Behind The Scenes – Mighty Pax’s Misadventures: A Christmas Tail

Dec 13, 2023 | Alessa Update, Art, Writing

Over two years ago, an idea popped into my head: To write and illustrate a children’s book inspired by my dog Pax.

I temporarily dropped the idea (being in the midst of my fourth rewrite of a trilogy…which I am now starting from scratch. Again.), until Pax lost the use of his hind legs. The pain and trials he went through, before and after surgery, made my heart break, and inspired me to finally come up with a first story with him in it.

However, as I was pondering that particular tale over this past summer, another idea popped up into my mind, almost fully formed, which I decided to make a reality before the year was over.

Cue in: Learning how to draw dogs.

Funnily enough, when I made that resolution, around the August 8, I happened to discover the #doggust challenge (an art challenge on Instagram that pushes people to draw a new breed of dog each day). I didn’t get to finish do all of the entries, but I learned a lot about dog anatomy and poses anyway! (I also took the class by @lb.illustrates on drawing dogs.)

blackboard showing 4 dogs I drew during #doggust, including Pax wearing a witch's hat!

When September came, I wrote the story, reworked it, then sent it out to my editor (shoutout to Bobbie Hinman for all of her help). While my work was out to the editor’s, I came up with thumbnails for each page of the book (thumbnails are small drawings the size of thumbnails, designed to give an idea as to the best composition you want for your illustration–though mine were much larger, as you can witness below). I sent these out to friends to test which ones they responded to more, before making my selections.

4 thumbprints showing various illustration possibilities for page 3 of the book. The one picked is the third one, showing Pax on a winged-chair staring out of the window

By the time I had a finalized version of my written book, it was time to do the illustrations. Which I spent all of October and most of November doing, every waking hour outside of the day job. There was a LOT for me to learn still, such as how to use Procreate (the program I use for my digital art), and drawing cats (which I didn’t really know how to do either), or houses, or snow, or just about anything. (I would like to pause here to thank @ArtwithFlo for all her Procreate tutorials).

It was scary, doing this project when I’d never done a full illustration before.

But the best way to learn, I found out, was by actually doing the work. What helped me a lot, (besides my friends boosting my artistic ego) was understanding that my drawings didn’t have to be perfect at all. Knowing that allowed me to keep going, instead of redoing the same illustration over and over again.

And it allowed me to enjoy the whole process.

I had so much fun, in fact, that I started adding details and elements to most illustrations which I hadn’t thought of before (these in turn inspired the Detective game at the end of the book)—even though it added to the workload.

Some of my illustrations didn’t work out (like my initial idea for a book cover, which turned out to be too busy…but ended up being used as a coloring page which can be downloaded on my website). But that didn’t frustrate me, or otherwise stress me out. A first! 🙂

First attempt at the cover for Mighty Pax's Misadventures: A Christmas Tail. But it was too busy, and didn't work, so the linework I'd done ended up as a coloring page of Pax staring at Huey, who's desperately clinging to a Christmas Tree branch

November also saw me learning all about how to format and publish a children’s book (many thanks here to @EeviJones). And when I finally got to request a proof of the book, my heart was thumping wildly! Finally, after a couple more tweaks (and setting up the French version of the book as well), I finally hit the publish button!

And here we are. As I’m writing this post, I still can’t believe I managed to finish the project, nor that I drew all of those illustrations!

The best reward since then has been to hear how much Pax’s very first tale has already delighted readers—young and old alike—and I’m looking forward to creating my next children’s book in 2024!

A jolly Father Christmas (recognized by his long beard and rosy cheeks) is reading a copy of Mighty Pax's Misadventures: A Christmas Tail by Alessa Ellefson