atop the flickering Haw River. We split each others’ sandwiches (a pork banh mi and a fried eggplant sub), washed it down with cold sparkling water, soaked in the sun, and enjoyed good conversation before heading in to take on the work day. It’s the little things in life that refresh your soul—but because they’re small, they’re often the easiest to overlook. Here’s to quiet adventures and taking good stewardship of the little time we’re given.

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Today Ashley cracked her knuckles, rolled up her sleeves, and crafted some Photoshop brushes. “But why?” you may ask. Here’s a story:

Heraclitus said that you can never step into the same river twice (oh, those clever ancient Greeks!) and we can say the same for our illustration process. Every time we pick up a pencil at our hulking antique drafting table, there’s a new constellation of factors running like a river under the surface: how much sleep we got last night, what we ate (or didn’t eat) for breakfast, how tightly cranked our stress levels are, and of course, what the subject matter is and why we’re drawing it. Crank the mix up to eleven with the fact that we’re both gluttons for punishment in the name of progress, and you get a constant state of evolving and experimentation. Welcome to Joel and Ashley’s world of freelance illustration!

Today the piece of the This Paper Ship puzzle that wasn’t broke, but we decided to fix anyway, was how we craft our illustrations.

Our pen-and-ink illustration production process has generally looked like this since 2012:
1. Sketch full composition in pencil.
2. Ink everything in pieces on new sheets using a light box.
3. Scan inked pieces, clean up, and assemble in Photoshop.
4. Apply color, make small edits, etc. on screen using Wacom tablet.

Scanning inked drawings has a special place in our hearts, it’s wonderful for myriad reasons, and we’ll continue to use it regularly. But this year, we’re introducing a much larger emphasis on digital painting, directly in Photoshop, using the tablet. The reasons for this are as follows:

1. Composing in pencil is intuitive. It’s beautiful process; it’s a Mozart symphony. You make some lines, step a back to soak in the piece as a whole, add in a little more here, adjust that line here, que bella. Then using our current system, we break up that orchestra—SMASH! throw the violins off into the balcony, CRUNCH! cram the cellos under the back row seats, CLUNK! shove the flutes through the ticket booth—and then try to paste it back together, in its original state, in time for the opening curtain. OK, that’s an extreme analogy! But the scanned-ink process does transform that intuitive give-and-take of pure drawing into a more mechanical, factory-assembly situation. Not to mention the on-screen cleanup process; when you scan in a drawing at a high resolution, you will discover that even a clean piece of paper exhibits what our dear Art History professor Mike Mendez used to call “schmazz”, i.e., little bits of dust that you have to take the time to manually erase before you can move on.

2. Digital painting saves time. We’ll probably write more about the business side of freelancing in the near future, but believe us when we say that a lot of drawing needs to get done to have two people live solely off of freelance illustration. Not to mention, all of those extra little drawings that we do for blogging and marketing; networking is so much snazzier with original illustrations, and as we all know, more pizazz = more pennies = more pizzas. (See what we did there?) When we can do three drawings with digital painting in the time it normally takes us to do one drawing with the pen-and-ink-and-digital-coloring process, it’s a no-brainer.

Does that mean we’re dumping our Bristol, watercolor paper, microns, and brush pens off on the curb in a rainstorm? Absolutely not—there are plenty of illustrations that lend themselves much better to the scanned-ink process. But we’re itching for the new horizon that digital painting helps us cross, and we certainly want to pack more drawing into every day.

Which brings us back to the Photoshop brushes Ashley created today—a new set of beautiful soft shaders. It was a simple process based on several online tutorials, which consisted of scanning in swatches of original watercolor textures, isolating them in Photoshop, and using Photoshop’s brush preset actions. Then we added more sail and applied the brushes on a little turtle friend on our Contact page, painting him in Photoshop directly above a layer containing the scanned pencil sketch.

Here’s to the pursuit of improvement—and more drawing, drawing, drawing!