Books For Keeps

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

I am pleased to be featured in the UK’s Books For Keeps magazine, talking about illustation…

The age of the Afronaut

african, design, idea, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, kids, publishing, Zimbabwe

Afronaut is a new publishing project from company Alanna Max, featuring books about and for African children, the Afronauts. Many have yet to see themselves in a book, despite the millions of folktales and stories from each culture on the continent.

It’s been a dream of mine to play back all the wonderful ‘nganos’, or stories from my childhood in Zimbabwe. But travelling around the continent it’s become very clear that an African childhood is very different from a European or American one. Some of these children experience or witness things that they really shouldn’t. So we knew from the very start of the project that the list has to be appropriate to its readers. 

We’re joining a growing list of African publishers committed to making their businesses work in difficult economic environments as well as to reflecting cultures back to readers.

Afronaut will publish books, ebooks, comics, posters, articles, and educational material over time. The list will focus on African countries first on as many local languages as possible. It will not shy away from being topical or political and is aiming to work alongside international organisations whose focus is children.

Afronaut launches in Spring 2020, with several pre-launch activities planned online and offline.

Need to know more?

From Idea to Book 3

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

#3 Less is more

In books for the very young say as much as possible with a few words. Illustrations have a high literary value. They really speak to the reader.

If you develop your stories with text, write freely first, then each time you revisit your story craft the maximum meaning into fewer and fewer words. If you prefer to work visually, sketch as much as possible until the images start to pick up some of the slack. The reason they are called picture books is because the words and pictures are equally important. More than that they complement each other and together create a new language.

Let’s break that down; Some people write on their own, some illustrate, some do both. Publishers can start the process from either point but tend to work with words first more often. They will read the text and then make a decision about the illustrator based on their company’s style.

Writers, your part of the book project is going to have other hands and brains joining in. It might be a good idea to write with that in mind.

Normally, illustrators are handed a text and asked to interpret it. Some of the decision-making is already done. The illustrator’s main challenge is to interpret the text in a fresh new way, to listen to the comments and guidance from the book designer or art director. Try using the rule that carpenters use: measure twice, cut once. By the time you get to producing the final piece you will have sketched all the possiblilities you can imagine.

For creators who do both, the challenge is all about discipline. It’s really hard to wite and draw at the same time! Plus you have to be honest enough to look at what youve done and say if its good enough… or not. So do one first, then the other. Repeat until you have what you want.

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!

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