Every picture tells a story

I thought I’d blog about the process behind my illustrations for the “Tales from the Zali Bukola System” book series this week as I’ve been asked about it a few times lately.

I’ll be using the images from “Zen’s Garden” as an example but it’s a similar process for each of the books.

Firstly, I design each of what I call the story image “elements” – the characters, the environments, other things mentioned in the story etc.

I montage the features and details from black and white pictures of animal wildlife, people and plants to develop each of these elements (and give it an “organic” feeling).

Here are some early attempts I made to develop a look for the character Zen.


And here is the version of Zen that I finally chose for the illustrations. (Zen’s “ears” are actually cheetah paws).

For me, the real beauty of using this montage process to create the images is that I’m not ever able to “second guess” myself. I have ideas and feelings about what the characters and images should eventually look like but even I don’t know exactly what they will look like until I “find’ or draw out the images from the pieces I use. I just keep playing around with images until they feel “right”.

I then create images of the various expressions and poses for each of the characters.

This is Mya wilting…

…and blooming. (Mya’s petals are made from part of a clownfish).

The relevant story elements are then combined to create the main images, with each image helping to tell one particular part of the story.

Colour schemes are then introduced. (Zali coloured in the image below for me. She and I initially had a few creative differences about the colour scheme, but luckily we managed to resolve them in the end).

I use paint, pencils, markers, pastels and crayons to colour the images. Colours are chosen to give the images an emotional "hue' as well as for functional reasons like separating details or highlighting and pulling focus to particular picture elements.

To see more of the images from "Zen's Garden" please take a look at the online preview of the book.

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