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Whitehorse illustrator Tedd Tucker forays into print with alphabet book

The Yukon Alphabet Book features illustrations of Yukon animals and objects accompanying each letter
Whitehorse illustrator Tedd Tucker shows off his new book in Whitehorse on Nov. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

A Whitehorse illustrator has released a children’s alphabet book with a Northern twist.

You may, for example, find that “W” is for “whale,” or perhaps “watermelon” or “worm” in other books meant to teach young ones their ABCs.

In The Yukon Alphabet Book by Tedd Tucker, however, the letter reserved for a bird many Yukoners are familiar with this time of year, and was made nationally famous when Environment Yukon had to set up “drunk tanks” for them a few years ago — the waxwing.

“‘W’ was going to be ‘wolf’ but I really love waxwings,” Tucker said in an interview Nov. 18.

The Yukon Alphabet Book is Tucker’s first foray into the print and publishing world. It’s a departure from his usual work, which primarily exists digitally or, if in a physical format like an event poster or holiday card, is soon discarded and forgotten.

“It’s rewarding,” he said of creating the self-published work.

Whitehorse illustrator Tedd Tucker's new alphabet book has a Northern twist on it. (Crystal Schik/Yukon News)

“… I feel it will be around for longer because, like, I’m a graphic designer and I design ads and stuff but they’re usually around for how long a poster exists at Baked (Café), right? So yeah. It’s been a new experience but great.”

The book leans towards simplicity and minimalism — open it to any given part, and on the left, you’ll find a letter of the alphabet taking up almost the entirety of the page, a white sans serif on a colourful patel background. On the right, you’ll find one of Tucker’s illustrations — bold, colourful, assembled from simple blocks of colour — set against a white background, with a word underneath.

The only sentence in the whole thing is “and now you know your ABCs” printed under a two-page spread of a mammoth, which Tucker only included because the printer required him to either fill two more pages or get rid of two existing pages (books are made out of “signatures,” which basically means pages must be denominations of four).

“I can’t really take two pages out of the alphabet and I can’t add two more letters,” Tucker said he recalled thinking.

“This was like, ‘I need to do two more pages.’ I think it’s just funny to have this huge animal that spreads across two pages, and it’s like, ‘Yeah, your goal’s accomplished, you know it now!’”

Tucker said he started work on the book about a year ago, creating the first dozen or so illustrations for a show at Baked Café. He then spent the next three months building out the drawings for the rest of the letters before spending half a year actually getting the book produced.

Finding something to illustrate for each letter of the alphabet is more complicated than you’d think, according to Tucker, especially when you’re trying to stick with a Yukon theme.

“There was definitely like a spreadsheet with like the letter and then my first idea, second idea, third idea and they definitely changed a lot and bounced around,” he said. “I love drawing animals but they didn’t work for every letter and I also wanted to throw in some other things. Yeah, it took some trial and error and there were definitely multiple versions for some letters.”

Whitehorse illustrator Tedd Tucker reveals the ending to his new alphabet book in Whitehorse on Nov. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

For example, the first thing that popped into his head for the letter A, which he said was actually the hardest letter to sort out, was “aurora,” but having an illustration of the northern lights would disrupt the pattern of the book since they would have to be drawn on a dark background to make sense.

“Trout” was also a contender for the letter “T,” but “salmon” was the illustration for the page before and Tucker wanted to spread out how often different fish, bird and animals appeared.

And although “gold” might seem like an obvious choice for “G” given the significant impact the gold rush had on the Yukon’s history, Tucker ultimately went with “grizzly” instead because “gold’s really hard to illustrate.”

“It’s like, you do a gold wafer or something like that, it just looks like a yellow blob,” he said.

So far, Tucker’s only been to the Spruce Bog craft fair with his books in tow, but he said the response from passersby has been promising.

“A lot of times you work on these projects alone … I work alone in my back studio and I’m just drawing with headphones in for hours so actually like making a connection between my work and people connecting with it is really meaningful,” he said of watching people flip through the book.

Selling at the Spruce Bog did make him realize one thing he hadn’t anticipated, though.

“As a designer, I don’t print a lot and people were asking me like, ‘Can you print and sign the books?’ And I realized how poor my penmanship is, you know?” he said. “Even spelling kids’ names, it’s like, ‘Oh, don’t screw this up, don’t screw this up!’ And librarians are asking me to do school visits, which is something I’ve never done before.

“It’s kind of weird to be at this point in my career and like, ‘Oh yeah, you know, I gotta learn how to do that now, I gotta work on my printing and like talk to assemblies of kids.’”

Tucker will be selling The Yukon Alphabet Book at craft fairs around Whitehorse leading up to Christmas. They’re retailing for $25 each.

Contact Jackie Hong at