ILLUSTRATION KNOWHOW Backgrounds with a hint of fantasy

Engaging settings are crucial in picture books.

 Niki Leonidou offers some tips on making scenery sing.


This is one of my favourite parts in an illustration. Backgrounds. So many things can be shown in a background. The mood of the hero, the atmosphere of the whole scene, if this is the real world or a fantasy one, so many details and information can be portrayed in the background, no matter how simple.

I like fantasy worlds which do not differ a lot from the real ones, I like for example working on a forest that has a hint of magic like the one below. 

This is the story of a bear with anger control issues. I decided to place it in a forest where colors and shapes are slightly different from a typical forest. I did a bit of colour combination research and a few experiments with shapes and patterns before starting.


Here the hero has a long journey far from home. It is night so colours are more specific. I decided to add a pattern to make it richer and more interesting. If this scene was taking place in Africa or India for example, I would definitely have worked on some patterns from those places to indicate that.

Here is another scene where trees have different shapes. Trees can be square, round, triangle or even like stars. This can be explored more and have trees which have the shape of fish, animals etc. The list is endless! 


This can be achieved even in b+w images. Here patterns help a lot but can still give a fresh and happy atmosphere and a hint of a magical world.


Research online helps a lot. Also, a simple walk at the local park can inspire me. What if the grass was orange instead of green, long and tall and the sky purple? Change the colours and the shapes, take pictures or draw sketches. Combine these together and see what comes up.

The result is sometimes very surprising!!


Niki Leonidou has been an illustrator since 2001 with more than 180 books with her work published worldwide, including Greece, the US and UK. Her picture book, Looking for Misty, both written and illustrated by her, was nominated for the Keycolours Award for Best Picture book Concept in Belgium, 2014. Find her on Twitter at @NikiLeonidou



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