People & Culture

The process of illustrating the National Bird Project

Toronto-based illustrator Charlene Chua explains her process for illustrating the National Bird Project
  • Feb 02, 2015
  • 340 words
  • 2 minutes
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Remember those gorgeous bird illustrations that appeared in our January/February wildlife issue? Here, Toronto-based illustrator Charlene Chua explains how she made them. This story originally appeared on Chua’s website and is republished here with her permission.

I really like drawing birds, and I was very happy to have a chance to be part of the National Bird Project. Apparently Canada – despite having a loon on our dollar and Canada Goose jackets just about everywhere this time of year — doesn’t actually have an official, national bird. So Canadian Geographic set up this effort to get Canadians to name their bird of choice, as well as raise awareness of the many beautiful birds there are in Canada.

I was asked to illustrate the spread in the magazine to kick off the campaign. The art was requested in a style I don’t usually work in, which was an interesting challenge. I did some sketches of the four featured birds: the Canada goose, great grey owl, osprey and raven (oddly, the loon wasn’t in the lineup. Perhaps they figured it was already way too famous?).

I did the sketches based on a load of researching online… as much as I like birds I’m not one to sit in a hide for hours to glimpse them, much less so in December.

The final art was done with ink and watercolor. I scanned in the artwork for touching up and color correcting in Photoshop later. I worked the illustrations smaller than the print size, partly because I thought the texture would show up more that way, and partly because I’m terrified of painting large watercolors.

I like working with the rough layout beforehand, I find it helps to figure out where the illustration can ‘live’ on the page. I reorganized the text blocks in Photoshop to show my proposed layout, and then they adjusted it further before it went to print.

Click on this photo to see a slideshow of Chua’s progress:

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