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How Two Artists Are Saving The Ocean With A Children’s Book

“If we can arm future generations with the mindset that the planet is a valuable and singular thing, and that we need to be proactive about stewarding our relationship with it, we can prepare ourselves by raising generations that are defenders of this earth.”

About the Creators

Casson Trenor (the writer) and Caia Koopman (the illustrator) are creating a children’s book about ocean conservation, and they are sharing each step of the way on Patreon. Located in different cities with entirely different backgrounds, Caia and Casson are joining forces to accomplish one mission: to make this world a better place.

Their story is called Umijoo. It’s the tale of a girl who lives on an island and feels disconnected from the ocean. It’s a children’s book, but like most Pixar movies, it’s also written to be touching and applicable to all ages. During a visit to the Patreon offices in San Francisco, Casson explains:

“I think the real theme of the book is that it’s very much an environmentalist’s story: it’s a story about the relationship between human beings, the ocean, and how important it is for us to take responsibility for that in this day and age when we as a species are so powerful on a global scale. We’re making changes to the planet whether or not we want to, so this is an opportunity to reach future generations and talk to them about why it’s important to change it in a thoughtful way.”

Caia and Casson met when they were both involved in a large-scale street art project designed to raise awareness of overfishing, marine dumping, and similar ocean conservation issues. Although the street art project itself did not come to fruition, it created the space for them to meet one another, exchange ideas, and develop an understanding of one another’s work. Umijoo is the result of the two doubling-down on their mutual vision and commitment to environmental outreach.

But before this project began 4 years ago, Casson never would have pictured himself writing a children’s book. His background is in ocean conservation and direct action environmentalism. Casson spent time in Antarctica on anti-whaling ships, and hunting tuna pirates on illegal fishing campaigns. That lead him on a path creating change in the seafood (specifically sushi) industry, where he focused on opening sustainable and vegan sushi restaurants (like Tataki and Shizen in San Francisco) and creating viable options to destructive conventional seafood practices. Casson explained that the idea for Umijoo came to him in one grand realization while sitting at a restaurant in San Francisco. There are two reasons why the idea of this book came to him:

“Over the years I came to believe (1) that art is one of our best vehicles to inspire people about conservation, and (2) that children are an incredibly important audience if we want to create new, impassioned agents who are dedicated to protecting the planet. Umijoo is my next step in the evolution of this work.”

Caia, on the other hand, has been painting for over twenty years. Living in the coastal town of Santa Cruz, California, her involvement in the skate, surf, and tattoo culture was a main driver for her personal style. And, being a dedicated environmentalist, a conservation motif has become more incorporated into Caia’s paintings over time.

“The current crisis facing our planet demands action from all of us, and I believe the most effective thing I can do to help is to paint on behalf of a better world and a brighter future. Children are absolutely crucial to conservation and I’m very excited to be focusing on a project like Umijoo.”

Our interview with Caia and Casson resulted in an outpouring of advice for other creators and activists — it’s so good, we felt guilty keeping it to ourselves.

Here are 4 important lessons that Caia and Casson have learned on their journey to bring Umijoo to life.

1. Don’t wait to rally support, even if it’s a long term project.

Caia and Casson do not fall into the category of quick-paced “content creators,” and they don’t always have new content to share with their patrons each week. Sometimes one of Caia’s paintings can take several weeks to finish. But the long-term nature of their work didn’t stop them from launching a Patreon page and spreading the word about Umijoo. As a result, they’ve fostered an impassioned community at very early stages of their project.

“Patreon has been our primary income vector as we aren’t really in a position to monetize our product yet. The book still has a ways to go before it is something that you can actually hold in your hand or purchase in a bookstore. This is one of the primary reasons that Patreon has been so valuable — because we were able to engage with it relatively early in our process. It allows for three important processes simultaneously: raising funds, exchanging ideas, and developing community. Patreon is precisely what we needed to take Umijoo to the next level of development.”

2. When the going gets tough, don’t forget that you can make a difference

Inspiring awareness for ocean conservation is the goal for Caia and Casson, but there’s a long road ahead of them before their story arrives on bookshelves. Casson admits that avoiding burnout is the biggest challenge they face as creators. Their project demands a tremendous investment from both of them. For any creator working on a long-term project like Umijoo, the key is to stay the course and remember that many other people share your vision.

“As conservationists, these are difficult times. It seems like our entire planet is under threat more than ever before. Hearing the decisions that are being made by political leadership regarding our planet’s future can be distressing, and that makes it hard to buckle down sometimes. In these moments, we try to focus on the idea that all of these crises facing humanity right now are opportunities for growth. There are people out there that are passionate about solving each and every one of these problems. If we trust one another to be strong, and to follow our hearts, we will each rise up to meet the specific challenge that we are meant to overcome.”

When I asked Casson why he wrote this story for children, the impact of this book became even more apparent.

“All the work that I’ve done has lead me to believe that there are certain groups that are crucial for us to reach if we really want to create change on this planet, and if we want to shift our collective mentality to a more responsible way of looking at this earth. We can reach anyone if we try hard enough, but there’s a way to make it easier. One of those ways is to reach people at an age when they’re inclined to learn. We grow to a certain age when learning takes more and more work, but for children, it’s much more natural. If we can arm future generations with the mindset that the planet is a valuable and singular thing, and that we need to be proactive about stewarding our relationship with it, we can prepare ourselves by raising generations that are defenders of this earth.”

3. Your patrons will hold you accountable for your best work

Caia and Casson decided to launch their Patreon page in early November of 2016. Since then, their fans continue to supply new ideas and perspectives that help them make Umijoo better. The input they receive on Patreon often times helps them identify ways to more effectively express their message.

“There was a community focus that Patreon brought to the table, that we really wanted. Umijoo is more than a book for us – it’s a beginning. We want the Umijoo story to be an experience and a guiding light for any number of people that want to carry this message forward. We thought, if we could use Patreon to build a community early, and to have a place to bounce ideas off of people that share our vision, then we would be in a much better position. Patreon offered that because we now have this group of people who are involved in an ongoing way. Every month when they see a payment confirmation from Patreon, they have to ask themselves ‘does this still matter to me.’ That has placed a sense of urgency on us, to make it matter…to make the project stronger and the message better. For Caia, it helped her feel the urgency to bring this character to life in her painting. Patreon has been absolutely invaluable in this regard. I don’t know if we would have made it this far without our patrons.”

4. Collaborate

After our interview, I thought to myself how the collaboration between Caia and Casson is a beautiful story within itself. These two creators have joined forces to finish a project that neither one of them could complete on their own. And together, their creative work will educate future generations to care for the planet they both cherish so dearly.

“Find someone who you admire: someone has different skills and talents from yours, but who shares the same vision of a better world. Tell them so. Team up to make that vision a reality. Create space for one another. Teach each other. Support each other. Be prepared to be wrong a lot. Be prepared to be frustrated a lot. And be prepared to be part of something special. Two people can create something that’s bigger than just the two of them together… as Umijoo might say, sometimes one and one makes three.”

Read more about Umijoo, Caia and Casson on their Patreon page, here: 

Umijoo on Patreon