From Idea to Book 2


I first wrote a post with this title about a year ago. I was intending to take you through the lifetime of a book project ‘in real time.’ Each project is different though, and the project I chose is still in its early stages so there isn’t much to report.

So while that’s taking shape, here are a handful of tips and suggestions for anyone thinking of creating a children’s book.

#1 Listen first, draw or write later!

Working on a childrens book? You can learn from listening to young children at their pace. These intelligent, brave people are happy to express their opinions and ideas. Learn to listen first, draw or write later.

This really means know your audience as well as you can. Take them seriously, as seriously as if they were CEOs or leaders. Remember that one day they might be! Find out all you can about child development, for instance. Observe young people and how they interact with others. These insights will inform your ideas.

Find out about how bookstores and publishers sell books for children. Do they aim at the children or the parents? Challenge your own opinions, and others’ about what works and what doesn’t. Most of all remember the books you loved as a child, and more importantly why you loved them.

Astro Girl is Coming…


Here’s an update:

I have a new book coming this summer. I’ve just had one published this spring. Its been a busy year.

Both are quite significant for me. The Flute, and The Drum before it, are the first books where I sought a collaborator for something I could have done myself. When that person is Catell Ronca , learning to let go of a vision and then seeing how someone else can bring it to life and exceed your expectations is a wonderful experience! Collaborations are always rewarding, adventurous and exciting. True teamwork personified, complete with group high fives at the end that mean so much 🙂

The book still to come in a few months is Astro Girl. It had been swirling around my head for many years, and then it took about four years to bring her to life on top of that. It is about equality and determination, really, but its also a set of very real situations that make up the story. You can decide of its good or not, but I’m very excited!

Sometimes you have an idea and you have to choose between doing it now and doing it right. It’s not an easy choice. While the book was being born, life was rolling along in its usual unpredictable fashion, but in the end it seemed to come together quite quickly. I painted with renewed excitement, perhaps that’s why it felt quick. 

For both projects, the underlying confidence in their success was created by carefully planning, not missing a beat with attention to certain details, and doing all the technical things right; sketching and storyboarding; writing freely at first, then slowly crafting a text; asking loved ones and professional associates for their honest opinions and then learning from them; making time to step away from the screen and the drawing board to enjoy the whole experience; being honest but not cruel to yourself about the progress.

Even though many people come together to make a book, everyone of them has to apply themselves to their task like nothing else matters. The end result is always going to be something special.

The Flute and The Drum are out now. Astro Girl is coming in Spring from all good bookshops.  If you can’t find them on Amazon, try Hive (UK), or Indiebound (US).

The language of West African Icons

african, design, idea, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max

Here’s a free download for you to enjoy!

Sometimes you can come up with an idea that doesn’t quite fit its intended audience. What to do? This idea isn’t necessarily new to the world but it might be timely, with Valentine’s Day coming…

Adinkra symbols are used in fabrics and pottery by the peoples of Ashanti Kingdom and Baoulés of Cote d’Ivoire. They are also often seen on walls and doors. Fabric patterns are made by woodcut sign writing and screen printing. Adinkra symbols appear on some traditional Akan goldweights. The symbols are also carved on stools for domestic and ritual use. 

There are many different symbols with distinct meanings, often linked with proverbs. They often conveying a complex body of practice and belief.

If you like this book, let me know by leaving a comment, or sharing it with friends.

Be a voter!

african, design, From the sketchbooks, idea, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, Zimbabwe

I was asked to illustrate a poster designed by Chaz Maviyane-Davies to get people to vote. The first time we worked together on a similar message was back in Zimbabwe when I was knee-high to grasshopper! I made an illustration for a magazine called Moto (meaning ‘Fire’ in Shona) which published a lot of sociopolitical stuff.

So I did the cover, thought nothing about it, and off it went to print. A couple of awards later and I knew a couple, of things; firstly, I was quite good at interpreting ideas, and secondly, I didn’t want to be down for doing heavy sociopolitical work alone. I wasn’t even 20 years old!

Anyway, that’s when I first had the bright idea to travel and seek my fame and fortune, but that is another story…

Fast forward to 2018 and the real need for people to take their social and political responsibilities seriously. This is how it took shape, from rough (very rough) sketches to finished art:

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And here’s the finished piece. Wherever you are , #be a voter!




From idea to book

african, character, children's books, design, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, publishing, stories

Everyone has a story…

Everyone has a story inside them. Some of us tell it in a book or a play or on the stage, football pitch or boardroom. But most of us live our story, telling it to our loved ones, every day, year by year… the point is each story gets told and appreciated.

I have heard many wonderful stories and have learned to use the book as my medium. Let me share that way with you in a series of real-time posts, starting with an idea and ending (hopefully) with a beautiful book.

If you have thought of writing or illustrating your own book, or if you are just curious, then this real-time project will be of use before you get in touch.

All you have to do is follow the blog for regular monthly updates on the project. Please comment, spread the word and get involved!

Remember to sign up for automatic updates