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Keith Allen about What a Mess!

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Keith Allen is an illustrator, designer and paper engineer who lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife and children. He lives a busy life, working as a product designer at American Greetings, and works on his personal projects at night. Keith comes from a creative family and got into the self-publishing world a couple of years ago with the launch of a wonderful pop-up book called A Day in Rehoboth Beach. Keith, his grandmother Joanne DeFiore and his brother Brian Allen created this pop-up book about their favorite summer destination Rehoboth Beach.

We had the opportunity to ask Keith a few questions about his latest pop-up book What a Mess!

BPUB – We have been able to follow your 5am project from the start and we’ve seen the What a Mess! pop-up book develop from rough concepts into a complete and advanced pop-up book. From what point did you decide  to publish this book?

KA – Thank you so much for following along in the process! Self-Publishing was always in the back of my mind because I’ve done it before and knew that it could be done, but honestly in the beginning, I just really wanted to make something that I could be proud of. As the process went along, I was gaining more and more followers and being really encouraged. It was really neat seeing peoples reactions and I knew that I had to get this book out into the world.

“It’s cool how everything kind of fell into place with this book”

Keith Allen

BPUB – There’s a large diversity of different pop-up techniques used in What a Mess! The illustrations and paper animation also fit perfectly with the story. Can you tell us more about the engineering and animation techniques that you’ve used for this book?

KA – Thanks! It’s cool how everything kind of fell into place with this book. I’m always jotting down book ideas in sketchbooks, but this one just really resonated with me and kept me interested. From the first draft of the story, I could visualize a lot of the page spreads. Not every story works well with pop-ups and vice versa, but I felt this one worked really well in the format. I just loved the idea of the chaos and mess rising and falling from the pages, and that the only thing holding it back was the book cover.

BPUB – We are impressed with how you achieved to make “a mess” look so beautiful. Was it hard to find a style that fits both the story and the paper engineering?

KA – In a nutshell, the process worked like this: I finished the first rough draft of the story which determined my page count and how many spreads. Then I started sketching, and doing character development. I chose to illustrate them in a very flat but colorful style so it would feel almost like cut paper. Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart are huge inspirations to me and their art-styles work so great with paper-engineering because they don’t compete with the pop-ups. I wanted to achieve that same balance. Once my art style was determined, I started the paper-engineering process and worked out all seven spreads before illustrating. I have done a lot of jobs in the past where I work with an illustrator and I just provide them with the paper-engineering. Depending on the illustrator, this process can work beautifully– but I think you can achieve an even greater result when the illustrator IS the paper-engineer because they are so familiar with the pop-ups and can complete the initial creative vision of the spread

BPUB – What a Mess! is inspired by the everyday adventures of your children. Did they give you any feedback about the story or illustrations?

KA – Haha, yes they were very involved. I made sure that I shared with them during the whole process. I tested out a lot of jokes with them, let them help pick out their characters outfits, and also choose what toys went into each scene. I’ve also hidden a lot of little easter eggs throughout the book which makes this book very special for them.

BPUB – You’ve engineered this book, made the illustrations, wrote the story and did a lot more like your website, downloads, social media channels and tutorials on YouTube. Did this project grow on you or did you have all of this in mind from the start?

KA – LOL, It definitely grew on me. It’s been a learning experience, that is for sure, but a fantastic one. It really forced me out of my comfort zone. I learned that creating the product is really only half the battle, and that there is a whole other side that I knew very little about. But it’s been great, I have found that marketing can be just as creative as building the product. It’s also allowed me to really connect and engage with my followers which has been such an encouragement. It definitely makes you appreciate the amount of work that goes into a project like this, on the creative side and the business side.

BPUB – It’s unique how you created a world around What a Mess! with it’s own style and branding. It gives more depth to the book and the characters itself. Do you have any plans to continue with the characters and this “brand” of Messy Pop-up? Is there a chance that this will be a series?

KA – Thanks! I have spent a lot of time with these characters, and have really enjoyed building and developing them as the project progressed. There is always a chance, that would just depend on if I had another story that worked really well with them.  I’m hoping they’ll stick around awhile!

BPUB – What’s the first thing you’ll do when your project reaches its Kickstarter goal?

KA – I’ll probably get back to work, haha! I’ll be so thrilled if that happens, but there is still a lot to do! First thing is to get the book off to manufacturing because that can take a while to produce and then I’ll need to finalize all the rewards. But, probably the first thing I’ll do is celebrate with my family. They’ve been so supportive of this venture and I really couldn’t have done it without them. We’ll have a pizza and Ice-cream sundae party and stay up until 11:00pm!

BPUB – Thank you Keith! We wish you the best of luck with your project. We can hardly wait to see this wonderful pop-up book being published!

Support Keith’s What a Mess! pop-up book project on Kickstarter.

Go to our video review of What a Mess! A Pop-up Misadventure
Got to our What a Mess! Kickstarter special


Keith Allen is a designer, illustrator and paper engineer who lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his lovely wife and children. Keith lives a busy life working as a designer at American Greetings.

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