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Passing the Torch

Hi everybody. Debbie here. Most of you know me as the founder and engineer behind GoldieBlox. What you may not know is that I also wrote and illustrated the first version edition of “GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine.”

It all started two years ago, when I first came up with the idea for GoldieBlox – a kid engineer character who would get girls into building and engineering through stories. I was inspired by my grandmother, Sterling, one of the first female cartoonists and creators of Mr. Magoo. I grew up marveling at her sketches and cartoons. In fact, I dreamed as a child of one day becoming an artist like her. Engineering wasn’t a path I ever thought I’d follow. But GoldieBlox offered me the perfect opportunity to blend my love of art with engineering! So I got to work.

Cookie_original sketch House_original sketch Katinka_original sketch

I started sketching pictures of GoldieBlox day and night. I wanted her to be spunky and cool, like Punky Brewster, Eloise or Pippi Longstocking. Once I decided on a sketch that I liked, I began inventing characters to go along with her, including some friends like Nacho the dog and Phil the sloth. And since I was a ballerina for 10 years, I created Katinka, the pink dolphin dancer. Little known fact: pink dolphins actually do exist in the wild. I had the pleasure of swimming with them during my honeymoon in the Amazon Rainforest. It was breathtaking; that is, until one of them bit my foot.

Sloth

Honeymoon dolphin

I showed some of my earliest sketches to some of my most trusted friends in the art world, who almost all gave me the same feedback: “Go hire a professional illustrator!” But I didn’t really have any money, Plus, I knew I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least give it a try. So I kept going.

After a couple months, I finally had a working prototype of a book draft and a corresponding construction kit. I put it in front of kids all over the Bay Area to test the reaction. During this time, I learned countless things about how to improve the illustrations to make them more clear and instructional.  I also learned “what not to do.” For example, in the first draft of the book, I had an illustration of Goldie spinning Nacho around in the air. I didn’t expect that kids would try to emulate this very action with the heavy wooden pegboard, their own pets, etc. We had some near catastrophes.

Prototype

Because I was drawing everything myself, it was really easy to make quick tweaks here and there based on the prototype testing in order to hone in on the best product experience I could deliver. Once I felt like I’d hit the goldmine (no pun intended), I needed to take these rough sketches into actual, final book art — something I’d never done before.

Since I’m not a professionally trained illustrator, I ran up against a lot of roadblocks. Not knowing how to use illustrator programs on my computer, I decided to paint every page by hand. This process took months. I’d wake up in the morning, ready to illustrate and paint a page, get 95% there, and then make a mistake and have to re-do the whole thing. I’m really glad I went through this process because it was the only way to finally understand something about myself: I don’t love illustrating.

Regardless, I finished the first book, shared it on Kickstarter, and the response was overwhelming. It became real clear, real fast, that this wasn’t just a project in my living room anymore. I needed to build a company. Furthermore, I realized that if I was going to create a company that could grow and meet the demand of the millions of girls out in the world, I couldn’t be the illustrator anymore. I needed to be the CEO. And one of the first things that I did as CEO was search for the best illustrators I could find to “pass the torch” to.

This was no easy task.

I spent months searching for the right illustrator. At first, I was looking for people who could copy my illustration style. I quickly learned that my style is pretty hard to replicate and what’s more, it is almost impossible to animate. If GoldieBlox were to ever become a cartoon like Mr. Magoo, I needed to let go and be open to a new direction. I decided that instead of finding someone to copy me, I was going to find someone even better. Someone who could truly take GoldieBlox to the next level.

I found therm. Their names are Trevor Spencer and Andrea Fernandez, and they are an incredibly talented husband-and-wife team.

Andrea and Trevor 4

Their first sketches of Goldie gave me goose bumps. They were able to capture so much personality into their drawings – the characters were practically jumping off the pages! They were also really great at drawing in perspective so that it was so much easier for kids to understand how to build the contraptions. What I loved about them most, however, was their attention to detail. The little things, like Phil’s hair scruffed up against his ribbon hammock, or the little yellow car sitting in the Blox family garage. They put so much love and attention into their work. Their pictures tell stories, and what they are creating with GoldieBlox is magical.

 Andrea and Trevor 3Andrea and Trevor 1Andrea and Trevor 2

I started working with them on a contract basis. They were living in LA, doing freelance work for all kinds of companies including Disney. When I was finally ready to give them both full-time offers to work at GoldieBlox, they told me they had a job offer from Disney. My heart sank. How was I going to convince them to give up what is probably every artist’s childhood dream: a job at Disney?

As luck or fate would have it, Andrea and Trevor accepted my offer. With GoldieBlox, they get to help me build a brand from scratch … and not just any brand, but one that will inspire the next generation of female engineers. We get to do what we love every day AND hopefully make a real, meaningful difference in the world while doing it.

Andrea and Trevor: thank you for joining our team, moving up from LA and taking a leap of faith. On behalf of all the little girls (and boys) who will discover engineering through GoldieBlox, I could not be more proud to be passing the torch to you.  Let’s build this thing.