A little over seven years ago, I was packing a lunch for my daughter to take on a school field trip and decided to doodle a princess on the brown bag she was taking that day. She returned that evening with the bag laminated and informed me she wanted a drawing on her lunch every day. Foolishly I agreed and each day her lunch bag had a quick sketch of a popular character or relevant holiday theme, but sketching a drawing a day can eat up the subject matter quickly. So I decided to write a story about Sara and her family that would travel with her each day. When my son asked for the same treatment, I was knocking out two of these bags a day. Finally, at the end of the school year I put my foot down, and in one of the greatest bargaining sessions I have ever been involved with, I managed to get taken in by two kids. I went from a couple of daily 10-minute sketches to something that consumes most of my free time in the evenings. I now produce a fully illustrated and rendered bag each week for my daughter. Fortunately, my son let me out of my contract with him a few years ago. Each Friday she gets a bag, which revolves around a story that begins on the first day of school and ends during the last week before summer. The stories include Sara and her friends and family and often take place at school. Each year is a different adventure as we have seen her deal with Soggy Stickers, go on a Freaky Field Trip, handle a Problem Puppet, and other unusual escapades.
I start with normal, store bought brown bags that are flattened out so the side without the seam is available for drawing. Then, using a blue or red pencil the week’s image is sketched out and composed before it is inked and hatched, and finally markers and other media are used to finish up the image. The bag remains fully functional, with the image having no impact on the size, structure or capability to successfully deliver a regular middle school lunch.
The story is generally plotted out at the beginning with enough flexibility to incorporate changes that appear during the school year, such as the time when Sara got a new puppy, both in the story and in real life. The stories also try and address real issues that she has to deal with, such as stage fright or transitioning to middle school. They have changed a little over the years as Sara has grown older, but they still revolve around her family, friends, and school. The weekly adventure is written in serial form, printed on card stock paper, and cut down to the size of the lunch bag. The card stock helps give the bag rigidity and protects the image from the food inside.
In Sara and The Broken Bean Bag, Sara is sucked into the books she reads while relaxing in a bean bag, but something isn’t quite right; the stories are slightly “off” and suddenly, she is meeting Maura Shingles instead of Laura Ingles and Gary Kotter instead of Harry Potter. Soon she comes to realize the classic story characters are jealous of the attention that the newer characters are getting and are plotting to steal the books. Sara has to use her imagination to overcome these villains.
This year we find Sara exploring the world behind the locker, where she meets up with the Locker Gnome. He’s that guy that steals your homework or picks up a misplaced coat. She sneaks into his lair only to discover he is having issues maintaining quotas due to the amount of electronic media the kids are using today. He may get downsized, and the Gym Rat, who wants to move his equipment into the Locker Gnome’s territory, is threatening his storage facility. Finally Sara’s mom shows up in the story with a plan to help the situation.
Another tradition that has been added over the years has been the holiday bags. After Thanksgiving, the story is put on hiatus while we explore different Christmas Carols. A song is picked and I research where the song came from and create an image to illustrate a scene from that carol. A brief history of the song is written up and inserted into the bag for that week.
These bags have been fun to create and Sara looks forward to each Friday when she can bring them in and share the latest chapter with friends and teachers. I have been fortunate that she has allowed me to continue to make these for her, even now that she is a middle schooler. They have allowed me opportunities to explore other avenues of illustration, just so long as I meet that weekly Friday deadline!
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