The Story of Penguin and a Brief-ish History of my Business (Part One)

Penguin doodle by Sian Shrimpton

Last month, I spent a lot of time thinking and planning about the why, how and what of my little business. I’m sure you’ll hear more and hopefully see the results of all this as time goes on, but it led me to answer one very important question: Why do you draw so many Penguins? And as I started to think about this question, it wasn’t a short answer. I like Penguins for sure, and although it’s very difficult to look at a Penguin waddling along and not smile, I wouldn’t even say they’re my favourite animal! (I’m so sorry to disappoint you, they’re one of my favourites, but this isn’t the reason why I’ve made Penguin drawings a central part of my business).

Read on to find out the real story behind Penguin, which has been intertwined with a not-so-brief history of my little business. Take a sip of water every time you read the word Penguin, and by the end, you’ll be well hydrated!

The very beginning

Rewind back to February 2013. I’ve just scrolled back through my personal Instagram to find the exact post and spent far too long reminiscing. At the time,  I was working full time in London, I was joining in with the #FMSPhotoADay challenge, I really enjoyed keeping up with my scrapbook and my previous blog. I only had about 77 followers on Instagram back then, but that felt like a lot. I had already opened my Etsy shop about 3 years prior, but it made a grand total of £10 over the 6 years before I started it back up “properly” in 2016. I look back on the cards I designed back then and smile (then cringe a little!) and realise that I had really no idea what I was doing. I still feel like that sometimes but I think 2013 Sian would be pretty pleased with how 2020 Sian is doing! I must try to remember this when I start to doubt myself.

Anyway, I digress. I had recently been to a Dollhouse and miniatures fair with my friend Harriet. I didn’t have my own dollhouse at the time but loved the idea of creating little scenes and I marvelled at the intricacy of the craftsmanship of all the tiny furniture and details. Harriet (who has since written, illustrated and published 11 Isadora Moon books, and in the process of finishing a 12th) had brought along Mini C, a small doll who she photographs in little scenes and situations, all of which are so cute and I love keeping up with the goings-on of Mini C. On that day, I was inspired to look more into my own story-telling. I didn’t want to copy Harriet but I loved this idea of creating a little character, who would get into all sorts of situations. Mine would be drawn rather than a physical doll.

It started with a doodle

At the time, I didn’t even draw regularly, and if I did, it was most probably lettering and not character drawings. I’d been keeping a notebook for little doodles and thoughts whilst I commuted into London every day and I don’t even remember why I thought of drawing a Penguin one day. The original drawing of Penguin was very square because I’d used the squares in my notebook to help me draw the lines and curves, he then had a little speech-bubble saying hello. I posted it to Instagram on 3 February 2013 with the caption: “Meet Penguin, he helps me with the day to day running of this place (ie. standing there smiling at me while I’m being a busy bee)” and Penguin was born and I miss his birthday every year. (Sorry Penguin, I will change that!) Looking back, that photo received a grand total of 3 likes…I’m sure I was over the moon with that too.

Sian Shrimpton - The very first penguin doodle

Why a Penguin?

I still have no idea why I drew a Penguin that day, it was a long time ago! Looking back at the Instagram photo, there seems to be a faint drawing of a person on the page that had been erased, maybe I considered making my little character a human first of all. I’m fairly convinced, however, that I drew a Penguin because I thought they’d be much easier to draw! It sounds like something I’d do. Let’s not forget that it was just a doodle to start with, I didn’t quite imagine that 7 years later I’d still be drawing Penguins.

I imagined a Penguin character and drew it using really simple shapes and it wasn’t until a few years later that I realised the Penguin I’d drawn, from no reference at all, didn’t look like a specific breed of Penguin at all! Oops!

What I do know is that the idea of a little Penguin as an assistant would be really cute! I can imagine them getting into all sorts of mischief, waddling around getting tangled up in things, making a mess, being a little clumsy! The Penguins I draw these days are similar to the Blue Penguin breed (also known as fairy penguins, little penguins, little blue penguins or Eudyptula minor) they are the smallest of the penguin breeds, but a few of my recent designs have included all the different breeds of penguin.

As time went on, I doodled Penguin in a selection of different scenarios, he’d be lying on a beach, the dancing version was one of my favourites, sitting behind a bunch of papers doing my work for me (I wish!), floating away on a balloon was another of my favourites, splashing around in some puddles, you might have seen some of these as updated designs since.

Penguin doing all the paperwork doodle by Sian Shrimpton

Fast Forward…

Fast forward to Christmas 2014, and I decided to make those Penguin drawings into little desk calendars, as gifts for family and friends. I had been experimenting with a few different art mediums by this point and decided to paint them all in watercolour, before scanning and printing a few times at home for different members of my family and a few friends. I partnered the printed pages with a little easel so that it could sit on their desk. To my surprise, they went down amazingly with my family and friends! A few people said: “you should definitely sell these!” and I’m sure I dismissed that at the time, but it continued to stay in the back of my mind.

The very first Penguin desk calendar original designs by Sian Shrimpton

The Other Beginning

Penguin almost took a back seat after I created those little desk calendars. We’d got engaged at Christmas in 2014 and so my mind and creativity were all consumed with planning our wedding and working full time. I had bought a little needle felted Penguin I the meantime and he’d featured in a few photos, including a little photoshoot with Harriet’s Mini C. However, I hadn’t drawn him in any new drawings or worked on my Etsy shop for a while. I think I’d even taken down all the Etsy listings by this point, because I just didn’t have the time to maintain a shop alongside working full time and that 1.5hr commute to and from London each day.

Then in September 2016, I was made redundant from my job in London and although a shock, I saw this as a huge positive. It had been on my mind since graduating in 2010 that I wanted to create my own product line, have an online shop and work for myself. It was always one of those “one-day” dreams and I didn’t let the fact that my Etsy had only made £10 previously stop me, I saw this as my chance to make a real go of it. I had a sketchbook full of sketches and little ideas that I just hadn’t had time to implement. Over the following week, I decided that I’d create a new version of the Penguin Desk Calendar for 2017, see how I did and see if I could make this dream of mine a reality.

…and that’s where I’ll leave this story, on a huge cliff hanger, until next time when you can find out how well or how badly it all turned out. 

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