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Case Study: Creating Children's Illustrations for Honest History Magazine

Original art I created for Honest History magazine, to adorn the cover of 'A Land Called Oz'


Hello, art and history enthusiasts! Let’s take a look at my creative journey with Honest History magazine. As an illustrator, bringing historical moments to life for young readers is both a privilege and an adventure. Join me as we explore the artwork I created for two of their issues, complete with insights into my process and a peek at the images along the way.

Always a joy to receive publications in which I was a contributor - this one made me proud!

Illustrating Honest History issue 19: A Land Called Oz

For the Australian history issue, I had the pleasure of designing the cover. This piece features two Aboriginal persons: one adorned in traditional face paint and the other in contemporary clothing. They are set against a dynamic backdrop blending Aboriginal-inspired art with landmarks like the Sydney Opera House. The aim was to depict the combination of native culture with modern-day elements. Take a look at the cover image I’ve added to get a sense of the vibrant colours, also frequently used on art and face paint.

In addition to the cover, I illustrated the cover story about the Student Action for Aborigines (SAFA) – a 1960s student activist movement that organised a Freedom Ride. This illustration needed to capture the passion and determination of these young activists. You’ll find the initial sketches and the final piece in the images below.

The activists are gathering with their bus, and carrying their protest signs and banner
An illustration showing a part of life that they were protesting against: keeping aboriginal people from using swimming pools.
Their fight continues to this day - and as such this story felt important to amplify.

Illustrating stories for Honest History 20: From the Battlefront

In another issue, I illustrated two significant historical stories. The first one deals with the internment of Japanese citizens in America during World War II. This story sheds light on the injustices and challenges faced by Japanese Americans during the war. Conveying the emotional depth of this topic was essential.

The second story covers the USS Indianapolis disaster, a harrowing event from World War II. Illustrating the bravery and struggle of the sailors involved in this tragedy required careful attention to detail and sensitivity.

In today’s world, it’s surprising how much the past can resemble our present challenges. These stories felt especially relevant now. They not only gave a glimpse into history but also highlighted ongoing struggles for justice and equality. Learning about these events was both eye-opening and sobering, reminding us why it’s important to understand our past to build a better future.

As an artist, I’m inspired to use my creativity to educate and spark change. Art can express complex emotions and stories in ways that words alone can’t. Through my work, I want to bring these historical stories to life, helping people understand and empathize more deeply. By connecting the past with the present, I hope to inspire a more informed and compassionate world.

I'm really grateful to work with clients that let me explore these themes through art, and share stories from history with art. As a kid, I would have been the target audience for this publication, and it feels really full circle to work on projects like this.

Japanese american citizens were forced to live in camps, where many people remember having to eat food that was very unlike their own cuisine. The processed foods were not very nutritious and hard to stomach.

This illustration depicts people being picked up to be brought to the internment camps.
In this illustration, a japanese american woman is labeled as a threat. I wanted to show her as both innocent as well as defiant - as many people were wrongfully labeled so, just for being the way they are.
Life did go on - in the camps, people made the best of life as much as they could.
Another story was the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. It was attacked by a submarine.
I wanted to capture the intensity of this event, without it being too much for children to grasp in the age group. Still, it makes a frightful scene.

The creative process

My process for creating these illustrations is both structured and creative, ensuring historical accuracy and engaging visuals.

  1. Research: Each project begins with thorough research. I dive into historical texts, photographs, and firsthand accounts to gather a deep understanding of the subject matter. In this project, I was lucky to receive a lot of material from the client as well, sharing both the draft articles as well as the writers' sources for me to scour.

  2. Finding reference images: Gathering reference images is a crucial step. These images serve as a visual foundation for the characters, settings, and elements in the illustrations. I also like to search for images of the countries in the times which the events happened - just to get a sense of what people lived like.

  3. Making sketches: Armed with references, I create preliminary sketches to visualize the composition and layout of the illustration. Check out some of the sketches in the images below.

  4. Making color roughs digitally: Next, I develop digital color roughs. This stage allows for experimentation with color schemes and refinement of the composition before moving on to the final artwork.

  5. Approval from the editor: The digital roughs are then presented to the editor for feedback and approval. This collaborative step ensures the illustrations align with the magazine’s vision and editorial guidelines.

  6. Collage art the final painting: Upon approval, I create the final painting using a mix of cut paper, pencil, and paint. This mixed-media approach adds texture and depth to the artwork.

  7. Finish final details digitally: Finally, I enhance the painting digitally, adding intricate details and making any necessary adjustments to ensure the illustration is polished and publication-ready.

I like to combine my sketches into a word doc and share it, explaining the context that I've discussed with editors.

Working with Honest History magazine has been a rewarding experience. Illustrating stories that educate and inspire young readers about significant historical events is a task I cherish. Each project has allowed me to grow as an artist and storyteller.

I’m excited to continue bringing history to life through my illustrations! Recently I've published my first author-illustrated book on food history for kids, which is called Tasty Tales.

Want more behind-the-scenes?

Do you love getting behind the scenes like this? Consider joining my Patreon! I share my process of writing and illustrating books and client projects, so if you loved this blog, you will definitely love my Patreon!


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