Illustrating Non-Fiction

With National Non-Fiction November firmly underway, FCBG are delighted that illustrators (and sisters!) Chaaya and Sandhya Prabhat are here to shed light on the process of illustrating non-fiction.

What do you like best about illustrating non-fiction titles?

Sandhya: I like that at the end of illustrating a non-fiction title, I’ve learnt a lot about the subject of the book. I love wildlife and watching nature documentaries. Illustrating As Large As Life was thrilling as I enjoyed reading the author’s notes on the subjects in the book, and researching them further.

Chaaya: I also loved learning new things while drawing – especially with “Hide-and-Seek History”! When I studied history in school, it was taught in a bland textbook format – because of this I’ve forgotten a lot of the history that I learnt, and it was a refreshing change to be able to see it written down in this exciting format for kids by Jonny Marx, and to be able to illustrate it.

Have you found any particular challenges that come with illustrating non-ficton?

Sandhya: While non-fiction illustrations ought to be accurate in their depictions of the subject matter, they also need to be imaginative in design, composition and colour, to make the pages interesting to read. This challenge makes the process very exciting!

Chaaya: When you’re drawing for fiction, you have a lot of free reign over how you choose to tell a story – an illustrator’s subjective interpretation of a story can sometimes completely change the book, in a good way! What I found challenging about non-fiction was making sure that I was being objective while illustrating – particularly because these books are full of historic facts. But this was a good challenge, and I enjoyed looking up references and learning new things.

What’s your favourite illustration in As Large as Life and The Greeks, and why?

Sandhya: This is too hard to answer because I have so many favourites. I loved drawing some of the really weird and cool creatures in the book like the Axolotl, the Jerboa, the Giant Centipede, the Tapir, the Frigatebird, the Atlas Moth and the Himalayan Monal. These were unfamiliar to me before I drew them, and it was great fun to learn about them as I drew. My favourite spread is the Sumatra spread, because I like how the composition turned out; I could draw different types of terrain, leaves, trees and animals all in the same spread.

Chaaya: My favourite illustration from The Greeks is definitely the Hercules spread – and how each flap tells the story of his 12 labours. It was a really unique way to showcase the stories, in a sort of clock format, which is a great way to mentally map the tale. I learnt so much – I’m actually embarrassed about how many new things I learnt, I do need to brush up my history! I loved the fun facts and the riddles that Jonny included in the text – it was super interesting to read.

Are you working on any more non-fiction titles? If not, what would be your dream non-fiction subject to illustrate?

Sandhya: I had the pleasure of illustrating ‘What Is Racism?’ for children, by Katie Daynes and Jordan Akpojaro published by Usborne. It’s a Lift the Flap book that teaches children what racism is and breaks down the complex subject into bite-sized nuggets. This book has just been released! My DREAM non-fiction subject to illustrate would be anything food-related, 100%!

Chaaya: I am actually working on quite a few non-fiction titles … soon to be revealed!

The Greeks by Jonny Marx and Chaaya Prabhat published by 360 Degrees is available in bookshops.

As Large As Life by Jonny Marx and Sandhya Prabhat, published by 360 Degrees is available in bookshops.

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