"Magic, Indeed, Happened": Getting Your Story Right


How do you tell the incredibly unique, personal story of someone you have never met?

This is a challenge I face with many of the custom, Bespoke Event pieces I do.

Sure, you might think, doing a portrait is telling someone’s story. Or a baby announcement or a wedding gift, maybe.

You may not think that much intensity or attention to detail would be necessary though, with, say, a party invitation.  To a certain extent you would be right--so far I have not created an invitation that gives you the entire life story of the person it came from (although it would be an interesting challenge!).  

But that doesn’t mean that invitation isn’t telling at least a piece of someone’s story.

The colors it uses, the style of the fonts, whether there is an illustration and what it is is there is one all say something about who it’s from. Are they adventurous? Kind? Easy going? How is their identity going to translate into a party atmosphere? All the design elements contribute the story being told with even a simple party invitation.

So how do I know which colors and fonts and illustrations to pick? How am I possibly telling the story of someone I don’t even know for any bespoke project?

Part of it is how I get to know you before starting a project.


INTRODUCING THE HERO: getting to know you

Sure, if you ordered a family portrait from me I could just have you email me a picture of y’all and I could draw it pretty much as-is, in my style.

I could. But I don’t.

I never create any portraits just from a photograph, unless it’s a special request that I do so.

It wouldn’t really be storytelling. It’d just be a sort of creative copying. I’m about way more than that, and I think you are, too.

Which is why, if I’m going to do any actual storytelling, I’m going to need to know the heroes of the story (that’s you!).

When you become a Bespoke Client, after we get the technical aspects of the project figured out (like how big it is and whether it’s a portrait or an illustration for a story you’ve always wanted to write), I’ll send you a “Getting to Know You Invitation.” It’s a way for me to ask some basic questions to learn a bit more about you and your personality before I start doing any work on the project. That way I’m keeping who you are in mind for the whole project.

You don’t have to give me your whole life’s story (unless you want to, I suppose), or answer any questions you don’t want to. It’s a short questionnaire and won’t take forever. But it gives me a rough picture to start with.

I also want to get a good feel for what the hero (and setting) of this story is like visually, which is why I love getting reference pictures.


Want to work with me one-on-one? The next Bespoke Event is coming up in October!

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SETTING THE STAGE: reference images

Reference pictures are especially important for portraits, but can be helpful for all types of projects.   On a very practical level, if you have a particular type of object you want in your bespoke piece, sharing a reference image of that object helps me know I’m getting all its details just right.

Reference images also give me a feel for the kind of environment you’re in. Seeing an image of the space in the room you’ve asked me to create just the right piece of art for can give me not only a good idea of how that art fits physically into that space, but also how you’ve decorated it, and what kind of environment you’ve created there. For portraits, an image of you in your living room helps me get a feel for you in your natural habitat, for lake of a better phrase. It tells me something about you.

Though I don’t create portraits straight from photographs, it’s always helpful to get lots of different photographs (some close up, some standing, some sitting, some looking at the camera, etc.) so I can get a good feel for what you’re like in a physical space.

This might sound weird,  but I do this thing where I notice what I call a person’s lines. I don’t just mean outlines, or your build. It has more to do, I think, with the way they you hold yourself. Your mannerisms as influenced by your personality, perhaps. It’s hard to say for sure.

Every person’s lines are different, even if they have the same build. If I see lots of reference images of you doing normal, everyday things and not just posing for a professional photograph, I can get a much better feel for your lines, and when that happens I get a much better feel for who you are as a living breathing person in your particular story.

Another way I incorporate who you are into every bit of design work is by making sure there are many chances to check in with you and get your feedback on how things are going.


STAYING TRUE TO THE STORY: review sessions

On almost all Bespoke Projects, I include 2-3 Review Sessions. In a Review Session, after you take a look at the artwork I’ve done so far, you tell me what you think, and if you want any edits. This can be as simple as “Looks great! Keep going!” or you can tell me a whole list of things you’d like changed.  There’s no number limit to how many edits you can ask for during a Review Session.

The only time any edits are considered “extra” is if you’ve already gone through all the Review Sessions we agreed on for the project and you decide you want to change something else last minute.

This much opportunity for review and feedback makes it easy for you to tell me any time I’m not getting the story right, and ensures that by the time we’re done, you love the final piece.

We’ve already got a good foundation going here, what with a bit of sitting down to get to know you at the beginning of the project, making sure I understand the setting, and plenty of communication about how things are coming along.

But there's another piece to this puzzle.



I’ve always been incredibly attuned to stories. It sounds strange, but I literally see them everywhere.

No, I’m not Sherlock Holmes. I can’t take one look at you and where you’ve just come from or which brand of toothpaste you use.

But I do have a special sense of intuition when it comes to people’s stories. "Story sense"? I don't know.  I feel kind of weird even writing about it here because I always thought everybody did… … until I started hearing back more and more from my Bespoke Clients and people who participate in my interactive illustration series on Instagram and Facebook. 

For these interactive series' I start with an idea like “Little Things that Make You Happy” or “Favorite Classic Films” and ask for people to chime in with requests. These requests are usually just a sentence, nothing super detailed. I choose some and illustrate them, then post the final image. I’ve had so many people, delighted at little details that fit perfectly with their requests, wonder how I knew: “Did you know our canoe was red?! You nailed it!!” (that one was Erica Morrow of Erica Morrow Photography).


Here are some kind words about my "story sense":

"Magic, Indeed, happened."

"Magic, indeed, happened...  ...It was like being given a gift by someone who knew me deeply, by someone who understood the inner workings of my family, my life, my mind – except that I had never met her before.

Her details were precise and I don’t mean the ones I gave her (like the white wine).

Gracie got it. Somehow, she got it."

-Jen, Drinking the Whole Bottle

"you've captured our special bond perfectly."

"This is me and my wee daughter Rose! Gracie, it's amazing, thank you so much! I'm so chuffed! And despite never meeting us, you've captured our special bond perfectly. We're a very small family, just Rose and I, and we have a very special relationship. Thanks for putting it down on paper in such a wonderful way! You are one talented lady...x"  

-Helen Pugh, 

Helen Pugh Photography

"It's like you were there, too!"


It's like you were there, too! The sunshine was exactly like that, and my furry companions, as well. All was right with the world on those mornings of feeling very blessed. Thank you. You do such exceptional drawing/art, and make such emotional connections with your style.

-Karen C.

No, not every project is technically about telling your story.

But to me, they're ALL about telling your story.


Because I believe your story matters.

Because the story you tell yourself (and others) about yourself matters. It’s a part of your identity that influences you every single day whether you realize it or not.

Because I care about how you see yourself, and how your story is told.

Because I want you to see yourself as the hero you truly are.

I believe in telling it to the best of my ability, as truthfully and lovingly and beautifully as I can.

Because you, and your story, are worth it.


Want to work with me one-on-one? The next Bespoke Event is coming up in October!

Don't miss it: