My Illustrated Book Marriage Proposal

After over 5 years together, I proposed to my girlfriend Chantal on New Year’s day, 2010. It was a long time coming, and a long time in the making. The hardest part about proposing to her wasn’t making the decision that I wanted to marry her, it was coming up with a way to do it! I wanted to do something creative and also have something  we can look back on to remember how it happened.

Collier's Cyclopedia, circa 1883

I had a lot of different ideas but in the end I decided to write and illustrate a magical little  story for her that revolved around a story of the ring. So of course I had to find the ring first, and I found an incredible 100 year old brass ring with an art nouveau design carved into a piece of red coral, a great ring to write a story about. I make it sound simple, but I searched for the perfect ring for about 8 months.

A Coral Arrangement

I wrote a few drafts of the story and come up with the title  A Coral Arrangement.  After I sketched out which images would go with which pages I illustrated 22 drawings to go with the story. I worked secretly over about 2 weeks to get the book done before heading to Ottawa for New Year’s Eve. I had decided I wanted to propose in the New Year and get 2010 off to a great start.

It’s tricky to work on a project like this when you work side by side with someone all day long (our drafting tables are right next to each other).  Thankfully even if she did sneak a peak or catch a glance she didn’t know exactly what I was working on and I pretended it was a Christmas present I was making for her.

Red Coral

Finding coral on the beach

A glossy ibis promises a great gift

Foxes appear on the beach

Caribou also come to the beach

Sunken treasure

A ring is hidden inside a book within a turtle shell

The brass ring is made from sunken ships

The last page reveals a flap

Instead of binding a book myself I found a beautiful old book called Collier’s Cyclopedia of Social and Commercial Information. The book was perfect. It was printed in 1883 and was filled with amazing illustrations. I scanned my illustrations and designed the layout in InDesign before printing the pages and gluing them into the Collier’s book. I felt terrible doing this to such an incredible book but it was really the perfect book for the job.

For the final touch to the book I decided to cut a hole inside to hide the ring. When the story ends there is one final illustration with a fold up flap that opens to reveal the ring hidden inside (that’s my cue to propose). I cut down about an inch into the book after gluing the pages together with an acrylic painting medium. It worked perfectly and from the side you’d never know there was a ring hidden inside.

The coral ring revealed within the book

On January 1st of this year after taking the dog for a snowy walk I presented Chantal with the book. As she read through the story and looked at my drawings I tried to guess if she knew how it was going to end. She flipped through slowly and I prepared my words when she got to the final page with the flap. I wish I could remember exactly what she said when she saw the ring and I proposed but I all I can remember is a very happy face and an excited reaction, and that her answer was something similar to “yes.”

Needless to say, for those of you who know us, we’ll be getting our invitations printed with Papillon Press.

46 thoughts on “My Illustrated Book Marriage Proposal”

  1. Allison Rinkel
     ·  Reply

    What a beautiful and thoughtful proposal! Congratulations to you both. I hope you share a very happy and fun life together!

  2. Naomi Dunphy
     ·  Reply

    Hey Joel,
    Congratulations to you both. What an amazing proposal.
    ~ Your cousin

  3. Memere
     ·  Reply

    to two of my favorite people

    What a great idea. It most certainly will be a wonderful memory many years away. Maybe 60???

  4. Aunt Tricia
     ·  Reply

    Congratulations Joel and Chantal
    May your life be filled with joy, love, abundance and good health.

    All the Best
    Aunt Tricia

  5. Chelsey
     ·  Reply

    WOW! joel that’s so cool! Congrats!!!

  6. Wendy Santo
     ·  Reply

    Spectacular! The whole process would be unbelievable to anyone who doesn’t know you.

  7. Colleen Williams
     ·  Reply

    Fabulous. Fabulous and romantic and creative and wonderful.

  8. Nerdette
     ·  Reply

    exquisitely wonderful!

  9. Sophia
     ·  Reply

    So perfect! I’m sending my boyfriend to you for proposal lessons

  10. Marian Schembari
     ·  Reply

    What a creative, unique and fabulous story! And great that it totally reflects your personalities… Congratulations to you both!

  11. joelkimmel
     ·  Reply

    Thanks so much for all the compliments!

  12. Marie
     ·  Reply

    That is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing that with us, and CONGRATULATIONS!

  13. Paulina
     ·  Reply

    This is so beautiful! Congratulations!

  14. Diana
     ·  Reply

    Needless to mention the highly original, tasteful and heart rending proposal….that ring is so stunning, I can’t even handle it. Well done!

  15. sorcha
     ·  Reply

    Such a romantic story, you really are so sweet! I wish I was a guy so I could think up a proposal as amazing as yours (yes I am too traditional by thinking the guy always proposes!) Good luck to you guys 🙂

  16. Laura Ingalls Gunn
     ·  Reply

    Oh my eyes grew all misty. A man who goes to such lengths for the perfect proposal will make an excellent husband.
    Trust me on this. I have my own hidden ring story and 13 years later we are still very much in love and blissfully happy. May you be as blessed.

  17. Snor scooter
     ·  Reply

    If only more people could see it this way. Would make things a lot better for sure!

  18. adeleine
     ·  Reply

    The most romantic thing I have ever seen. Congratulations.

    And you live in Sudbury! I lived there for 4.5 years. Next trip I’ll be sure to check out Papillon Press.

  19. krista
     ·  Reply

    So incredibly romantic and creative (and the ring is gorgeous). Lucky, lucky girl!

  20. Shara
     ·  Reply

    I think the book would be very happy to have had such a special purpose

  21. Heidi & Kevin
     ·  Reply

    I just happened to stumble upon you’re site… Amazing illustrations.. AWESOME proposal!!! If you need a wonderful photographer for you’re undoubtably creative day… check out Brittany Esther Photography …

    I bet you guys would love her.

    Have a beautiful life together!!! 🙂

  22. carlota
     ·  Reply

    My god, you´ve made me cry!!! I think I have a creative boyfriend, but if he would propose me with that book (that book, my goshhh!!!) I would DIE!

    From spain, a new fan!


  23. Juliana
     ·  Reply

    Joel~I am new to your blog and must say I am crying over here. THat is one of the sweetest things I have ever heard of. You are so creative and this is so special and something she will no doubt cherish forever. Just incredible.

  24. thatsmyfullname
     ·  Reply

    This was Facebooked. Nice story. I wish the two of you all the best.

  25. Donita
     ·  Reply

    Chantal & Joel,


    Joel…your proposal is the most romantic that I have ever heard of! Don’t be surprised if you see your lovely book in a romantic movie soon…better patent this beautiful proposal book soon!
    Did you design the ring? It’s absolutely gorgeous!

  26. Liv
     ·  Reply

    its incredible how much effort you put in this,
    and it really looks beautiful and magical.

  27. Breanna
     ·  Reply

    Oh, man. Now my boyfriend has a lot to live up to, should he ever propose to me. Gorgeous story!

  28. Nick Ramos
     ·  Reply

    Beautiful… and I love that the ring is not traditional… Congrats!

  29. Veronica
     ·  Reply

    Gorgeous idea and execution, what a lucky gal!

  30. gg
     ·  Reply

    sweet proposal!

    nice ring too. i am also an artist/book illustrator from another part of the globe. i also have a beagle similar to peanut (i saw your winter picture)


  31. Andre Nievo
     ·  Reply

    You did an incredible effort there mate. How can you think of ideas like this? Hmmm now I’m challenged…better think of another amazing proposal like this one.

  32. jacklui
     ·  Reply

    how nice is this~^^

  33. mphotographer
     ·  Reply

    This is beautiful! What a lovely imagination…a true artist- Bravo!

  34. Doreen
     ·  Reply

    Congratulation Joel and Chantal on your engagement, I wish you both to have many
    years of love, joy, laughter and good health.
    The story about the ring and book are so beautiful!!!!!
    I had’nt checked you blog for awhile, till tonight, you have alot of lovely new pictures.
    All my best wishes and God’s blessings for you both.
    From your Dad’s cousin.

  35. mireille
     ·  Reply

    To joel and chantal
    Just found the mariage proposal on the computer
    A very creative and romantic way to propose.
    Very happy for the both of you.

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