A Bit Lost: the making of…

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

Little Owl Lost / A Bit Lost reviews

I have been getting some great reviews for Little Owl Lost and i thought i would try to put them all in one place

review here   

Carthage Centre of Children’s literature  John Warren Stewig, Director
“In our world, understatement is becoming a lost art, and elegance a disappearing quality.This book has both” “Exemplary design qualities”
TimeOut NYC ‘Picture book Pick’
swiss-miss.com design blog
36pages.com Craig Frazer’s picture-book blog “has nearly every redeemable quality of an exemplary book”
Book-by-its-cover picture book blog
FastCompany feature
brainpickings.com ‘the best childrens books 2010’
PRI Public Radio ‘Recommendations for Childrens Books’ < listen to the radio programme

Irish Times
Great Reads for the under 10s “a stunning literary and visual achievement”
Sunday Business Post
“this stunning book from rising Irish star Chris Haughton is one of the top picks of the year”
Today with Pat Kenny
radio show < listen to the radio programme
Kim Harte picture book blog
Hughes and Hughes staff picks

The Telegraph Books of the year 2010
The Guardian Reading with kids
Preston illustration blog
Katriona Chapmans blog
Daddy be good blog

Readings bookshopBest Kids’ Books 2010′ full article here
book blog
Nest studio

TOURNER1 review in french english translation

Club Kirico blog
Pizca de papel blog




Mahaguthi, Tulsi Mehar and a lost Owl.

Mahaguthi ‘Craft with a Conscience’ has the most interesting history of all the fair trade groups in Nepal. I had read about their work many years ago and had always wanted to work with them. I want to give a bit about their history because i think it sums up much of what fair trade is about. It was started by the legendary social reformer Tulsi Mehar in 1923. In the early 20th century Nepal had a very rigid caste and social structure, only the high caste men were educated and literate. Mehar campaigned against this inequality and for his vocal anti-establishment ideas he was thrown out of Nepal by the Nepalese Rana government and ended up exiled in India. His search for truth and equality led him to Mahatma Gandhi and they worked together for many years. His time with Gandhi gave him an opportunity to gain insight to the liberation of the underprivileged. In a system where there are no opportunities for women to bring in money for themselves they must rely on their husbands and fathers. Without the means to improve their own lives women’s situations can be very restrictive and this can be hugely problematic if there is domestic violence or abuse. Mehar and Gandhi’s vision for reform was to empower women through education and income generation projects so that they can become economically self-reliant. Gandhi wrote to the Prime Minister of Nepal to ask him to let Mehar back into the country. Once back in Kathmandu in 1923 and with a donation from Gandhi, Mehar set up the spinning and weaving develop
ment project that became Mahaguthi. It was not only the first social development project in Nepal but was actually among the first ever manufacturing units in the economically closed feudal country.
Mahaguthi currently takes on 90 new women annually (most are widows or victims of domestic abuse) to train them in literacy and employable skills and school their children as well as supporting a hospital.


I have written and illustrated a children’s book ‘A Bit Lost’ with Borim Press and Walker books and I had the idea to create a small fair trade soft toy to sell along with the book that could be entirely made from scratch by the women at Mahaguthi. The toy is entirely made from raw cotton, using all the traditional cottage industry techniques that Gandhi made famous. It is hand-spun into yarn, dyed, hand-woven and finally sewn all by the women at Mahaguthi.

Gandhi and Tulsi Mehar Shresta


The women in the womens shelter learn to spin and weave and the profits from their crafts are used to support and educate themselves and their children as well as supporting a hospital
Some of the children of the women from Mahaguthi’s women’s shelter
Some of the younger children can’t read their names yet. Interesting system
Some of the women employed at Mahaguthi are deaf or disabled. This is the sign you do when you take Monday off…..’Im outta here. Peace’


a few images from the classroom


this guy is having a really bad banana. not nice.

…..storytime ……YAY!
This is the small hospital funded by Mahaguthi’s profits, you can see the portraits of Gandhi and Mehar
This is their ambulance believe it or not. Ambulances come in interesting shapes and sizes in Nepal. And colours!
The front cover of the book
Some owl designs. I wanted to try some different options with the stitching. I needed to make the owl a little flat so that it can still pack together with the book. I think it would sell best as a gift idea together with the book rather than as a separate item.
Sewing and designing the first prototypes with Chandrigarh

All the Ullu’s! The Hindi word for ‘owl’ is ‘ullu’ which is also the word you use if you want to call someone stupid. Owls are thought of as stupid in India and Nepal, the opposite to how they are seen in the west. My owl is definitely a Nepali ‘ullu’ rather than a western owl. Actually I have become known as ullu-man in the Mahaguthi office (!).Thanks very much to Sumitra, Anita, Chandigarh and Uttara (also to Ono and Sunil who arent here)

*UPDATE* they are now available from my new shop here




Borim Press: Making a picture book in Korea

My first picture book A Bit Lost was actually first published in Korean. I had met the excellent Borim Press at the Bologna Book Fair in 2007 and was blown away by their catalogue. I went over to visit them and ended up illustrating and making most of the book with them from Korea. Their set up is amazing so i thought i should post a bit about it.


The Borim Press office is in Paju Book City (above) which is a new development by the Korean government. Printing was actually invented in Korea more than two hundred years before Gutenberg ‘invented’ it and Korea has a long and proud history of printing and literacy. In order to promote and modernise the industry and put Korea on the worldwide publishing map they subsidised the setting up of Paju Book City. It was set up as a super high tech printing facility right next to all the top Korean Publishing houses. It is a very modern sustainable development built as a satellite town 30 mins from Seoul. It also has high tech looking wind generators (which never seem to be working? hmm…)
You can read more about it here. South Korea spends more of its GDP on education than almost any other country so the shiny educational buildings are a more common sight there than in Europe or the west.


The Borim office. The spaceship looking part is a children’s theatre. Inside their publishing house is a children’s theatre, a childrens picture book gallery (with waist high pictures) and a little childrens bookshop (with knee high tables). You can see better pics from their site. I was very honoured to be Borim’s first non-Korean author.


The lobby/reception. The ‘wavin’ looking pipes on the right i had originally thought were some weird Korean office communication device….but i was told it was a sculpture. You can still talk into them though if you want.


The childrens theatre. I saw a nursery rhyme gig one afternoon (in Korean) for an audience of 150 expecting mothers. It wasnt really my thing so I had to sneak out the back.


The next door office. All the big publishing offices in Seoul moved out to here to use the shared printing presses/conference hall/facilities etc.


The high tech printing facility next door.




This is where my book was printed!


Having a meal with the Borim team. Jinsuk (my Art Director) Sangon (Production Manger who i lived with for a month!) myself and Ines Yoo (my Editor and the person who first introduced me to Borim in Bologna)


Jinsuk my art director in the best jumper I’ve ever seen… Happy Pig!!! YAY!!!!


The CEO of Borim Mr Kwon and his wife outside their beautiful home. They have a traditional stone ondol system in their newly built home which was also built by a mixture of traditional Korean and modern sustainable methods. They are a really interesting couple, Mrs Kwon is a traditional Korean musician (drummer)


I managed to stay for week with Mr Kwon and his family. In Korea everyone sleeps directly on the floor (the underfloor heating is pretty nice in winter and makes it hard to get out of bed…) The book is taking three times as long as i thought it would. Thats probably why im not smiling in the picture. Oh dear. I blamed it on the ondol. Check out the Kimchi pots outside the window. He collects them, there were a LOT of them.


Finally finished after 10 and a half months! Woo hoo!
Myself, Mr Park, Borim’s editor in chief and Sang Me who did all the translation.


감사합니다 to everyone at Borim!!!!

If you are interested in seeing more of Borim Press and their outstanding books and illustrations take a look at their site. Its in Korean so its kind of hard to navigate but you could requst a PDF catalogue by email.

A Bit Lost: first book reviews in English

This is the first review of A Bit Lost in English.
Its from The Bookseller. Very exciting to see a review in English, I still havent seen an actual copy of the book yet myself as Im still in India! ‘A Bit Lost’ should be out properly in September.

The Bookseller- 18 June 2010 -Booksellers Choice
Chris Haughton’s delightful picture book ‘A Bit Lost’ has a simlistic charm and natual voice which will be enjoyed by the youngest children. The traditional separation tale of a lost child finds wrong mummy- then eventually right mummy is lifted by unusual colours and quirky, humorous illustrations. The last page is a joy.

Publishers weekly- July 2010
By sticking to simple shapes and a bold palette, Haughton has created a debut that reads like a tattered old favorite. A single half-page shows Little Owl dozing off in his nest, then–once it’s turned–bouncing softly to the forest floor. The animals who find Little Owl are flat, stylized creatures in jewel colors, but their eyes convey a wealth of feeling. Squirrel peers at Little Owl, his paws clasped in concern, his neck stretched out quizzically. “My mommy is VERY BIG,” says Little Owl. “Yes! Yes! I know! I know!” says Squirrel. “Follow me…. Here she is. Here’s your mommy.” Squirrel points to an enormous teal bear, staring befuddled at readers. A few more cases of mistaken identity ensue before locating Little Owl’s mother (careful readers will have noticed her seeking out her progeny). With instinctive skill, Haughton uses spreads of the forest to establish atmosphere and set up jokes, then delivers punch lines with spot illustrations that zero in on the animals’ dopey but lovable expressions. A promising first outing. Ages 2–up.


I also got a nice post from the very nice handdrawnpixels.com 

A Bit Lost is available in UK/IRE     >>> here
LIttle Owl Lost in the USA               >>> here
Ihan Hukassa in Finland (Suomi)    >>> here


My OFFSET talk. basically.

The talk I gave in Dublin at the Offset series of talks has been put online.

I get a little bit better after the first few mins…. oh dear….

Thanks so much to everyone at OFFSET for putting on such a great event. Its probably the best series of design talks ive seen together anywhere.  It was an amazing honour to speak at it. Many of the other talks are now online. David Shrigley’s one is really funny.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/11102357 w=500&h=281]