Master of the Menagerie

A seagull with aerodynamic impossibilities. A strangely disproportionate cat. A grinning mouse with…six eyes? This is the world of Tom Curtis and Things I Have Drawn, an Instagram sensation that features hilarious and very LITERAL interpretations of children’s drawings.

It began a five years ago, when Tom took at look at his young sons’ drawings and wondered how their wild interpretations of the world would look if they were actually REAL. As his children have aged up, Tom has relied on his scores of fans to continue the creation of lopsided lions, fanged fish, and pop-eyed people.

In 2017, Tom and his collaborators released Things I Have Drawn: At the Zoo (Trapeeze Books). It’s a must-have coffee table book for anyone who has proudly displayed unexplicable kiddie artwork on their fridge and walls at home.

I reached out to Tom in London to chat about his playful cast of characters and his creative process!


Please tell us a little about yourself and your artistic collaborators!

I’m Tom and I’m the Executive Creative Director of a media agency in London called MediaCom. I’m also the ‘dad’ behind an Instagram account called Things I Have Drawn.
TIHD has a very simple premise. It imagines a world in which the things kids draw are real. In other words, the form of what they draw is accurate. Big heads, little bodies, eyes on one side of the head, a beak as well as a smiley mouth, that kind of thing.

My two main collaborators are my own kids, Dom and Al. When we first started, they were 5 and 3. Now that they’re 11 and 8 their drawings aren’t as gloriously naïve as they used to be, so I work with lots of other kids’ drawings as well these days. I’ve always said that the ‘I’ in Things I Have Drawn can be anyone. After all, there’s a lot of talented young artists out there.

Walk us through the creation process…

The creative process has evolved a bit over time and is usually determined by the subject matter and the circumstances in which the drawing is produced.

When we first started Things I Have Drawn there’d be a bit more of a discussion with the boys about what they were drawing. Sometimes we’d even visit the zoo together and they’d take their sketchbooks with them. I’d take photos of what they were drawing, usually from a number of angles, and then the Photoshop process would begin on our return home.

More recently what I’ll do is start with a drawing I find lying around the house – unless it’s one that’s been sent to us by one of our followers. I’ve still got many hundreds in the archive to choose from.

The ‘real’ images I create are sometimes made from a combination of photos I’ve taken myself and specific pictures I find on stock sites. It’s a lot more satisfying using my own photos, and the end results, I find, are normally better, because I’ll have taken multiple photos to work from, and the realism is easier to achieve.

Occasionally I’ll use the body of one animal to create the body of another. For example, for a giraffe, it would be far too time consuming to adjust each individual patch on its fur to the pattern a child has drawn, so on more than one occasion I’ve used the body of a white horse and then added the patterns later.

Do you wait until the very end to reveal the final product to your kids, or do they give you feedback along the way?

The boys are usually intrigued to see what I’m working on, so will peer over my shoulder to take a look – if they’re still up when I’m working on them that is, as I work mainly in the evenings. They’ve seen me do enough now not to want to watch avidly for hours.

Occasionally I have to ask them what various bits of their drawings are supposed to be. I’m sure I’ve got noses mixed up with mouths, and even tails confused with ears when they’re not around to ask, though.

When I work with people’s submissions, I can’t so easily clarify what every detail is, so I have to take a bit of a punt sometimes. I enjoy the debate on Instagram though, when people think I’ve got it wrong.

Over the years, have their reactions changed at all?

We’ve been doing Things I Have Drawn for over four years now, so it’s inevitable the boys’ reaction is different these days, but it’s been a slow change overtime. I guess the big difference is that they used to just think most of the creations were funny. Now they’re more interested in how many likes each post gets, as if that’s a measurement of quality!

Has a drawing ever stumped you?

Not that I can remember, but I can be selective, of course, so if a drawing looks like it’ll be too complicated to do, then I won’t attempt it. The more detail there is in the drawing, the longer it normally takes. I don’t have masses of time to do them because I still have my full time job.

Is it more difficult to do people? Or animals?

It depends on a few factors, including how detailed I want the image to be (I often make the images a lot higher resolution than Instagram requires them to be, which is time consuming in itself). One key factor is the main texture of the subject matter. Reptiles’ scales are surprisingly fiddly to get right, especially when you’re trying to fit them into an unusual body shape. Human skin is a lot more uniform and therefore tends to be simpler. Shadows can be a bit of a pain though, which is why I’ll often try to avoid people and animals that are standing in direct sunlight.

Do you have a personal favorite, and why?

I always used to say it was the first ever one we posted to Instagram – a picture of our pet cat, Ninja, who sadly died a couple of years ago. I say ‘sadly’, but she was a bit frightening at times – not a cuddly lap cat, that’s for sure. It was based on a drawing Dom had done when he was very young.

But looking back through the many images we’ve produced I actually think it might be an image I created from one of Al’s drawings of a half-emu, half-turkey (at least that’s what we decided to make it). I found it in a pile of paper, having not been aware Alistair had drawn it. It’s a really bizarre looking creature, and I had a lot of fun working out how to interpret many of the lines he’d scribbled across it. The end result is quite grotesque, but I was always quite pleased with it.

Please finish this sentence: “When I started this, I never thought it would lead to…”

…being on the front row at the Gucci Men’s Fashion Show in Milan. That was a very recent collaboration and saw us doing a Story takeover of the Gucci Instagram account. Pretty incredible really.

All photos courtesy of Tom Curtis, Things I Have Drawn.


As a precautionary measure, Princeton University closed the gallery of the Cotsen Children’s Library until further notice, and our children’s programming as been suspended during this closure. Until our library reopens, the blog will post once a week. So every Tuesday, please check in to see what we’re up to…from story time projects to awesome interviews!

Brand Names

brand namesIt’s grilling season, but we couldn’t JUST serve up a steak. We had to make it personal.

Today, we’re testing a “BBQ Branding Iron” which purports to “Add a name or message to your steak!” It’s offered by multiple Amazon sellers each using different descriptive names, but every listing appears to sell the exact same product. Prices range from $11.65 to $39.99, but we paid in the lower range and ordered from a seller who offered Prime shipping.

bbq branding iron boxThe box includes a handle with a letter block, individual letters, blanks to insert between the letters, a small wrench, and 2 metal loops to prevent the letters from sliding out of the block.

bbq branding iron box contentsOur office grill champion took on the task of testing the bbq brander. Take it away Katie!


First, I hand-washed the metal letters, letter track and two loop locks before playing around with funny messages to brand. “YES” was an easy choice, as was “DO NOT TOUCH” and “THIS IS MINE.” I finally settled on “GET IN MY BELLY.” When arranging the letters, you have to remember to put them into the letter track backwards. It’s easy to forget, particularly with some letters that aren’t identifiable already backwards. The kit also includes blank metal spaces to separate the words in your message. You attach the two loop locks on either side of the letter track to keep everything in place as you are using the iron.

putting together the lettersOnce I felt confident I had everything backwards and spelled correctly, I headed out to start cooking. Beef steak was first.

ready to grillAs my grill was heating up, I put the branding iron inside and made sure to leave the wood handle sticking out. I grilled one side of my steak, flipped it over, and tried the iron. Despite having left the wood handle outside of the grill, it was still hot. VERY hot. Not wanting to continue burning the palm of my hand, I dropped the branding iron and scurried to my kitchen to get an oven mitt.

The second attempt was a success. After 10 seconds of leaving the hot branding iron on the sizzling meat, the message “GET IN MY BELLY” appeared on the steak. Nice!

grilled steakThe next food test was for our vegetarian and vegan friends: TOFU! (Side note: I am not a tofu connoisseur and had no idea it comes in different sizes and varying consistencies. Who knew? I do now!). I went extra firm, to get as close to the consistency of steak as I could.

extra firm tofuIn order to change the letters, I ran the branding iron under cold water and simply slid the used letters out of the track. Not feeling terribly creative, I changed the message to read “NOT MEAT.”

Perhaps my inexperience grilling tofu didn’t help with the branding, but it was an epic fail. I tried multiple times to make the “NOT MEAT” brand dark enough on the tofu. Not once did it work. I tried leaving the brand on the grill for more time, putting the iron on the tofu longer, and it just didn’t take. I also thoroughly destroyed the tofu as I was flipping it over (and over).

tofu failMy thoughts on the BBQ Branding Iron? Steaks – beef, pork, lamb – and certainly chicken breast are the choice meat to use in order to get the message sufficiently branded. I suspect that hamburger might also work, but since I didn’t test the iron on a burger, I’m not sure. Tofu is definitely a no-go.

There were some reviewers who felt there weren’t enough letters included in the package, and that the letter track was too small and should be wider for longer messages. I can fully appreciate and understand their concerns.

I believe the BBQ Branding Iron would provide a clever personal touch for a reception or party where steaks are on the menu. It also would be a great gift for someone who loves to grill. Personally, I can’t imagine myself using it on a regular basis.

Recommended for grill masters, meat lovers, and party planners!

Fast Funny Free Writes

fast funny free writes

It Conquered the World, 1956. From Mad Mad Mad Blog

We’re always on the lookout for fast, fun activities for Cotsen Critix, our literary society for kids ages 9-12. Recently, we took an unusual approach to the concept of the free write. Instead of writing prose from a prompt, we wrote speech bubbles. Using B-movie science fiction screen shots, of course. Here’s a small sampling of the hilarious results (and here’s the caption sheet if you’d like to try it yourself)…


PLANET OF THE FEMALE INVADERS, 1967
From flickr

fantastic duo 3_be quiet and stylefantastic duo 3_ghost of washington fantastic duo 3_all for publicityfantastic duo 3_fabulous banana


THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK, 1958
From Dwrayger Dungeon

problem in the lab 4_too good looking problem in the lab 4_sureee problem in the lab 4_it's in the brain problem in the lab 4_it wasn't decaf


CAT-WOMEN OF THE MOON, 1953
From Say: Hello Spaceman

  3 dudes in suits 4_rice will not help you 3 dudes in suits 4_when will life end3 dudes in suits 4_he's knitting


THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, 1951
From IMDb

big robot 2_last tacobig robot 2_wear the cool suit big robot 2_time for your iron   big robot 2_toaster is a jerk


UNIDENTIFIED FLYING ODDBALL, 1979
From Cybernetic Zoo

rover chase 5_game of tag rover chase 5_it was fake rover chase 5_no space hererover chase 5_amateurs