Choo Choo! Trains, Children, drawing, Insecurity, and “The Little Prince”

When I decided to quit my job (post on that coming soon), I felt secure in my decision because a few orders came my way via Etsy, email, and word-of-mouth. One of those orders was from a dear friend of mine looking for decor and invitations for her son’s second birthday.

Now, I’m going to come out and admit something. Something that any other “designer” might gasp aloud to.  Invitations and social stationery products geared toward children scare me. There. I said it. I admit it. I can no longer lie to anyone who asks for baby and or children’s products.

I believe the fear comes from my insecurity about my drawing and cutesy ability.  There are “designers” out there who just do cute really well. They rock chevron and circles and shapes a la illustrator like pros. I don’t. Everything I do takes shape via pen and pencil and then I go through the painstaking process of manipulating everything by hand in illustrator and cleaning it up via photoshop. Most times, I hate what the final product looks like; instead loving my hand illustrations more.

I know that the “designers” out there are going to say, “well you’re just doing this wrong!” or better yet, “you simply don’t know the software tools you’re playing with!”  Both are true and false.  I really dislike how “the same everything looks” these days. Design is design. If you package it nicely, people will buy it. I realize I want people to buy my product and so I need to be careful with what I said here, but I don’t like how everything looks the same in my industry.  So I struggle. I struggle with this lack of desire to get better at the tools that will help me achieve sameness and with the desire to not get better and keep perfecting my hand/eye/pencil coordination.

Anyhow, this all came to a close, rough close, in February when I mailed out invitations, stickers and two banners to my friend for her son’s birthday party.  Lucas, loves trains and his favorite color is red. Those were my directives along with a few photos of train projects via pinterest.  My first attempt at drawing the train, was horrible. I thought it ugly.  So I tossed it.

Then one morning, I reflected on the following quote from The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “One sees clearly only with the heart.  Anything else essential is invisible to the eyes.”  It made me realize that I had been drawing wrong all along. I have (because all my drawings start this way) always drawn trying to draw like someone else, instead of what my heart tells me and how my hands guide me.

At 9am, I pulled out my sketch book and my oil pastel crayons and sketched out a train. I put Lucas’s name as the letters being carried by the train and in the smoke wrote out the word, “Choo Choo.”  The colors were vibrant; the train perfect. I manipulated the files in illustrator and created a few files for the invitation to send to my friend.  She loved them immediately and could not make up her mind on which one to choose. In the end, she picked my favorite and then working from there, I created stickers for her goodie bags and pieces for her banners.  I have never been more proud of myself!

In the words of Crystal, my friend and Lucas’s mother:

“Lucas’s second birthday party was fun and chaotic.  We had a lot of kids running around high on sugar in a tiny area to help celebrate the wild two’s that Lucas will soon behold.  The train theme was a big hit with everyone.  Sara did an amazing job making beautiful banners!  One of the banners was hung above the main living room entrance that said “Lucas” on it and could be seen as soon as you entered the house.  We then set up a second area for the party downstairs with an “All Aboard” banner to help steer people to more food and entertainment.  Our “Baggage Claim” was claimed at the end of the party as the party favors which included a wooden train that could be taken home with a small container of paints and a paint brush that was sealed with a beautifully designed thank you sticker.  It was crazy but a lot of fun.”

Photos from the party and of each piece are below. Thank you Crystal for the opportunity to stretch my creative muscles.  I’m really excited to offer banners moving forward. Maybe? Maybe I’ll just keep them as custom. You never know!







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s2 stationery & designs

A rule-breaking designer, artist & entrepreneur who's passionate about paper and handcrafting stationery. I also write, travel, and focus on eco + social good.

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