There’s no telling how many things we still love to do are holdovers from when we were kids, and today is no exception: show-and-tell, more specifically a quick behind-the-scenes look at a new batch of textures!

To provide a bit of context: this year we’ve leapt with both feet into digital illustration. What that means for us is that once we have our compositions fully thought out in a well-rendered pencil sketch, we bring the sketch into Photoshop and draw a from-scratch high-res original using a variety of Photoshop brushes. Our old process had us inking several separate layers on Bristol and watercolor paper, scanning them in, cleaning them up, and coloring in PS. We find the all-digital process so much more efficient and precise, and by using it we’re convinced we can better execute what we’ve envisioned.

But that’s not to say that we let our real brushes gather dust! A big part of what gives our work a tactile quality (despite having been created on a computer) is an ever-expanding library of painted textures, scanned in at a high resolution, cleaned up, and ready to be placed into each work.

Have any technical questions about any of this process? Please comment below and we’ll gladly elaborate in future process posts!



Sadie is now in her third month of life on this earth, and we really couldn’t be more enchanted. We obviously didn’t know what to expect before she got here, and we kept our hopeful vision of life with a baby deliberately vague because strong expectations are a surefire road to frustration, but life with her has far exceeded the joy and fulfillment that we ever could have hoped for. Since this is our work blog, let’s talk a little about what the freelance life with a baby has looked like for us.

Briefly: it’s challenging, but (SHOCKING!) not impossible.

To get real for a minute, we waited a while to have kids because of the career we chose. We’ve been freelancing together literally since the week we got married—our first inquiry hit the inbox the day before our wedding—and in the ensuing 7 years, it’s been fun but also completely insane. We’ve broken our backs at the computer, drawn until our hands shrunk into stiff claws, strained to follow the scant breadcrumbs of the ever-elusive next client, and nearly drowned in the deep end as we learned to first keep our heads above water and then to finally swim in the sea of business.

We both had always wanted kids, but for years the thought of adding a needy, screaming, pooping little human into the ring made us want to curl up under the sofa and die… until we started to wither away and die from not having one.

During the pregnancy, we were still apprehensive about how we were going to manage the baby/work balance, but we mashed the gas pedal to pad our bank account and beef up our portfolio, and prayed that God would provide only what we needed—nothing more, nothing less.

Enter Sadie!

We now find ourselves both happier and more productive in both our professional and personal lives, with a baby who needs our attention for big portions of the day.

Life is a bit trickier, for sure! There are nights when she doesn’t sleep; there are days when she will only sleep on Ashley, thus cutting her off from work. She has recently started teething, and she’s not shy about telling us how much her mouth hurts. And we have had a lion’s share of challenges; one that comes to mind immediately is when Sadie was two weeks old, Ashley came down with a bad postpartum infection and found herself readmitted to the hospital—right in the middle of a rush deadline for American Greetings that we had said yes to without much foresight. So Joel worked on it with the laptop and tablet in the hospital room, and we both finished it the night we got out of the hospital, staying up until 3 AM.

Thankfully, though, these stories are few and far between, and overall we manage everything better than we did before kids. How on earth are we doing this? Honestly, part of it is a mystery, and part of it is that we were blessed with a really awesome baby. The other part of it, though, is what we decide to do in order to step it up for Sadie:

1. We get up earlier.
No more casually ambling into the studio around lunchtime; we actually gave away our alarm clock because Sadie is our little dawn-sounding rooster down the hall. We’re not saying night owls are less productive than early birds, but it’s undeniable that we do get more done by getting up in the morning rather than just before midday.

2. We make better use of our time.
“What did we do with our time before we had kids?” It’s the classic parental lament. The verdict? You farted around a lot more. Well, that frame of mind got rendered obsolete pretty quickly. Good riddance! It paved the way for taking care of Sadie, getting our work done, tending to the cats and fish and plants and house, and somehow finding more time for the things we enjoy. The rising tide lifts all boats, and though we work harder, we also get more done than we ever used to… because we waste less time than we used to.

3. We take more breaks.
Working hard is great; burnout is not. Before we had a baby, we worked too hard for too long, to the detriment of our productivity. Getting “in the zone” is a wonderful thing, but you also have to relax your mind and body periodically, because living too long in a constant state of tension (even good tension) will always make you snap.

4. We’re more of a team than before.
We’ve always collaborated—we’re a husband-and-wife freelance illustration team who draws on each others’ drawings, after all—but we discovered it takes a lot more coordination to meet deadlines and manage workflows when you have a wee member of your team who doesn’t take kindly to parent-imposed timelines. (“Sadie, can you just sit in that poopy diaper for another half hour? I need to finish coloring this magazine spot.” Righhht.)

5. We’ve got greater incentive to hustle.
We’re not just doing this job because we love it (which we still do, of course), but also because it’s providing for our daughter and her future. We used to think it was amazing what the pressure of rent and bills does for one’s at-home work ethic; with a baby, the pressure grows exponentially, and it’s paired with a truly joyful desire to give it all to her.

We feel good about what the last hew months have brought, and of course, she’s going to keep us on our toes from here on out. We don’t know what kind of tune we’ll sing when she learns to walk. But what we do know is that we’ll all grow into it… and that she’s worth whatever curveballs come our way.


Around the holidays we had the pleasure of hearing again from Freckles, the awesome L.A.-based children’s music duo made up of Kyler England and Lalo Crane. We had illustrated and designed their 2014 debut album, Be My Friend,  and they were giving us the opportunity to illustrate the cover to their 2nd EP, due for release later this year. A hop, skip, and a twinkle later, and the album cover for I Can Be Anything was born!

The Process
Lalo and Kyler had been using a monkey and lion in their branding over the last year, so they requested that we create a more detailed version of the two characters, and then pose them in various future dream careers as listed in the lyrics to their track “When I Grow Up.” We drew the monkey and lion a bit younger than the characters from the first album because we wanted them to be more identifiable with the kid listeners. The pencil sketch phase went through three rounds of development; Ashley designed the monkey and lion in a basic character model sheet (not pictured), Joel took the models and drew them in their various poses, then Ashley redrew the posed characters into a more refined, cute-ified draft. In an early draft we had a monkey choreographer and a lion journalist, but we changed them to a breakdancer and aviator, per client request. We then scanned the refined pencil drawings and took turns painting them in Photoshop with various brushes.

It’s a super cute album! We’re looking forward to getting our hands on a copy so we can listen to it on family car trips!

Album front


Album back


CD front


Second sketch proof


First sketch proof



Things have been shaking and moving for us here at This Paper Ship so far this fall! Our beautiful baby girl Sadie was born with no complications and much celebration in Chapel Hill on October 12 and we’ve had our hands and hearts full ever since. We’ve been hunkering down all month to ease into the full-time freelance parent life. It’s been a balance between chill and crazy; at one point Ashley had to go back to the hospital during a big American Greetings deadline, so we brought our pens, paper, lightpad, laptop, and Wacom tablet and worked on it in the hospital room. We can absolutely sum up the whole experience as blissful, lack of sleep and all.

We’ve recently weighed anchor again to get Sadie used to being out of the house (I’m currently writing this post from the waiting room at the dentist while rocking her to sleep in the carseat with my foot), so a few days ago we took a family trip to Honeysuckle Tea House, one of our favorite local haunts off NC-54 between Saxapahaw and Chapel Hill. It’s a serene open-air teahouse, built atop a handful of old shipping crates, set against the backdrop of the farm where they grow most of the ingredients for their teas, tisanes, and tinctures. The day we visited was one of the last of the season. The fires were going, fellow customers were laughing and talking, and we counted ourselves blessed to have such a haven close by.

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It’s been a busy summer for us at the happy harbor of This Paper Ship!

We’ll be welcoming a new beloved addition to our crew, little miss Sadie Eloise Florence Selby, on October 3—in the meantime, we’ve weighed anchor and are putting on more sail to get ready for her arrival.

On the business end, we’re happily much busier now than we were at the same time last year. We’ve got a whole slew of new clients, from big guns like American Greetings and Adobe, to lovely smaller companies and individuals; we’re steadily growing our Etsy shop offerings and are inching our way toward a This Paper Shop new e-commerce site; and we’re hitting the (digital) pavement to get back into the wholesale and consignment world and offer our goods in brick-and-mortars across the US and beyond. On top of all of that, we naturally are in full-on nesting mode—shifting rooms, purging unwanted stuff, clearing piles, scrubbing everything down, squeezing in those last-minute furniture projects.

Meanwhile, we savor the little moments in the photos above—the cups of tea, the sleepy cat hours, listening to the rain on our roof, the daily light show from our windows—because we shall not pass this way again, and we think Ferris was on to something when he counseled his audience to look around for a moment, lest they missed life as it moved by pretty fast.



We recently announced this new Durham print on our social media and added it to our Etsy shop as an art print and a greeting card, so today we’d like to offer up a little behind-the-scenes GIF of the progress! Here are the four main steps we took, annotated for your edification:

1. The pencil sketch — where everything starts! This particular sketch didn’t change much from start to finish.
2. The black-and-white composite — everything has been inked in separate pieces, scanned and cleaned up, and put together in Photoshop. This process is a bit like digital woodblock printing.
3. The color composite — the black-and-white composite has been colored in. We decided it needed a bit more detail this time, so…
4. The final piece — …we inked a few more details and added them in. In this stage, we also took the time to smooth out some of the wonky bits of the illustration that distracted from the piece, while leaving the wonky bits that added to the character.

Throughout the last few years we’ve had several aborted illustration series highlighting cities, but we’re onto something with this new direction. Instead of going for a real representation of the cities (trying to highlight every major landmark, drawing the real skyline), we’ve simplified the idea by attempting to distill the feel of the city into just a small handful of buildings. In this case, we’re representing Durham with 1) two warehouse/factory-type buildings, since Durham’s downtown industrial core is reinventing itself into multi-use development, 2) a craftsman bungalow, typical Durham housing, and 3) the Lucky Strike tower, a trusty standard in any representation of the Durham skyline.

We’ll be in Asheville this weekend vending at the Big Crafty, so stay tuned on our various social media (links at the top of the page) for a new Asheville city print! We plan to expand into more North Carolina cities and then beyond—the sky’s the limit!



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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