NNFN: Illustrating innovative Non-Fiction – a guest post by Petr Horáček

petrhoraceknewToday’s guest post comes from illustrator Petr Horáček

Petr Horáček trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague before becoming a graphic designer, painter and author-illustrator. His titles ‘Strawberries Are Red’ and ‘What Is Black and White?’ won the Books for Children Newcomer Award in 2002. Today he shares with us his experience of illustrating the sumptuous non-fiction poetry book, A First Book of Animals, written by Nicola Davies.


Animals feature in all the picture books I’ve written and illustrated. But unlike A First Book of Animals, the animals in my picture books can talk and do things that a human can do.


My publisher, Walker Books, knows that I like drawing and painting animals and in the past we have talked about the possibility of doing a non-fiction book. Great, I would love to do non-fiction, just give me a nice book to illustrate, I thought, but it took a long time before they found me a perfect text.

It turned out that waiting was good. One day the publisher told me that there’s a chance to illustrate a book for Nicola Davies!

I was so excited! I knew that Nicola is a great writer and that she knows almost everything about the animal world, but I also knew how successful and beautiful the previous book called A First Book of Nature was. It was a challenge.


As soon as I saw the text I knew that this is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. A book with more than fifty pictures of animals of different varieties and species and, what’s more, a book with a beautiful and inspiring text.

I remember starting to sketch the book on the train on the way home.


Of course I started with the animals I thought I knew the best, for example the elephants. As soon as I got home, I looked at the internet just to be sure that I hadn’t missed anything important about elephants and to my surprise I realized that there is so much I didn’t know! My work started there.


I first sketched the animals as I remembered them. I believe that somewhere in my head I’ve already the “simplified” version of a particular animal. Then I did the research, looking at the images of the animal, watching videos. The only problem with researching the animal world is that I got stuck watching films and reading more and more. One needs to get on with the work at a certain point.

“Getting on with the work” wasn’t too difficult after all. Nicola’s text was so inspiring and so well written, that I practically saw the animals jumping in front of me.


What was particularly nice about illustrating A First Book of Animals was the fact, that each spread and each animal was different and I had all the freedom I needed to try different techniques and different approaches.

Painting animals living under the water I used wax crayons and watercolours, for some animals I used collage and mono print, I drew and painted… I used every single technique, materials and the skills I have.


To be honest I did most of the sketching in one go and not many pictures changed but stayed faithful to the original ideas and sketches. I had so much pleasure and so much fun working on A First Book of Animals.

Nicola’s beautiful text in the book is not just fun to read, but it’s also full of interesting and hugely inspiring facts.


I believe that illustrating non-fiction books such as A First Book of Animals can also educate children in art and inspire them to draw and paint themselves.

Since the book was published Nicola and I did a couple of talks and events together. Nicola talks about animals, reads the poems and I’m trying to catch up and paint the animals on the stage. It’s always great fun and looking at the children’s faces during these events I have a feeling, that we, together with our publisher, did something right.”


Our thanks go to Petr Horáček for today’s post. Visit Petr at www.petrhoracek.co.uk, or follow him on Twitter @PHoracek.


A First Book of Animals by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Petr Horáček, is out now in hardback, £14.99.

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