A Bit Lost: the making of…

6 September, 2010 |  by

Before I had my idea for my little lost owl story I had actually wanted to do a different story about birds in a forest. The birds in the first story come down from their tree top roosts to the bottom of the forest and meet all the other animals of the forest along the way. They pass all the forest animals who want to eat them and eventually manage to find food near the forest floor. The last spread would then be a panoramic of them back perched at the top of the trees at the end of the day overlooking all of the life of the whole forest. I had the idea because I wanted to introduce all the animals and have the interactions of the forest in a sort of Arne Naess story of deep ecology and interconnectedness.


This image was the trigger for the story. It’s a screen print I did for the fair trade company People tree. I really liked the image because I had the idea of hiding figures in the complex background (see the little cat in the bottom right)

Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 23.09.31

An early prototype of the pop-up for People Tree. You can see it animated here. They should be available to buy soon from people tree’s site actually.


I liked the silhouetted running shapes of the birds. They eventually evolved into the running owl and squirrel in the finished book.


The birds here hide from a tiger (also a snake and an elephant)


The birds in their perch for the final image. They look across at the whole forest and see the web of all the animals that we met in the story.

In the end I sort of had to scrap the idea, I didnt like the way the birds interacted with the other animals of the forest. They were not engaging with them as such and it left a sort of lonely tone to the story. I may try it again another time but for this book I decided I wanted to do something that was more engaging and somehow a little like pantomime. Without engaging with little funny questions and cause and effect (Uh oh! is he going to fall off?/ Uh oh! Is it Mummy? etc) a very young audience tends to lose interest quickly.

The breakthrough came when I made the bird fall from his nest. That way he was lost and had to engage with the other animals in a way that wasnt about avoiding being eaten. In order to give the bird a range of expressions, forward facing eyes is much better graphically so I chose an owl instead of a bird. Also owlets apparently have a habit of falling out of their nests. I had imagined somehow that owl babies were cute until i actually looked them up on the internet

In the end my story turned out very different. Although the story had changed, there were a few things that I kept the same. The main thing was for the story to be able to be read without words so that children can understand everything just by looking at it. I also wanted there to be other visual interests in the book that children can find themselves. In the first story there were glimpses of the berries that the birds were looking for all along throughout the story, and in the final lost owl story it is the mum looking for her child.



The first images of the new owl story


Although I changed the story, you can see the patterns on the owls were similar to the original birds and I was using all the same colours.


some character sketches


i got some character ideas from handicrafts i bought in Mexico (this one was made by Tejiendo Arcoiris in San Cristobal)


…more bold graphic toys for inspiration…



a noggin…


and a bit of henri rousseau.




I had the idea of doing a leporello (non-accordian) fold-out so that you can follow the path that owl takes as he falls. I ended up dropping this idea too. But there is still a half page where little owl drops on the opening spread.


Eventually I lost most of the pink colour from the owls too. By now it has now become almost unrecognisable from the original story


some more colour tests…



i started going a bit mad with all the trees….


one thing i like about these is the only white on the page is the white of the eyes of the characters. It focuses attention on them in what would otherwise be a very busy image.







I did the typeface for the book with help from the brilliant typographer Andreas Pohancenik


a test for the endpapers


i quite like squirrel playing peek a boo in this early version of the cover.


I did half of the book in Korea …it was published first by the AMAZING Borim Press. Check out the post I did about them here. Their set-up is very interesting.



…and the other half in Mexico ..so i could concentrate fully on it. I had to stop working on other jobs so i was running out of money by now!


i had some reference images spread out on the hotel floor and was worried the were going to get tidied up.


the final spread of the owl falling


in the finished pages you can see the mother hidden in the top left as her child is running around looking for her. the silhouettes of the running animals were inspired by the earlier work with the running birds.


The panoramic final scene is also based on the imagery from the earlier story


The final cover as it is now in English

If you want to see more you can see the first few pages of the book HERE



  1. Thanks for all the insight into your process Chris. I’m a learner picture book maker and really liked seeing all the stages you went through with colour testing etc. Great book too, sitting on my desk as we speak and they just talked about it on our National Radio programme here in New Zealand which you can hear here: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday/audio/2493676/children-s-books-with-kate-de-goldi-three-new-books.asxI think you’re second book in. I emailed them about your specially made font, which was what prompted finding this blog of yours.

  2. thanks very much! thats a really nice review

  3. wonderful read, nice to see the creative process behind the book.

  4. Congratulations for the book, I can only say that my two years old daughter loves it. Even though she just understand Spanish …I have entered in your website to check if you had any free downloadable material. Some authors have coloring pages and things like that. This will be nice for my daughter.Congratulations once more.

  5. hi sara. yes i have activity sheets for download here> http://blog.chrishaughton.com/tag/activitysheets gracias!!

  6. Wow. Love seeing the evolution of a great book! I bought it more for myself than for my 10 mth old as I was immediately drawn to your images&colour palette. In the 2 weeks we’ve had it I’ve read it multiple times. Everyday. She LOVES it. We close it, she opens it again. She climbs over toys to get to it. The reunion page makes her squeal and flap her arms in excitement. Love it.

  7. thanks nina! so nice to hear that she likes it so much..!! 🙂 best wishes!!

  8. Wonderful creation! Love this post! It’s wonderful to know the process through which something great comes to be. I’m writing a blog on children’s books that were given to our baby Georgia. This week’s post is on A Bit Lost, a gift from my mom (she found the Portuguese version in Brasil). I see it in all my favourite children’s stores in Vancouver, Canada. Bravo to this book and all the great work you’re involved with!

  9. My mother told me about this book since it’s about an owl, and my girlfriend loves owls for some reason 🙂 I just had to order it after reading this page, so now it’s on the way (translated into Swedish).

  10. Great insight on the thought process. It is always fascinating to catch a glimpse on the creative process!

  11. I saw this book not long ago in a bookshop and had to buy it. Did so, and have been reading it over and over. I’m also learning to do picture books and find yours the kind of work I’d love to be able to do. The little owl and the squirrel are great characters. You make them express so much just with their eyes and bodies! Can’t wait to get George too. Congrats. Great work!


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