The Ways Of The Wolf – Illustration Process

With all of the final artwork from my new book ‘Ways Of The Wolf’ completed and with the publisher (Wren & Rook), I have permission to share a little bit of it. So, I thought I’d write up how one of the spread illustrations was created, from sketch to final artwork.

As the illustrator for a children’s book, the first thing you receive from the publisher is the manuscript and any art notes that the Editor wants you to be aware of.

After a good read, I start sketching and gathering reference material. The Ways of the Wolf is a non fiction book and so, although my work is stylised to a degree due to the materials I use, everything in the book has to be accurate.

I’ll scribble a few ideas down very loosely and once I’ve settled on what I think would make a good composition, I’ll send a less scribbly sketch to my Editor. I try to do this quite quickly and only send one, rather than a bunch of ideas for the spread. I find that this makes the whole process more efficient, as the Editor can give quick feedback on my initial thoughts that in turn gives me a lot of information on how best to steer the direction of the artwork.

Here’s the first sketch that I sent in (I usually throw a bit of quick Photoshop colour on to the drawing too, just to give an indication of the lighting and mood):


The feedback that I received was that we were too tight in on the wolves and that we needed to show more of the beautiful habitat in which they live.

A note on feedback: Never dismiss feedback! It’s fine to push back and express your views in a respectful way if you feel strongly about the direction of an illustration, but Editors know what they are doing and they will probably know far more than you do about the market. When working with a good Editor or Art Director (as I was on this book), be open, as their thoughts and feedback will always elevate the Illustrations.


This approach was approved, but my Editor wanted me to pull back even further so that the wolves weren’t so much of the main focus, really planting them in their environment.

Here’s what we decided on and this is pretty much as detailed as I get with client roughs. I’m lucky that I work with clients who trust me and my medium – occasionally, I’ll draw up some of the details more accurately to work from, but I generally work out the details as I cut and paste my scanned textures in the final collage stage:


Approved, with just a little note from my Editor to give a little more room for text.


And so, here it is, the final artwork for the spread:



Sometimes, I’ll add a few extra elements in to the piece that weren’t in the sketch. Elements that perhaps tell a story or add another dimension. See if you can spot this little guy below in the finished spread above.


I’m very proud of this book (I’ve loved wolves since I was a little kid) and have loved working with the lovely people at Wren & Rook. I’ve just signed the contract for the next book in our series too and can’t wait to tell you what the subject of this one will be!!!

‘The Ways Of The Wolf’ will be published in October 2017 by Wren & Rook.

Working on this project also inspired the first pin in my wildlife Pin Club series too – click the image below to learn more about my enamel pin series and to sign up to the club.

Wolf pins will be shipping out to club members and pre-purchase customers in the first week of February.


4 Responses to The Ways Of The Wolf – Illustration Process

  1. Jonathan, loved reading about your process. I’ve just finished my first book (due for publication this summer). The main character is a Wolf! I’ve just ordered a wolf pin to celebrate both our wolf books!
    You won’t remember but you have given me bits of advice over the years and I love your work. I always enjoy receiving your newsletter too!

  2. Hi Nicola, I do remember and that is great news re. your first book – congratulations. Thank for the kind words about my work and for your wolf pin badge purchase too!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this insight into your working process. This is such a beautiful image, it has such a powerful atmosphere and depth to it.
    I’m new to your blog, so I”m sorry if you get this asked all the time, but is this a combination of handmade collage and digital?

  4. Thanks very much for the kind words Ellie and no problem re. asking your question.

    Due to the nature of client work and amendments needed, most of the wolf book was digital collage. I use the same technique in Photoshop as I do with paper and scissors, but by scanning textures from magazine, I have an endless supply of a particular texture which is vital when I have multiple images of the same creature to create. I can also move things around when done digitally too, so it’s much easier to make changes required by the publisher.

    I do still try to incorporate some cut paper collage in to the digital work because I love working that way. With this particular illustration, the silver birch trees were all created with cut paper and glue.

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