I rarely talk about the process behind a finished illustration but this particular project I recently worked on also turned out to be one of the most interesting ones! And besides the fun element, a given on a job like this, I learnt some valuable lessons along the way which in the hope that they prove helpful to someone, I am eager to share.
The project was called EREY, an up and coming language learning platform for English speakers who wish to learn ‘Somali’, the language of Somalia, an East African nation located in the Horn of Africa. To make learning fun and interactive, Erey makes use of flashcards, each having a Somali word, a pictorial representation of that word and its English translation printed on it.
My task was to create illustrations for five ‘Somali’ words and
the challenge was to create images that would best represent the country and its local flavours and embrace the client’s vision at the same time.
Here’s how I went about it.
Illustration for Bakhaarka (the store)
From my research I figured that stores in Somalia are essentially these one storey brick buildings with strikingly bright coloured facades that sometimes have hand painted images of the items sold in the store.
Forever the food lover I settled for a tan coloured fast food store for my illustration. The picture of a camel on the facade indicates availability of roasted camel meat in the store. The shop signage ‘Moos iyo Baasto’ translates as ‘Spaghetti and Banana’ which is also Somali comfort food.
What I learnt while working on this was how attention to details gives your work that extra edge. By studying tons of local Somali stores on the Internet, I was able to incorporate relevant architectural elements to my store illustration such as the wooden door, metal shade roof, the decorative air vents and the steps leading to the store with the ‘welcome’ sign, all of which increased the credibility of the final image.
Illustration for Dugsi (the school)
For Dugsi I wanted to show the interior of a classroom. Acting on one of the client briefs I drew some of the female pupils with head scarves and some without (reminiscent of the pre civil war and less conservative days). The co-ordinates on the black board are of Somalia itself and the motivational quote at the back of the classroom ‘Qoriga Dhig, Qalinka Qaad‘ translates as ‘Drop the gun, pick up the pen’.
What I learnt here was to make an effort in understanding the client’s vision for the illustration, which in this case was a stronger representation of women.
I wove that thought into my illustration by drawing a female teacher at the blackboard, taking the lead in teaching the class. I drew her in the foreground to draw focus and in a slightly larger size compared to the male teacher, who is seen helping a student in the background.
Illustration for Caanaha (the milk)
By illustrating Canaaha as such, I wanted to draw attention to Camel milk, a staple food of Somali pastoral communities and also to the traditional hand woven vessels they use to carry and store that milk.
I drew a traditional Somali rug underneath to bring the image together and add some colour.
The challenge while making this illustration was providing suitable context to the image of ‘milk’ which seemed tricky because milk looks exactly the same across the world! I could get my illustration to work by incorporating elements of local culture and lifestyle. Creative prop choices can make your image relevant is what I learnt here.
Illustration for Bilaha Sannadka (months of the year)
I had a few good ideas for this one but was also curious to know what kind of images others had when they heard this phrase. So I asked around.
And concluded that somebody’s mental picture of a personal planner one-upped mine of a date calendar. I provided context by writing the names of the months in Somali and personalised the planner by adding important events like birthdays of Aabe (dad) and Hooyo (mom). It’s interesting how the planner offers a peek into the person’s life and personality! Our planner owner does not want to miss cheering for Somalia at the Bandy World Championship in January and has plans to join a Somali Book Club later in the year.
What I learnt here was sometimes it’s worthwhile to look outside of your head for ideas and inspiration.
Illustration for Buug (book)
The brief for Buug was to create several shelves of books. I could draw a library or a bookcase but instead chose to illustrate my secret fantasy which as a book lover and passionate reader has always been to spend hours in a Victorian study, curled up in a plush armchair reading in the warm glow of a vintage lamp that overlooks a polished dark wood table and shelves upon shelves of gleaming books.
The table has a half read book by a popular Somali author and a loose sheet containing a list of Somali authors whose books the owner of the study plans to read.
Looking out for fresh ideas is worthwhile but what I learnt here is looking in and tapping into personal interests and passions for ideas is also invaluable.
Here’s how the final product looks with the illustration –
You can see the rest of the flashcards in this slideshow-