The Little Red Racing Car: An Evolving Children's Book by Dwight Knowlton

October 2, 2012

The Little Red Racing Car: An Evolving Children's Book by Dwight Knowlton

By day, Phoenix-based Dwight Knowlton is the Visual Director at Bulbstorm, but during his off-time, he focuses on family and his new labor of love, The Litte Red Racing Car. His children's book is an ever-evolving, illustrated project created with an openness to social feedback and ultimately social funding for production.

Dwight agreed to speak with me about the creative project and answer some questions on his goals, aesthetic and the leverage of social media during the design and illustration process.

Design, book, littleredracingcar

Set the stage. What is The Little Red Racing Car children’s book and how did you come up with the idea?
First of all, it’s a gift for my son. But beyond that, it’s something for all sons, daughters and car-loving families. The Little Red Racing Car is a Father/Son/Car story about the love of cars—but also relationships. It’s about a barn-find 1955 Maserati 300S, discovered by the boy, and brought back to life with the father; but it’s also about the joy and passion they share as they restore this vintage automobile. I’ve had various ideas for an automotive children’s book knocking around for quite a while, but this particular one really inspired me.

This project is more than just a book. Tell me about that.
I’ve intentionally made this project as much about the process as the outcome. It will culminate in a Kickstarter campaign, but until then, I’m developing the book socially, sharing the raw process with full transparency. You can see it all happen at: The Little Red Racing Car Facebook page. That includes rough sketches, brainstorms, polls, video updates via Socialcam and more. Followers get to see the process of elimination, the hard choices, bad sketches that turn into better ones, and so on. While the book is the cause and the final outcome, it’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as the work is concerned. The process itself is going to be a heck of a portfolio piece.

And you’re designing some “stuff” as well, right?
Yes! As part of developing The Little Red Racing Car as a brand, I am creating a whole bunch of products. I’m designing the expected: t-shirts, hats, mugs and stickers. The less expected: embroidered patches, enamel pins, pad printed coasters and a wooden toy car. And completely crazy stuff, like a wall sconce built from the airbox of a vintage Maserati Biturbo! I think that some of the product design will be as fascinating to watch as the creation of the book. Oh, and did I mention that I’ll be giving some of these items away to followers of the project? Nudge* Nudge*

Design, book, littleredracingcar
Design, book, littleredracingcar
Design, book, littleredracingcar

Why red?
Red is the color of Italian cars. Early in international auto racing, colors were as much of an identifier as numbers. Traditionally, the German racing cars were silver, French were blue, British were green and, of course the Italian cars were red. I did kind of want for the car to be a Porsche 550 Spyder, but I just couldn’t make it red... The good news is “The Small Silver Speedster” can be book two!

Design, book, littleredracingcar

How much planning goes into each page. What’s the process?
First, let me tell you that it’s my plan to write the book twenty times! So far, I have written it four times, and each time I've come away with a wonderful nugget that did not exist before. It is also my goal that each page of the book be completely DESIGNED, meaning every choice is intentional. Most picture books simply leave space for the type which gets laid in afterwards. I am attempting to create each page as a whole. It's my goal, by working on the story and the illustrations as a whole, to amplify the story and reduce the redundancy that is so common in children's books. If you can see that the windshield is broken in the illustration, I may not need to waste words on that.

Design, book, littleredracingcar
Design, book, littleredracingcar

What’s your choice of media for the project?
My key deliverable is a hardcover picture book—to be printed in the USA. When I complete a tight final draft, I’ll begin driving traffic to the Kickstarter campaign. Part of the reward structure will be large format prints of select illustrations from the book—which will also be offered for sale. I also intend to release the book electronically. Ideally, that will be as an app, but it could just be an ebook. There is a wonderful new piece of software called Storybuilder, for which I was just given a beta test. Time permitting, I am VERY excited to explore an animated version..

Design, book, littleredracingcar

A first car was something you never forget. What was yours, and is this a motivator?
I drove a couple of my parents' cars first, but my first owned car was a 1976 VW Scirrocco. While I wouldn’t think of it as a motivator for the project, there are principles that apply. Rust had claimed its fair share of the car, so it was definitely a project. It was also nimble and peppy for its displacement, so despite its $500 price tag, it did share some of the spirit of this barn-find Maserati.

Man’s fascination with the car never seems to grow old—nostalgia is at play here. Can you tell us more about that?
For me it’s a combination of machine and design. It’s the same reason I love mechanical watches... But I think men can love (or like) cars for many reasons. They’re an extension or expression of our personalities. Some men love to tinker, to fix and improve. For some men, it can be competitive—they want something faster than the other guy at the stoplight. For others, it’s perhaps less an expression of passion and simply proof of a large wallet... Those are the ones I feel sorry for—most of the time they don’t know or appreciate what they’ve got.

Certain personalities just match the car. James Dean and the Porsche Spyder, Steve McQueen’s Jaguar XKSS. Who do you think of with the Little Red Race car?
What a great question. The first person I think of when I think of the Maserati 300S is Sir Stirling Moss. Both he and Carroll Shelby raced the car in its prime—and both loved it. From everything I’ve read, Stirling Moss is a stand-up guy. So he’d be my pick. It’s my plan to send him a poster and a Little Red Racing Car Christmas card this year.

Typography has played a big part in your work up to this point. Talk about the fonts for this project.
I came across a different kind of type foundry a while back called the Lost Type Co-op. They have some fantastic type and a very cool model that allows the buyer to name their price—with all of the money going to the creator of that typeface. I had been looking for an opportunity to use them, and this project was the perfect fit. I decided early on that I would use them exclusively, if possible, for this project. I use two of their typefaces in the logo: Geared and Wisdom Script.

Design, book, littleredracingcar

Finish this thought. Children love cars because …
.... their dads share it with them. At least that’s what I’m seeing. My son is now asking to be picked up and held in front of automotive art that I have in the house. Once lifted, he gets very animated making steering motions and engine noises. He also insists that I fire up Forza 4 on the xbox—he just loves to watch. It’s awesome. I have a 16 month old that’s already into cars!

How does Monaco and racing play a part in this?
Aside from the vacation I will take if the project is a commercial success? The vintage Grand Prix poster art of Monaco by Geo Ham are probably my biggest visual inspiration for the project. I love the limited palette, the illustration, and the typography of these posters. They tell the story, but they romanticize it.

Design, book, littleredracingcar

You’ve created a large social following in a small amount of time. What tips can you give other artists who are trying to socialize their work? is there a downside?
Social—good social—is a lot of work and takes a lot of time. Sometimes I feel like I could be doing “real work” when I’m doing social, but it’s these conversations and relationships that are vital to the awareness and final outcome of the book. As for growing a following, there is a tremendous amount of power in the targeting of Facebook ads. With very intentional targeting, I have been able to connect with individuals that I would otherwise not have the opportunity to reach. While I do believe that there is a limited value to the “Like,” I also believe that there are definitely “high value Likes.” I’ve also made some very valuable connections with direct correspondence. Those can be big wins, but there are plenty of disappointments too. I’ve been surprised by some of the people that don’t write back—but even more so by some that do!

Has anyone notable in the world of auto restoration, racing or collecting shown interest?
Yes. I am very fortunate to have some incredible people on board. But while there are some VIPs among the followers, I’m honored to have every single person that gives the project a Like or shares it. Most of all, I’m fortunate to have made some connections through this that I would consider friends.

What other auto art projects are you working on?
Oh, I have one that I would SO like to spill the beans on but need to keep quiet for now! I do have several very interesting projects sketched out, though, including some great merchandise possibilities and follow-ups to The Little Red Racing Car. I also have a couple domains that I have high hopes for. I collect automotive art and have not found many great resources for discovery, information or purchasing. Someday, I hope to make a hub for automotive art. Another domain I have recently picked up is I’m not entirely sure what that’s going to be, but I know that there’s possibility there for car loving dads.

Design, book, littleredracingcar

Since we’ve met, you’ve had several restoration projects in mind. Talk about one that relates to this project.
The first one that comes to mind is my Super Sport Ghia project. How does a Karmann Ghia relate to a Maserati 300S? This is no ordinary Ghia! This car will be to VW what the XKSS was to Jaguar. I have been doing drawings and collecting reference material for several years, and I really look forward to making it a reality. I have to mention a second project though—I’m working on plans for car haulers designed to match select bespoke collector cars. I’m in discussion with a very talented builder in Minnesota, and we really want to build my concept for the Bugatti Atlantic Coupe Hauler.

Design, book, littleredracingcar

When can we get our hands on the book?
Mid 2013, is the plan. I want to have a rough draft done by the end of this year, but I know that I will want to spend more time perfecting the illustrations, the brand, and creating additional collateral and merchandise. I don’t want to rush to adequate, when I can take a slower road to great. That means there’s still a lot of work for everyone to see happen, which you can do by visiting The Little Red Racing Car page and giving it a Like on Facebook!

Design, book, littleredracingcar
Design, book, littleredracingcar
Design, book, littleredracingcar

Thanks for talking with me, Dwight, and we look forward to seeing what's in store for The Little Red Racing Car!

Dwight is the Visual Director for client campaigns at Bulbstorm, Inc and the guy behind 73ideas, LLC. Previously, he was a founding partner and lead designer in the firm responsible for the total redesign of Safeway stores internationally. Dwight and his wife live in North Phoenix with their amazing little son and their two perfectly adequate dogs. Catch an occasional tweet at @DwightKnowlton.

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Steve Tansley

Steve Tansley

Steve is the co-creator of the web comic. He is a designer and illustrator of children's books and Sr. Interactive Art Director for The Lavidge Company. Steve's personal work can be seen at behance. He lives in Scottsdale with his wife, eight kids and dog Sooki. Catch his tweets at @stevejtansley or friend him on Facebook page.

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