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.

13 thoughts on “Passing the Torch

  1. I am OBSESSED with your company and this toy. I was one of the first “investors” through kickstarter and have told a million people about it. I was so happy about the concept, I did not think much about the product itself. I was wowed by the quality and how much my 3 girls -Coco (10) Anna (8) and Cheyney (5) have loved it. So much so that half the parts are missing. I have ordered everything you sell and will continue to recommend. Thank you for starting to change the world!

  2. I love this company! I have a daughter studying materials engineering at Michigan Tech University in Houghton, Michigan. As a freshman, the girls were required to take a test to see how well they understand three dimensional structures to determine weather or not they had to take an extra class. (A class boys don’t have to take) The school felt girls were behind boys in that area! These toys will definitely introduce girls to those concepts at a young age!! Keep up the great work! Have you ever thought about hiring interns? I think it would be a great idea. I know a twenty year old collegiate soccer player, who happens to play for Michigan Tech (lol),who would be a great candidate! She plans to write you soon but between her engineering classes and her soccer schedule she’s super busy but I promise you will be hearing from her soon! Keep up the great work!

  3. THANK YOU for bringing someone of color into the fold. LOVE the ideas and the products but will not buy until my own gorgeous caramel-colored builders can see themselves in the stories (and not just as sidekicks.)

  4. Not only a fantastic illustrator, but a fantastic young man too! Way to go Trevor (and Andrea)!
    I’m going to get some Goldie Blox for my grand daughters. What a fantastic idea to inspire young engineers!! Larry D. (from PA and now NC)

  5. I was disappointed to see Goldie’s makeover. She got the “Disney princess” treatment of wider eyes, tinier waist, etc. (see: https://www.change.org/petitions/disney-say-no-to-the-merida-makeover-keep-our-hero-brave). No offense to the illustrators, who I am sure do a great job capturing her personality — I just wish they could do it while keeping her less than “perfect”.
    That said, I am looking forward to purchasing Goldie Blox for my niece who needs encouragement in developing mechanical skills.

    1. I disagree. Goldie didn’t get the “Disney” treatment with this new style. She’s not wearing a dress, I don’t see a prince around, and her waist size?! Wow. This new styles allows her to flow better on screen, where I truly hope she will end up in TV form with all her friends.

    1. For 45 years I have been married to an engineer with incredible spatial visualization skills… so I stopped trying to develop my own.
      Think it is time for me to start anew. I have gifted Goldie Blox to all my grandchildren, now I need one for me!

  6. We are an educational software company in Austin, Texas, and would like to offer our consulting services. We see something lost in the translation of your original packaging and the final output. Hiring illustrators that work for Disney has resulted in a Disneyesque character, that perpetuates the female stereotype, with large dough-like eyes, stylized hair and pastel colored clothing. If you study some of the feminist backlash against the girlification of the My Little Pony line, for example, you can see how your packaging and illustration style might encounter some heavy criticism. Remember what happened with the Brave character and her princess make-over? A better choice would have been a modern, female illustrator, with a more radical lineless vector art style. Sharper edges, uncoiffeured hair, bolder colors, etc… It’s not too late to make changes, we can help.

  7. I am a second grade teacher in TN. I recently was awarded a $500 Grant from the Nissan Corporation to purchase Goldieblox games to promote engineering to girls. I am so excited to get started introducing my little girls to the wonders of building and problem solving with this product.
    Thank you so much for launching these products!
    2nd grade teacher

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