I think every young Illustrator dreams of illustrating a picture book and ever since I realized you can actually do that as a job, it's been in my "dream project jar". Last year, I was presented with the opportunity to illustrate a story written by the talented, Claudia Rudolph. I've been working with Claudia for about three years on her self-published children storybooks for KarooFelt. Assisting with the design layout of the books, when she offered me a chance to illustrate one of her stories. I immediately jumped at the chance of illustrating a children's book!
From there, we started to plan and brainstorm ideas when the lovely Imagnary House, a small publishing house in Cape Town, decided to take us on. I was thrilled and nervous at the same time. Suddenly, it dawned on me - where do I even begin to illustrate this story? When I read the story for the first time, the characters started to form in my mind but bringing that to life is not a easy task to do. I had my work cut out for me.
We were in the height of COVID and lockdown restrictions, it was mentally extremely challenging for me. My flights back to South Africa had been cancelled and I was worried about my family's health. Finding inspiration, motivation and time to work was very tricky, as a part-time freelancer - time is a luxury. This resulted in many late nights or super early mornings.
My experience in illustrating a book was based off short stories or zines, I did as a student and reading picture books! The passion was there, but my knowledge needed a boost. I started to read a lot of guide books or "how to's", Rebecca's Green blogs and The Goodship Illustration were super helpful as well. Learning about other illustrators process really helped me, and made me feel less anxious about doing it the 'right way'. There is no one way to illustrate and I had to trust the process and myself. Thank you to Claudia and Alison from Imagnary House for your patience and guidance throughout.
The character, Maddie was created in my sketchbook using old story books as references, gesture and observational drawings. I spent time sketching humans on the beach or parks, it really helped to get a sense of movement and to relax into my drawing. Another source of inspiration was creating a pinterest board. Although, if I'm honest it was difficult not to play the comparison game when viewing so many other amazing illustrators work. Self-confidence is a slow process and I'm getting there, but it's okay to shield yourself from it sometimes.
Creating a storyboard was really important because I have to know where I'm going with a project. I have to be able to visualize an end goal, sounds odd but it works! Also, the process of ticking off spreads as you move through them is very satisfying and helpful.
I had to send quite a few storyboards and it involved a lot of back and forth. Working as a designer, most of my projects move along quite quickly and I had to adjust to this new delayed process. Where you're waiting for feedback over longer periods, keeping that momentum of creativity and focus going is challenging.
Finding a style for the book was another challenge (this whole book was a challenge, right?) As a young illustrator I'm still not 100% sure what my style is or even if I have a style. I was going back and forth between traditional and digital mediums, cartoony and super abstract. Throw in a whole lot of self-doubt and you've got yourself a book project!
Eventually, I found a rhythm and it started to take shape. Most of the story takes place at night, so I wanted to keep my colour palette quite dark but still wanted those pops of colour. I was inspired by Emily Haworth-Booth, The King who Banned the Dark. I love her use of colour and shape. After many, many ... many trials and errors, spreads after spreads. I eventually settled on a colour palette.
The shadow characters in the book were super fun to draw, but don't think for a second that they didn't go through their own process. I started exploring the shapes using cut out's and there was even a moment when I thought, let's make them like garden shadows, with florals in their bellies! Yes - many weird things I explored! I also explored different mediums, starting off with pencil, neocrayons, pencil paint, blue ink, gouache and colored pencils.
In the end, I settled for traditional medium of gouache and colored pencils, even though I work in digital I was struggling to get the relaxed, textured feel that is so easy to achieve with an actual paintbrush and paint! I know digital illustration speeds up the process and it's easier to revise spreads digitally, but nothing beats the old way! Going ahead, I would love to work on my digital illustration and hope that I can illustrate a book one day, that's entirely digitally (new dream in the project jar).
All in all - illustrating a book is incredibly challenging and pushes you creatively but I wouldn't trade it for anything and am so grateful to Alison and Claudia for this opportunity!
Here is the final book cover. I cannot wait to hold this book in my hands later this year! As soon as they're out, I'll share it! Promise! xx
Thank you for support and for reading xxx