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Dashing the BookDash

I was first introduced to the @BookDash by my drawing lecturer at university, she had just participated in a BookDash and like any good student - I aspired to join it as well!

Unfortunately, over recent years there was always something that got in the way - either I working and missed the application deadline or was away and couldn't attend! Luckily, this year they hosted a virtual meet! And I was lucky enough to join! What an incredible experience! I am so grateful to the team for giving me this opportunity.

If you're not familiar with the @BookDash, it's an organization in Cape Town, South Africa that creates books for young readers in their own language. In South Africa, we've got 11 official languages! Many young readers never get the chance to read books in their own language. It is so important for a young reader to learn how to read in their home language and to experience owning a book that is theirs alone.

How it works

On the day of the dash, you're teamed up with a Writer, Designer, Illustrator and an Editor. A draft story has already been written and as the Illustrator, I received it a week or so in advance, to work on rough character sketches and colour palette.

Once the introductions are all made in the team, we dash off and make a very rough storyboard, by rough...I mean...super rough! Heads looking like apples and stick men to the max! But it works. I had an amazing designer in my team, who was able to make sense of the storyboard, guide me and offer valuable advise as this was her 8th @BookDash!

From there, I dash off again and illustrate a spread every 40 minutes! The first 40 minutes were really tricky for me because I was so anxious and stressed about the character and colours! But it all came together and eventually I settled into a routine. By the third illustration, I found a rhythm and just got stuck in!

The story was about a little boy, Rekai who only ate pancakes, he refused to eat anything else! So his mum thinks of a plan to get him eating vegetables and fruit! In the end, Rekai gets to eat his pancakes and veggies!

When I first read the story, I researched the name, colours and created a mood board. Exploring different facial expressions and body language. According to my research - I thought the name Rekai was of Hindu origin....but once I had a chat with the writer, I realized it was Shona. I had about 20 minutes to adjust and make the shift. She kindly sent me some images of her son, who was the inspiration behind the story.

Throughout the day, the writers rewrite the story, editing it to create the final version. The designer and illustrator have to roll with the changes and make it work!

We were advised to illustrate very simply, not to add too much detail or texture because of the nature of the event (40 minutes per spread). Many of the books are used in schools, and teachers would often make photocopies of the book. Keeping this in mind and reflecting on my own school years - our teachers used to photocopy books upon books. It makes it so much more accessible to learners, so this was really important to me. Another important aspect of the book was that the book should be able to communicate in households that might not have all the luxurious like a dishwasher!

Finally, many of the African languages have multiple alphabets, which could affect the sentence structure and layout of the book, it was really important to leave enough room/ space for the text.

When it came to style, I decided to illustrate digitally and to use very basic outlines and flat colours. Even though, I prefer working traditionally, digital work is something I want to improve and spend time on. It was a good challenge for me and I feel more confident with my skill set. I still have a very long way to go but it's a start!

Using flat colours helped me save time as well and it compliments the mission of BookDash, to make the books as accessible as possible. I had already planned a colour pallette before the event, I really love bold, vibrant colours and wanted to use colour as a way to contribute to the story.

I decided to illustrate elements that can be incorporated throughout the book. Using my rough sketches as a guide, I drew various vegetables and fruit that could be used to add interest to the pages.

Illustrating continuously, one after the other - was incredibly challenging. It forced me to work bolder, think creatively and to really focus on my method. Sometimes my photoshop files end up looking very many layers named all kinds of crazy! I really had to work in organized manner - no layers called "red spot".

Focusing on one task over the recent years has become quite tricky for me, as I'm a one man band I have to keep track of everything, so when something comes to mind - it's got to go on the list and sometimes I get distracted by that list. It takes serious discipline to really focus but with BookDash, you're working so quickly that you don't have time to get distracted! It's just go - go - go!

Here's a little snippet of our book layout, we worked in this cool program called Invision that allows you to draw and drag spreads as you go! Super handy!

By the time we got to the afternoon, I had a little snooze-fest energy levels just dropped, it's pretty normal but it's nothing that good food and some fresh air can't fix! Note to self - after every spread, stand up and stretch your legs and drink plenty of water! One spread at a time, we eventually got them all in! It truly was an amazing experience and I would do it again in a heart beat!

I would encourage any illustrator to apply for the next @BookDash and if you're a writer or designer join in as well! It's an amazing project and I am so incredibly grateful to the team! Thank you for all your hard work and organization, it was wonderful! Till next year!

Thank you for reading xx

If you're keen to read my book, have a look:


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