People often ask me how I make a Niki Owl gift, and today I’ll share that with you step-by-step. But first, some background on a special gift I made, which I’m sharing today in honour of Canada’s 150th “birthday”.
Summer of 2012. I was in Vancouver working on my first Niki Owl book, which tells the story of Niki settling into the city after migrating from Spain. Whilst I was doing that, I was watching the Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team (CANWNT) make history by winning their first bronze medal at the London Olympics. Their achievement was an epic transformation from a year before where they finished last at the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany.
As the team moved through the Olympics, I gathered more inspiration for my book to meet my goal and finish it in three weeks. When the team stood on the podium gleaming with their medals, I saw the completion of my first book (and one of my greatest dreams) as my personal “medal”.
At the heart of my first book is a call to take leaps of faith and stay positive as life changes around you to match your desires. I saw this reflected in the CANWNT, and from that moment on I wanted to find a way to thank them for how their feat had inspired me with mine.
But my life turned upside down after my first book came out, and – true to the spirit of the book – I had to navigate those changes before I could get clear on what kind of tribute I would create for these outstanding human beings who play a sport that I love.
I like to give, and I love to make gifts. I created Niki Owl as a way to inspire, uplift, and help people make room for joy in their lives, through illustrations and handmade creations. It’s at the heart of everything Niki Owl.
Fast forward to summer of 2015. The Women’s World Cup was kicking off in Canada, and I was inspired to see my favorite players again. It was also Spain’s first time at a Women’s World Cup, which added another layer of personal joy.
Then I had my epiphany…
As part of a “memoir” I’m working on, I had recently reviewed my Niki Owl archive photos of all the gifts I’ve ever made for people. And I saw one I’d made for my dad, which had rivaling football (soccer) owls.
I’d forgotten about those little fellas. Yet I’d always wanted to “do” more with this idea of the football owls. So the thought came to me, “What if I made a team of CANWNT owls?”
I researched the roster and coaching staff so I could name each owl appropriately. I researched their kit, because I’m very detail-oriented. And I diligently set out to make 25 of these little owls… one by one.
PHOTO-BY-PHOTO OF HOW THE CANWNT GIFT CAME TOGETHER
Between meetings and client work, I set 90 minutes aside to shape the owls while I watched some of the World Cup games. It was a great way to set focused time to make owls. Each one takes about 30 minutes for me to shape by hand. For 25 of them, that’s about 12 hours, or 8 soccer games. Actual size of an owl is about 4cm or 1.5 inches.
Each one took 2-3 days to dry, then I sanded them off for a smoother finish. Looking at the growing team, I kept thinking about Emperor Qin’s Terra-Cotta Army, only this was a little army of love:
Once the owls were dry, I started to paint them in their team colours:
This is how the 3 goalkeeper owls looked before I glued them to their bases:
I wanted to add a special dedication, and found a maker’s space at the local library, which had an amazing laser etching tool that significantly expedited engraving time. We placed the bases in one by one and let the laser tool do its magic. I’d never used such a thing and was fascinated by it:
Here are the finished bases prior to painting:
I wanted to inspire the champion in all of them, so I painted the bases gold. More than a representation of a medal though, it’s a representation of personal victory that impacts all areas of life.
Before gluing them to the bases, I wrote a secret message for each one, kind of like a time capsule. Unless the owls break, the players will never know what the message is 😉
After attaching the owls to their bases, I placed the grass around them with tweezers. The “grass” is standard model train set grass that you’ll find at most craft stores.
A little bit of varnish to protect them, and voila! Some close-ups of individual owls after everything was painted and set:
And the whole “team” including Head Coach and Goalkeeper Coach (the one with the wing mitts):
You have no idea how I felt after making these – there was a deep sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment. I’d never made so many owls like this before! Seeing them sitting next to me on my desk filled me with joy. I had once again created something that came alive out of a simple idea and a ball of clay and paint. I love this feeling.
Now, as part of my authentication process, I have certificates that I issue for each handmade gift. So I printed, numbered and signed a Certificate of Owlthenticity for each one:
Next, I needed to find a way to get them to the team. I finished making this after the WWC had concluded, so I did a little sleuthing and started to email the coaching staff.
I’ll be very honest with you – this part tested my faith that I could engage with someone at this level out of the blue, and actually get through. It was not an easy road at times, but it was well worth it. I had to get over feeling like “the annoying one who keeps emailing” and get comfortable with my personal commitment to do whatever it took for the gift to reach the team. With some patience, trust and determination, I gained traction on email responses.
IT TOOK PERSISTENCE, TEAM EFFORT & ANOTHER LEAP OF FAITH
I was in Colorado at the time I made these owls, and had decided to move to Portland, Oregon. I still had no green light or address to send the owls to yet, so after debating whether to ship them to the center where the team usually holds their training camps in Vancouver, I brought them with me to Portland.
This move was partially inspired by my desire to attend live games and Portland’s excellent women’s soccer team, which CANWNT’s Captain Christine Sinclair (for whom I’d made one of the owls) happens to play for.
My “opening” happened whilst standing in line at Providence Park for the 2015 NWSL final, where I made friends with some Portland Thorns supporters. I took another leap of faith and showed one of them a photo of the CANWNT gift set, and asked if she could help me get this to the team. Sara jumped at the idea of helping out and sent a message to one of the player’s mothers whom she knew. I got great feedback, and…
Suddenly, whether it was through this avenue or divine intervention or my email persistence, I received an email from the CANWNT team’s manager with an address to send the owls to.
I put each one into its individual gift box and labelled it accordingly:
Artfully packed them into their box to ship them to Canada (about 4 months after I’d made them):
And with a glowing heart, I sent the CANWNT owls North…
In all, this inspired gift took about 500 hours between making, painting, drying, touching up, preparing to ship, and coordinating where to ship them to. The time I spent making the owls is a drop in the ocean compared to how much the team and staff put into training, travelling and playing. This is simply me doing my part to thank and support their dreams and vision.
It took time, effort, faith and an unexpected team to help me achieve my mission.
Now, I know the team received them soon after, and I know there are photos of this. I just don’t have those (yet). I recently got a chance to introduce myself to Captain Sinc at a Thorns event and put a face to the person who’d made the owls for her and the team, and I was touched when she said they were cute. I really appreciate that.
But… what really matters is that they received the owls, and hopefully they’re serving as further inspiration to each of the players, whether they’re still active in the game or have moved onto other things because some retired since then.
Most of all, I thank them for the inspiration to create this team gift. It’s as though someone kicked an invisible ball of inspiration my way, and I chose to play it back. I love that.
You never know when inspiration will show up, or where it will take you. Making those owls actually led me to Portland where I personally found a deeper connection to community and purpose. The key is to follow our inspiration with curiosity and childlike wonder. That’s where all the fun and beautiful things in life come from.
Here’s to YOUR beautiful life.