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- author Jackie French

Friday 7 April 2017

Guest Post: Marjorie Crosby-Fairall on Illustrating Brothers from a Different Mother

I recently had the opportunity to illustrate Brothers from a Different Mother, a lovely new story by master storyteller Phillip Gwynne (Penguin Random House).

Tapir lives in the jungle.
Pig lives in the village.
But when they meet at the waterhole, they discover they are the same in so many ways.
They might even be Brothers from a Different Mother.

While each picture book is unique and demands different illustrative solutions, the process for creating the illustrations remains essentially the same.

For me it begins with brainstorming, which is a bit like getting your emotional responses down in shorthand form. This can include word lists or scratchy little scribbles that are essentially meaningless to anybody else. The process is an outpouring. Basically, I put down on paper any ideas that I think will highlight the emotions, structure or theme of the book.

Character Studies

I filled up pages and pages with character sketches—little scribbles of pigs and tapirs—trying to capture some personality, expressive gestures and body language. 

In Brothers from a Different Mother the two characters discover that they are the same in many ways, so I explored visual ways that I could express “same but different”.

These early character sketches are pretty scratchy and most are discarded, but a few made it almost unchanged into the final illustrations.


Once I have a general idea of my characters, it’s time to put them through their paces. I filled up my notebook with miniature scribbles for the page layouts, rapidly scratching, exploring and discarding. At this stage I try to turn off the part of my brain that self edits and gets caught up in detail.

I create lots of the little scribbles until I get closer and closer to how I might treat the book as a whole. I keep the sketches small and loose to keep the ideas fluid but as a bonus it’s much easier to discard ideas if I haven’t invested much time or emotion in them.

Once I am happy with my ideas for the page layouts I pull them into a storyboard format that I can show to the publisher and art director. These are still very tiny and loose but I work proportional to the final book size and include placeholder text so that I know they are solid solutions—or at least a jumping off point for negotiations!

For Brothers I played with ways to mirror and bookend the characters to underpin the “same but different” theme and to echo the rhythm of the text.

From Roughs to Final Artwork.

The illustration process begins with an impressionistic and emotional response that is slowly refined. After the initial burst of intuition and emotion, it is time to engage the analytical brain and make design decisions that hopefully best communicate the story.

The small storyboard roughs provide a road map for the book but it is process of refinement. I had continuous feedback from my editor and designer at Penguin and we worked closely to finesse the storytelling, page layouts and typography.

 Once I had approval on the page layouts I advanced to value studies. This is an essential stage in planning the illustration but it is still pretty loose. I block in the basic lights and darks, in this instance using contrast and silhouette to highlight the important story telling focal points.

For this particular illustration I had the opportunity to contrast the shadowed and enclosed jungle with the open expanse of field in the village. The characters are sitting isolated on the page, backs to each other in poses which are “the same but different”.

When creating the illustrations for a picture book I take my cue from the major themes, or emotion or the structure of the words. I know that Phillip carefully chose and edited each word to tell the story of Brothers from a Different Mother and it’s only fair that I try to apply that same level of craft to create the illustrations.

Marjorie Crosby-Fairall is an award-winning illustrator whose books include Brothers from a Different Mother (Penguin Random House), One Christmas Eve (Black Dog Books, and imprint of Walker), Mrs Dog (Five Mile Press), The Croc and the Platypus (Walker Books) and My Little World (Omnibus, an imprint of Scholastic). She was awarded the CBCA Eve Pownall Award for her first picture book Killer Plants (Penguin). She lives in Sydney and works as a freelance illustrator undertaking an eclectic range of projects, including illustrations for educational publishers, trade book publishers, and magazines.  www.crosby-fairall.com
Here's the books trailer to inspire you.