Illustrating A Natural History of Fairies was a dream come true! It was a book I would have wanted as a child: a sort of encyclopedia of a hidden world, with lots of florals, fantasy, and a sense of new discovery on every page. Emily Hawkins, the author, created a world that was easy to imagine and so much fun to draw.
The book is written from the perspective of Professor Elsie Arbour, a botanist and fairy researcher, for her niece Annabelle. Professor Arbour acts as a guide to the world of fairies, explaining their anatomy, life cycle, wing patterns, environments, and habitats around the globe. There are fairies that live in deserts, fairies that live in jungles, fairies to be found in our own backyard flower gardens, and more! It acts as a scrapbook, with notes, drawings, and paintings sprinkled throughout to help show these secretive creatures and their lives.
When tackling a book of this size (at 64 pages, it’s longer than most traditional children’s books), it can be overwhelming. Quarto broke it down into several batches, so I would work on rough sketches and final artwork for a few pages at a time instead of doing everything at once. I worked with editor Claire Grace and designer Karissa Santos on creating engaging page layouts, and their hard work and amazing ideas let me focus more on drawing and less on planning where everything will go. I’m so grateful to have worked with both of them on this book.
One of my favorite aspects of this book was coming up with fairy clothing. We decided early on that their clothes should come from their environment, sewn from petals and leaves, feathers and fur, and whatever the fairies could forage for in their world. Plants and animals are my favorite thing to illustrate, so I added them in whenever possible to show how the fairies would interact with them.
We also snuck Emily’s daughters into the pages as a few of the fairies! The Holly Blue fairies in particular are based on them, as well as a few others.
The toughest spreads for me to tackle were the large, densely illustrated environments, like the desert fairies. My work tends to be tiny and very detailed, so doing a big environment was a challenge! I would put these pages off until they were the last in the batch to tackle (I always draw the simplest ones first), then get really anxious that I would mess them up. Ultimately, those big spreads became my favorites in the whole book!
I hope children and adults alike will discover their love of nature (and a desire to protect it) through A Natural History of Fairies. Hopefully they will be inspired to look at the little things, like a newly forming flower or a butterfly flying past their windows, with growing fondness and appreciation.