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Guest Post: Imagining Unicorns by Nataša Ilinčić

Posted on 13/02/2020 in Guest posts Nataša Ilinčić

In today’s guest post, illustrator Nataša Ilinčić takes us through the process of creating her latest picture book, The Legend of the First Unicorn.


There is no better way for me to start a picture book than to let my imagination run free as I’m reading the story. I like to immerse myself in it and visualise the characters and environments. After I’ve done this a couple of times, I read through the illustration brief carefully, and note down all the important details and visual elements that will feature in each illustration.

Then it’s time to get paper and a pencil and start sketching!

Before starting on the illustrations themselves, I create some preliminary concept sketches of the characters. These are generally very rough, but they plant the seed from which the characters will eventually grow.


At this stage research is very important. I gather information and reference material for the characters’ clothing and features, as well as the environment and settings, particularly if it’s historical. I love creating books that are rich in detail, so that the reader can find something new hiding in the pages every time they read the story.


Once this is done, I start working on small thumbnail sketches that will give me a good overview of how the illustrations will work throughout the book, and help me ensure that the story has strong visual pacing. The design team will also be thinking about how the text of the story might fit alongside my artwork at this stage; it’s important that the words and pictures work together to bring the story to life!


The thumbnails are followed by rough sketches, and then more polished ones. During these stages I’m working closely with Leah, the Art & Production Director at Kelpies HQ, taking her feedback on board to gradually refine the sketches until I obtain the final line art. This is transferred onto hot pressed watercolour paper, ready to be painted!


The illustrations are painted in watercolour and gouache, and given a slight digital polishing at the end. In this final stage I can correct any imperfections and calibrate the values and contrast to ensure the artwork looks as good as it can.

Once all the illustrations have been completed and approved, the final files are sent to the publishing house, where the production team finalises everything and prepares the book for printing.

The Legend of the First Unicorn

Once upon a time, in the kingdom of Scotland, a young prince lost his smile.

No one could help Prince Donald find his smile until his friend Hana, the magician’s granddaughter, had an idea. Using her grandfather’s magic, she created a majestic creature with the body of a horse and the horn of a gazelle, and called him ‘a unicorn’.

As Hana and Donald play and chase the unicorn through the forest, it seems that this magical animal might hold the key to the prince’s smile. But what is that fierce beast lurking in the trees?

The unicorn, magical and strong, is Scotland’s national animal and heraldic symbol. Inspired by local folklore, renowned author Lari Don weaves an enchanting origin tale of the first unicorn, which is brought to life by Nataša Ilinčić‘s rich illustrations.

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