On Being a Non-Fiction Illustrator

by Claire Goble

This series of non-fiction books are the first children’s books I have illustrated, but my approach to the illustrations hasn’t been very non-fiction-like at all…

‘Why is art full of naked people?’ wasn’t supposed to have any illustrated characters, but early on it became apparent that a character was needed to guide the reader through the book. I drew the artist ‘Twin’ who was anatomically incorrect with large bulging eyes and stick legs. He was a great juxtaposition to the factuality of the book and was an instant hit. His twin sister followed soon after. Having two characters enabled me to explore ideas through their interaction and play. They are a bit of a comedy double act and I had a lot of fun with them. When Thames & Hudson commissioned me for the next two books, it was a natural progression to have the Twins as park rangers, a scientist and a robot. They are like kids dressing up and playing make believe in different worlds.

The illustrations don’t answer the chapter questions, rather the Twins are exploring and trying to figure them out. It’s like a child’s perspective on the question and how they would approach the answer. This encourages the reader to discover the answers for themselves and gives me lots of creative freedom.

Sometimes I do need to draw things properly! In ‘Why don’t fish drown?’ I had to redraw a snake illustration, as I had drawn a very distinct looking boa constrictor when the chapter was all about cobras. I also drew a page full of bees and then panicked that the bees had too many wings. At times my illustrations do need to be accurate!

I work closely with the designer Anna Perotti and we enjoy discussing ideas for the spreads. We want the pages to feel integrated, with text, photos and illustrations all working together as one, as opposed to a more traditional layout. I use a special pen and tablet which allows me to draw straight into the computer. I scan in textures and then piece these together with the drawings in Photoshop.

I absolutely love illustrating non-fiction books and here’s why:

– I enjoy immersing myself in a new world for a few months, be it art, the animal kingdom or science. 

 – Each paragraph of text requires a completely different illustration so I never get bored!

– The books are jam packed full of facts and information and I’m constantly learning new things. I love the fact that eggs aren’t just shaped the way they are to make them strong, but it means that if they roll out of their nest, they roll straight back round to their mummies! I’ve learnt about an amazing phenomenon called bioluminescence where the sea literally lights up at night. I’m also pleased to say that I now finally understand what ‘the cloud’ is! These books are full of questions that grownups secretly want to ask too!

This is a guest post from illustrator Claire Goble and the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG. 


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