A new series at The Story of Books opens up the process of making books. In these workshops we invite an expert to share insights into their work, and give you the opportunity to have a go. It is a mini work experience, in our beautiful space in Hay-on-Wye.  

Meet a Book Worker #1 – Drawing for Books workshop with illustrator Lizzie Harper

  • Fairfield High School workshop for 29 GCSE Art students
  • Royal National College for the Blind student visit
  • Open access workshop at The Story of Books

Workshop report by Ellie Wallwork, student at the Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) in Hereford

On Friday 12 October 2018, I travelled to The Story of Books in Hay-On-Wye, along with some other students from RNC for Lizzie Harper’s ‘Drawing for Books’ workshop. Over an hour and a half, with others, we learned about the illustration process as well as doing some illustrations for ourselves (or in our case, verbally describing) around the theme of nature.


From the very beginning of the workshop, all of the senses – not just sight – were emphasised. We were shown wooden print block letters – some large, some smaller and more intricate in their detail; there were a variety of fonts and sizes. These would be put used on a letter press so that ink could be printed onto paper; this other method of creating books and letters was interesting to me as I got an indication of how it all fit together.

Lizzie, who primarily focuses on nature in her work, next ran through how a rough drawing would be developed and made into a final piece to be submitted and published in a book. Explaining her inspiration for pictures when responding to a brief, as well as giving examples of ways to find information e.g. reference books, the internet and sketching in real life, she provided us with some personal experiences of real contracts and briefs (these were read out and, as somebody who could not have read the originals, I found this incredibly useful).


Learning about the realities of illustrators’ issues, which include increasing demands for universal copyright (a copyright in which illustrators are not allowed to use any of their images that they submit to a publisher again) which could lose an illustrator money, It really highlighted the difficulty of having a job in the creative sector.

Despite the fact that I could not see any of the sketches, I felt free enough to ask many questions and received a lot of valuable information regarding commissions and ways in which to approach publishers in order to receive the best payment for work. Learning about the process of rough sketches being submitted, modified, drawn up for real and then scanned in and reproduced showed that the process was far more complicated than you may have originally thought.

The most interesting part of the workshop for me was when it came to looking at plants: those with sight drew them but as I have no useful vision, I was able to feel, smell and taste them and then to describe them. Some examples were the hairy bitter cress with a stiff and firm stem, rough leaves which tasted rather bitter and peppery, a rosette of smaller leaves at the bottom and crumbling, delicate flowers at the bottom with long, thin seedpods surrounding them; the rowan plant, with each of its leaves made of small oval-shaped leaflet which had roughened edges, a clump of smooth, rounded and bitter berries near the centre of the plant; and finally a hawthorn plant which has a spiny stem, the leaves separated into three sections and with the berries, which were more flavourless and rougher, in small clusters in between the leaves. Being able to smell and taste them added another layer to the experience, so that I could get a full sensory understanding of each plant. We also felt and tasted some other plants which included rosehips, beechnuts, sweet chestnuts and the seedcase of a conker.

What I learned most from this workshop was that seemingly inaccessible materials can be adapted, and that having a visual impairment would not be a barrier to working in the publishing industry. Lizzie allowed me to feel really included and throughout the workshop, my sense of touch, smell and hearing made up for the lack of sight so that it was never an issue and I was always able to understand what was being said. I left The Story of Books feeling positive and full of a creative energy that I hadn’t experienced in a long time.


Workshop overview

This workshop showed how illustration goes from being an idea, to being included on the pages of a published book.  Lizzie shared original illustrations, roughs, and commissions from books she has worked on. Participants had an opportunity to do their own drawing to fit an actual brief, and to preserve it in one of The Story of Books’ Hay Cartoneras cardboard books.


Workshop format

First 30 minutes: Lizzie showed original briefing documents/ emails from art directors, along with pencil roughs that get sent for approval.  She explained how these get turned into final art for use in the book, and how different companies require these illustrations in different formats, sometimes digital files and sometimes original paper works.

She showed how the illustrations appear in the published book, and gave participants the chance to compare the two, and see where the magic of the designer and art director comes in.


Second half: Work on a rough pencil illustration of a wild plant, to exactly the same brief as Lizzie received (all materials provided, and a choice of three briefs).  

A chance to brainstorm on where you can get reference to work from when a plant isn’t in flower, and to see some of the resources Lizzie regularly turns to.

Lizzie gave active encouragement and feedback while participants were drawing, and time you can transform your drawing into a finished pen and ink illustration (like the ones in Foraging with Kids by Adele Nozedar).

…and finally

As part of the workshop there was also the opportunity to learn about the cardboard publishing movement in Latin America, and to learn how to save your drawing into one of these books. Lizzie’s sketchbooks and original artwork were also displayed, and signed copies of books she has illustrated were available to buy. 





Lizzie Harper’s ‘Book Worker’s Table’ at The Story of Books