Pacific Beach resident publishes book featuring whimsical ocean creatures
Author Shaun Donovan was inspired by his love of surfing and the environment
Buoyed by those around him, Pacific Beach resident Shaun Donovan is riding his creativity into authorship.
Donovan has written, illustrated and self-published his first book, “Seapoodles,” a collection of drawings and poems.
“Seapoodles,” published in May, contains 50 marine creatures doodled by Donovan over eight to 12 months. Each creature comes with a poem intended to teach children about the creature and encourage ocean conservation.
The book begins with Bob the poodle (based on Donovan’s own dog, a sharpei-boxer mix also named Bob) noticing a lot of beach trash and dreaming of a “seapoodle” — a dolphin with curly hair.
Bob learns about other sea creatures — each with poodle-like hair — and how to help clean the beach. He passes along the information to readers with poems like “anemones are the flower of the seas/using their stingers to get what they please.”
Donovan, a member of the Windansea Surf Club, said he grew up surfing and competed in the sport since he was a young teenager.
Donovan said he and his father would drive to the best waves multiple times a week from their Rancho Bernardo home.
He started surfing at age 6, introduced to the sport by his father. The 2005 Rancho Bernardo High graduate recalled that back then there was no direct route to the beach from their home.
“There wasn’t the 56 West yet, so we had to go the long way,” he said. “When I got my license I used to drive on the dirt roads through 4S Ranch when nothing was built yet.”
A friend gave him a gate code so he could cut through a Rancho Santa Fe neighborhood to reach Encinitas, Donovan recalled.
The other routes for them were to get on State Route 52 to La Jolla or drive around Lake Hodges.
No matter the journey to the beach, one thing was consistent. His parents, Charla and Matt Donovan, “would always be really hard on me about picking up trash” at the beach, he said.
That served as the impetus for the theme of Donovan’s book, as illustrated by one of the final pages: “Surfers have a radical thing they say/‘Leave the beach better than you found it that day!’”
The book originated from Donovan’s drawings for his friends. He moved back to Pacific Beach earlier this year, but during much of the COVID-19 pandemic he was living in La Jolla. That was when Donovan befriended Windansea neighbors Cliff Brinser, Matt Donoghue, Mikko Fleming, Jake Luther and Ryan Miller, who formed a band.
They named the band Seapoodle, a nickname for Fleming, who wraps a shirt around his head after surf sessions, with the sleeves “flopping like ears,” Donovan said.
The band asked Donovan, who also creates artworks based on commissions, to come up with Seapoodle’s mascot.
Donovan, who said he likes “drawing trippy, funny-looking characters,” doodled a dolphin with poodle hair.
“I always knew Shaun did really amazing art; he’s so talented,” Donoghue said. “He manifested this (seapoodle) out of his head. It’s so whimsical.”
The seapoodle became the band’s emblem, printed on posters and merchandise and promoted when the band plays at spots such as Beaumont’s or Nautilus Tavern in La Jolla.
Donovan then created sea creature doodles for everyone in the band.
Donoghue, who is tall, became a walrus; Miller, the drummer, morphed into an octopus; Luther, with his penchant for fitness, became a hammerhead; and Brinser, “a mellow, chill person,” became a turtle, Donovan said.
Donovan then developed landscapes and a world for the characters to live in, adding them to band posters, Donoghue said.
“There’s such a hilarity and humility to the characters,” Donoghue said. “They look all inviting, and the color palette is sensational.”
Donovan turned the creature doodles into a book with the support and help of his girlfriend, fellow Windansea Surf Club member Gayla Berkefelt, and friends and family members.
The book swelled to include 50 creatures with the poems Donovan said are inspired by the work of Dr. Seuss — the late Theodor Geisel, who lived in La Jolla.
He taught himself how to transition the drawings and rhymes to book format using graphic design, and he watched YouTube videos to learn the process for self-publishing.
Donaghue said the “Seapoodles” book is “remarkable, witty and clever. I think it’s going to do really well.”
Donovan said the book combines two of his loves — the ocean and sea creatures.
According to Donovan it is a bit ironic he has written a book since as a youth he read as little as possible.
“I never actually read books, but read the CliffsNotes in high school,” Donovan said. “I’m a visual learner and had no attention span for books.”
“Seapoodles” is available on Amazon for $29.99 (hardcover) and $4.99 (Kindle) at amzn.to/3aWS55g. It is also sold at some businesses in Pacific Beach, such as West End Bar, and in La Jolla, including Mitch’s Surf Shop and Bird Rock Surf Shop.