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Behind the Scenes: My Illustration Process for Kids Non-Fiction Books

Hi, I'm Anna Lena Feunekes, and today I want to take you behind the scenes of my illustration process for children's non-fiction books. One of my favorite projects to date has been my book Tasty Tales, which combines fascinating food facts and fables with engaging illustrations to captivate young readers. I'll walk you through my process, from initial concept to final artwork, using Tasty Tales as a prime example.

Writing and research

Every illustration begins with thorough research. For Tasty Tales, I needed to immerse myself in the world of food history and culinary facts. I read a variety of sources, from historical texts to modern culinary articles, gathering as much information as possible. I also looked for visual inspiration, browsing through old cookbooks, vintage food advertisements, and contemporary food photography and stories. I author-illustrated Tasty Tales, which meant I wrote the entire book before beginning most of the artwork. This helped me get ideas already for the art, though!

Understanding the subject deeply allows me to create illustrations that are not only accurate but also visually engaging. For instance, one of the chapters in Tasty Tales discusses the origin of pizza. I researched the potential different histories and birthplaces of pizza, its ingredients, and the cultural significance of this beloved dish in different parts of the world.

Sketch sketch!

Once I have a solid understanding of the topic, I start sketching out concepts. This is where the magic begins. I create rough pencil sketches to visualize how each illustration will look. These sketches are very basic, focusing on the composition and the main elements of the scene.

For the pizza chapter, my initial sketches included a queen that is supposed to have been the muse for the pizza margherita, and some sketches for a royal palace interior. I play with different layouts and perspectives until I find the one that best conveys the story.

Feedback and going back

After sketching, I share my concepts with the book’s publisher and editor for feedback. This collaborative step is crucial. They provide valuable insights that help refine the illustrations. Sometimes, they might suggest adding certain details or tweaking the composition to better align with the text.

For the pizza illustration, the feedback was to change the composition slightly to better fit the dimensions of the book, capturing the excitement and joy of making and eating pizza. I revised my sketches accordingly, adding more vibrant elements and playful details.

Details and final art

With the final sketch approved, I move on to creating a detailed drawing. I use fine lines to define the shapes and add intricate details. This step requires precision and patience, as every line contributes to the final look of the illustration.

In the pizza scene, I carefully drew the textures of the scene, the expressions on the characters’ faces, and the background elements that bring the setting to life. This detailed drawing forms the foundation for the final illustration.

Color brings my illustrations to life. I use a combination of traditional and digital techniques to achieve the desired effect. For Tasty Tales, I opted for a vibrant color palette that appeals to children and enhances the playful nature of the book.

I start by applying base colors and then gradually build up layers to add depth and dimension. Shadows, highlights, and textures are meticulously added to create a sense of realism and whimsy - which I bring by using collage and cutting paper bits and painting them. The pizza illustration, for example, features rich reds for the queens clothing, warm browns for the crust, and a stately background that evokes a palace-y atmosphere.

A proper check and final look

The final step involves adding the finishing touches and reviewing the illustration as a whole. I ensure that every detail is polished, and the overall composition is balanced and visually appealing. This is also the time to make any last-minute adjustments based on further feedback.

Once I'm satisfied with the illustration, it's ready to be integrated into the book. Seeing my work come to life on the pages of Tasty Tales was incredibly rewarding. Each illustration is a labor of love, designed to educate and inspire young readers.

These are a few of my fav things

My favourite part about writing and illustrating Tasty Tales was to discover different food cultures and present my takeaway of the entire story collection to the reader: that we are so alike in so many ways, and food is a reminder of our similarities and connections.

You can find Tasty Tales on Amazon: in case you'd like to read the book for yourself! If you like my artwork and want to collaborate on children's book projects together, you can contact me or my agent via my contact page.

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