In the third part of our illustrator's know-how series on the theme of character, Anna Violet explains her methods for nailing development, consistency, and body posture. 

How does a man crouch to plead with a tortoise? I'll share my working processes in the development of this spread for a young readers' book (The Singing Tortoise, author Kate Scott, publ. OUP 2017). 

I start with lots and lots of very quick sketches. From life if possible, or sometimes from photos taken of me ‘in character’. But I always include a search on the internet. Type in ’man crouching down’, and see how many useful poses come up to sketch from. 

Screenshot of internet search for ‘man crouching down’


Sketchbooks, loose sketches and sketch-collages for ‘The Singing Tortoise’.

I also made a clay model of the tortoise to help me get to know the character in 3D. 

Clay model of tortoise

My characters stay more fluid if I sketch their actions and gestures in very small thumbnails to start with (see below). 

Initial small thumbnails on A4 paper for ‘The Singing Tortoise’.

I enlarge the thumbnails on the computer to actual print-size and overlay with detail paper (layout paper), which is just transparent enough to trace through (see below). Then I can draw the characters more carefully to scale and cross-check consistency with other spreads. I often end up with several layers of collaged detail paper, as I hone the characters. Sellotape and scissors are a must for me. 

Thumbnail, enlarged thumbnail and working up character onto detail paper

Detail paper image on lightbox, ready for cartridge paper overlay

I use a lightbox to trace my characters onto cartridge paper, using dips pens, reed pens, brushes and diluted inks. 

Inked-up cartridge paper on lightbox, ready to be scanned

I also reflect the characters in the mirror, which can work like a fresh pair of eyes, to see if this throws up other inconsistencies that I’ve missed before. Finally, I scan and tweak digitally. 

Anna Violet is a freelance author-illustrator based in Manchester.  
Check her portfolio website here, and her blog here.
Her work is also on the AOI website

John Shelley is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures


  1. Fascinating to see your process! So much attention to detail! Thank you.

  2. Thanks Candy, glad you found it interesting.


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