A CREATOR’S DIARY - 8 min read
Exploring, writing, researching and illustrating - welcome to the story behind Gumnut Trails, an idea that was 12 months in the making.
ONE: THE IDEA
Melbourne is a wonderful city - full of laneway surprises, mouth-watering food, jaw-droppingly good coffee (so addicted), cutting edge design and amazing people.
Then we became parents (*gulp*) … and long-forgotten blissful childhood memories of endless outdoor adventures came rushing back. I remember less shops, more nature. Could we find that in Melbourne as well?
The more we explored, the more we were blown away by how beautiful, diverse, and immersive Melbourne’s natural Parks are.
From wild gems, to hidden beach coves, epic sculptures and transformed oases. This wonderful city had it all – if you knew where to look.
Hang on, there’s an idea here - let’s share the outstanding natural gems we found with other families and make their experience richer through creative adventures and joyful illustrations.
This led to Gumnut Trails. The perfect excuse to keep exploring and creating as a family.
"We spent our mornings exploring local parks and creating adventures. Afternoons were dedicated to creative writing and illustration.
It was the perfect way to fight off the lockdown blues and connect to something real as a family."
Some Fun Facts
- Total no. of paintings in each Guide = around 30
- ID pictures drawn / painted = 95 and counting
- How many parks have we visited in Melbourne? 100+
- How many snacks were consumed in the making of each Guide? 500 or 1001 or 1999? Whatever it takes.
TWO: HOW IT DEVELOPED
12 months in the making; from a flash of an idea, to researching its merits, testing lots of different approaches with fellow parents, to realising that we were attempting to do something completely unique.
See an evolution of the idea:
THREE: THE WRITING & RESEARCH
The best and worst part of this big idea was that there was no reference point.
How do you walk the line between entertainment & adventure vs education & conservation? The former made me smile, the latter often made me tune out (sorry, sorry, but it’s true).
This meant the writing style, activities and design had to make you want to smile! I couldn’t control what happened on the day, but if the adventure guides made families feel excited – surely, they were halfway on the way to having a fun-filled day?
This led to the brief: Joyful reality + a breeze to use
Once the locations were chosen and the theme, activities and facts at each trail started to come together (no mean feat).
I started writing... Stopped… Read copious children’s books, did some more writing…Stopped… Zoned out on Bluey (much to my daughter’s delight) …Then wrote some more…
Describing the two characters to get the tone right.
FOUR: ILLUSTRATION & DESIGN
Decision made: Illustration over photography.
Illustrations make stories wonderful. They are full of imagination and creative licence, perfect for children and Gumnut Trails!
I have always loved sketching, painting and drawing. I used to spend blissful days immersed in any form of art before life took over. Therefore, with much encouragement from family, I gave myself three weeks over Christmas 2020 to see what I could do….
From rough sketches to perspective maps, to studying different illustration styles, to free drawing of characters (naïve style), to creating montage pictures of Park landscapes… I was trying to find a style and medium I was comfortable with and that fitted the brief.
Some of the earlier sketches and attempts.
Somehow this evolved into an illustrated comic strip with a mash-up landscape illustration of each park (why did I do that to myself?), and a short story of our hero characters Ellie and Felix, leading the adventures.
This helped show families a visual explainer (through a comic) of the adventures, AND more importantly engaged the children in the adventures ahead.
There are even hidden animals drawn in some of the landscapes if you look closely.
Once the style was in place, the next challenge was finding the medium that embodied the joyful reality that was so important.
I eventually landed on water colour painting with coloured pencil to add final definition and highlights. Painting allowed the images to be more vibrant – I purposely went brighter, more vivid at times to capture the joy of adventure and exploring. The Journal Cards are purposely sketchier like a journal.
Example of sketch to painting to comic.
Credits & Acknowledgements
For always encouraging, exploring each new place, and coming up with so many ideas. Plus, he is the brilliant photographer behind the Instagram #gumnuttrails photos.
Our daughter was our inspiration and it’s been wonderful to see her enjoy every minute of our adventures.
A special thank you to my wonderful parents who shared their lifetime of experience in conservation to make the research, ideas, and fact-finding (and fact-checking) process possible.
The layout and design of the cards, packaging (and the Gumnut Trails logo), were designed by my wonderful brother, a Creative Director – who helped steer the design towards brilliant and away from boring and pedestrian.
Our friends and their children
Our very supportive friends who saw the earlier versions and provided such constructive feedback (in a nice way)!