Guest post: Illustrating by author Vonnie Winslow Crist

I’m delighted to bring you tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of illustrating, by author and illustrator Vonnie Winslow Crist.


When I tell people I’m an illustrator, they usually respond with, “So you draw pictures, right?” And I answer, “Well, yes. But it’s more than that.” And indeed it is more than just drawing a picture.

Illustrations, whether in a book, magazine, newspaper, or e-publication, require the illustrator to bring something more to the story, poem, or article being published. Pictures are said to be worth a thousand words. Rather than an elaborate, action-stopping description of a castle in a piece of short fiction, an illustrator can visually communicate to the reader with a drawing or painting the appearance of that castle. What’s more, by carefully selecting the color palette, perspective, landscape, and characters (if any) shown, the illustrator can emphasize the mood of the tale. She can also foreshadow some of the upcoming action.

The trick when creating a picture to accompany a piece of fiction, especially if the illo will introduce the story, is to present as much relevant information as possible without tipping the reader off to the ending or any surprises coming later in the tale. Sometimes, the editor or art director wants the illustrator to hint at some upcoming action. In that case, the line between what to show and what not to reveal becomes even thinner.

In my newest book, The Greener Forest, I’ve included over 30 illustrations. The first type of illustration in the book are stand-alone drawings. These illos fill an entire page, and while subject appropriate (in this case about one sort of Faerie creature or another), they don’t accompany a specific story or poem. A stand-alone drawing must do just that – be able to stand by itself and tell a story or please the viewer without additional words.

The second type of illustration I’ve drawn for The Greener Forest, are small introduction pen and ink sketches. These appear above the title of each short story and serve as a hint as to the content of the tale. In the case of the first story, Birdling, the intro sketch is of a bird’s nest with broken egg shells. In the case of the tale, Appleheads, the intro sketch is of uncarved apples. In the case of Shoreside, the intro sketch is of two fish. And in the case of The Return of Gunnar Kettilson, it is a welcome candle.

Since I introduced each story with an illustration, if there was a bit of empty space at the conclusion of a tale or poem, I decided to add an illo. But I didn’t want to overwhelm my readers with art, so I came up with an India ink drawing of some blowing leaves that could be used as often as I liked. There are trees in most of the prose and poetry included in The Greener Forest, so the drawing also reinforced one of the reoccurring images in the book. Also (she adds with a smile), the leaves are blowing towards the next page – a gentle hint to keep on reading!

At the conclusion of some of the stories, or in some cases on the page opposite the beginning of a story, I drew an illo that added to the narrative. Examples would be the sketch of the dragon from Weathermaker, the mermaid from Shoreside, the gremlers from Waiting for More, and the spriggans from Tootsie’s Swamp Tours & Amusement Park. Adding these images is risky! Many readers don’t want the illustrator’s interpretation of the characters or setting of a story to interfere with their view.

Lastly, I created the cover art. I wanted the reader to feel as though they were opening an old journal or diary, so I attempted to give the viewer the feeling the central cover image was a photo or painting taped onto a browning page of sketches. Also “taped” to the front cover are a four-leaf clover, a feather, and an oak leaf. The back cover image is also designed to appear as though a painting, leaf, and jewel suspended from a leather lanyard are taped to old parchment paper. To add to the antique journal vibe, I also painted a full-page image of a raggedy piece of paper that could be used as background for the poems and stand-alone drawings.

I won’t bore you with the technical details of illustrating – but mathematics, a familiarity with art materials, and understanding of the printing / publishing processes are important. And the toughest thing for an illustrator, is to see the artwork they meticulously created discarded when a print book is transferred to an electronic format. This will, I’m sure, change in the future – but at the present time, pdf files are the only electronic format to accurately included artwork.

Though I hope you will purchase a copy and enjoy all of the artwork in The Greener Forest, I’ve included a sample of each kind of illo from the book, plus here’s the link to a free Greener Forest maze that I drew: and as you leaf through books, remember the illustrators work just as hard as the writers to tell a story.

Thank you Vonnie!

Vonnie Winslow Crist, BS Art & Education, MS Professional Writing from Towson University, is a columnist for Harford’s Heart Magazine, an illustrator for The Vegetarian Journal, the editor of The Gunpowder Review, and a contributor to Faerie Magazine. A firm believer that the world around us is filled with miracles and magic, she has had a life-long interest in reading, writing, folklore, myths, legends, fairy tales, and art. She lives at the edge of a very green forest in a rural area of the USA, feeds wild birds, adores toads, tends Faerie-friendly plants in her garden, and often has toadstool fairy rings sprout up beneath the trees in her yard. The Greener Forest is her new book of fantasy stories:

Vonnie’s website is, blog and she can be found on Facebook and Twitter. She has also blogged about this very topic at

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me at with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with children’s author Helen Moss – the one hundred and sixty-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

12 thoughts on “Guest post: Illustrating by author Vonnie Winslow Crist

  1. Smoky Zeidel says:

    Not all books are illustrated, of course, but when they are, I love it when the illustrator “gets it.” Good illustrations are fine art–they enhance a story, they frost the cake. Sounds to me like you are an illustrator/artist who “gets it.” Wonderful guest post!


  2. morgenbailey says:

    Thank you Smoky. I agree… I’d love to illustrate and enjoy drawing cartoons (not the same thing of course) but there’s a world between copying and creating from imagination. I’m good at one, rubbish at the other… unless it comes to words. 🙂


  3. Tabatha says:

    I liked the info about the repeating blowing leaves illo — that was a good point. Illustrations can be thematic rather than specific to what is on that particular page. Interesting post!


  4. Tia Bach says:

    Great post, Vonnie. Thanks for the link so fellow-MWAers could enjoy. I love illustrations, and especially appreciate when they add value. Lovely!

    Thanks Morgen for showcasing yet another interesting read. I always love stopping by. 😉


We'd love you to leave a comment, thank you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.