This week we have launched Pirate Olliblocks and Merfolk Olliblocks, and I couldn’t be more excited! Initially I had planned on releasing this as a combined set (Pirates and Mermaids) but after lots of very helpful feedback from our community on Instagram, I realized that we’d be missing out if we only had 6 pirates, 6 mermaids, and 6 sea creatures! So I doubled my efforts (literally) and came up with a whole set of 18 Pirate characters and 18 Merfolk characters. Today I thought I’d share a little bit of the behind-the-scenes on the design/development process.
I created my first sets of Olliblocks almost two years ago now. I had simply wanted to design something for my kids to play with, but when I saw how much they enjoyed the blocks, and how people responded to pictures of them on Instagram, I decided that I could share them as a digital download and allow others to make the blocks as well! Since September 2012, I have designed many more sets of Olliblocks to fill the requests of our customers! In fact, at the point of writing this, we have a total of 168 Olliblocks characters! Um, wow… this is the first time I have actually counted them!
When it comes time for a new set of Olliblocks, I open up my Olliblocks Master document (I design everything in Adobe Illustrator). Here I have all of my Olliblocks characters in different layers, and it helps me to be consistent in color choices as well as body positions. Because the Olliblocks coordinate across all sets, I have to be careful of all transition points (necks and hips). In this document, I can also double check that I’m not accidentally making two characters too much alike. With 168 characters, it happens sometimes!
For this set of Pirates, as I said above, I had originally intended to do 6 pirate characters. I started with 2 men, 2 girls, and 2 “ship’s kids.” When I showed my progress on Instagram, people requested that I make girl pirates, some going so far as to say, “Girl pirates! I’m begging you!” This helped me to examine what I was offering, and realize that the girl pirate characters I’d already shown weren’t strong enough to even be noticed. At the same time, on the Mermaid end of things, I had developed 3 mermaids with long flowing hair, and someone requested girl mermaids with “fierce short hair.” Based mainly on these two pieces of feedback, I decided to expand the set and split it into two so that I could really give a variety of strong female and male characters in both categories.
I had a blast pushing past stereotype on the girl pirates, giving them hooks, peg legs, and weapons (even a bomb!), and making them just as bad-ass as the guys.
For this set of Merfolk, I was excited to design just as many mermen as mermaids. It was extra fun to break the Olliblocks mold and be able to use alternative hair colors as well as very flowy hair! I struggled with the fact that all Olliblocks characters must wear shirts so that they can easily mix and match across all sets, and you don’t typically imagine merfolk as shirt-wearing creatures. As I thought through the issue, the idea of rash-guards occurred to me, so the clothing I’ve designed for these merfolk is very rash-guard inspired. Instead of creating a shell bra, I can create a shirt with a shell pattern. I figure this has the added benefit of setting Olliblocks merfolk apart from other illustrations out there!
For this set, I needed to develop 6 sea creatures, but I hit a road block here. A little over a year ago, I designed 18 animal characters for the zoo booster set, and there were simply certain animals that I didn’t think could ever fit the Olliblocks format of being upright and separated into equal thirds. Luckily, I am married to an artist, Mike, who has actual training and experience in illustration (whereas I am self-taught, not including the AMAZING things that I have learned by working with Mike). When I told him that sea creatures weren’t really possible, he looked at me like I was crazy. Of course they were possible! So I printed out a bunch of boxes for him to fit some sketches into and asked him for his take on these creatures. We developed a list of 6 together, and an hour and a half later, Mike had pretty much done most of my work:
From Mike’s sketches, I could immediately see the solution to these creatures that had entirely eluded me before. Thanks to his work, developing these characters was much, much easier!
All in all, this was an incredibly fun project! To give you an idea of time, each Olliblock character on average takes a little over an hour to create and refine. The design alone of these 36 characters represented a solid week of fully-focused work for me! Then I still had to format and prep download files, do print tests, assemble the product and shoot it, which all happened the week after designing. Now, at the end, I am thrilled to have these new sets available in our shop! I’ll take a little break from Olliblocks, but hope to have one more full set ready later this fall!