My short venture into story illustration.͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ This newsletter is about drawing. It goes out every Friday. Want to draw? Then check out my free workbook!

#5 - I Tried Making Romance Novel Illustrations, And This Is What I Learned

My short venture into story illustration.

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story illustration by Ayal Pinkus

I sit up straight, slide my sunglasses down, and perch them on the ball of my nose, desperate for an unfettered view of the scenery.

Quote from the book Make War by Jacquelyn Marker . Art by Ayal Pinkus.


Some years ago, I decided I wanted to try to make illustrations for stories. I posted on Twitter, asking the writing community if anyone would be interested in trying it out. I’d do it for free.

About a dozen writers responded. All stories were romance stories, which is not what I usually read! But I decided to try it. I think I’ve made seven illustrations.

I did it for free to find out if it could work, so I tried to treat them like customers as much as I could. You can see the resulting illustrations here. As you can see, I used a different illustration style back then. I drew these with a pencil, and I used a computer program I had written to stipple these.

A tip: if you are working with several different customers, make a dossier for each one, so you don’t mix them up!It was a great experience! They offered to send me the book, but I bought their book, of course, and then read it. Reading so many romance novels in one go, I learned a lot about the genre. There tend to be certain ingredients in there. There’s a powerful man who is broken somehow and a woman who can fix him, and there is clear physical attraction between them from the first moment they meet. Still, a relationship would be an absolute impossibility in the circumstances they are in. And, well, guess how it ends!

I loved reading these stories!


story illustration by Ayal Pinkus

He holds his hand out, holding it low. I take his hand and we start walking.

Quote from the book Beautifully Broken by Amanda Ballard . Art by Ayal Pinkus.

I would then interrogate the writer, asking them which movie actor they think their characters looked like. And then I’d make a mood board: a collage of photos I found online that I thought would convey the illustration in some way. The mood board served two purposes: I could show it to the writer to see if that was how they envisioned it. A mood board gives a surprisingly accurate idea of what the final illustration will look like, even though it consists of photos that are entirely not related to the story.

Mostly, I had gotten it right the first time, but sometimes the writer would come back with notes. One of the great things about a mood board is that you can change or fix them quickly.

A side note: if a writer doesn’t give you much information on their vision or give you very little feedback on your mood board, then that is a clear sign that they are not interested in your illustration. In that situation, they are likely thinking that they are helping you by giving you an assignment.


story illustration by Ayal Pinkus

“Because the thought of losing you brings me to my knees. I thought I was lost before, but now, I know.”

Quote from the book The Alpha Nanny by Remy Marie . Art by Ayal Pinkus.

I only had that happen to me once, but my advice would be to abandon the project if that happens. Why waste a lot of time making something for someone if they are not interested in the result.

Also, this interrogation stage is crucial because your “customer” is likely to have some mental image of the ideal final result. You need to find out what that is, or they will be somewhat disappointed with the results.

The next step is making quick sketches that you can show to the customer, which you can still easily change. When you agree on a design, you can start to make the final rendering. The mood board comes in handy here again as it contains a lot of reference imagery you can use.


story illustration by Ayal Pinkus

“How did we get here?”
“You ran, and I chased you.”
“No. How did we get here?” she asked, pointing to his heart.
“You ran...and I chased you.”

Quote from the book Postscript by Barbara Avon . Art by Ayal Pinkus.

What I found was that the writers loved the results! However, I had hoped it would help them sell their stories. They were indy writers, and I had expected they could post these illustrations on social media and sell their stories that way. That didn’t work much.

Then, later, my daughter saw Frozen in the cinema, and after that, she enjoyed watching the Frozen song clips you can find on YouTube. I realized that was because these YouTube clips transported her back to that world of Frozen! That was the reason she enjoyed watching these after seeing the movie, not before it.

And that is when I realized that my illustrations had served the same purpose for these writers. They knew the story and loved seeing their characters come to life visually for the first time, and my illustrations perhaps transported them back to the fictional world they had created?


story illustration by Ayal Pinkus

“I can not live another day without being together with you.”

Quote from the book Fated To Meet You by Despoina Kemeridou . Art by Ayal Pinkus.

These illustrations and video clips worked to transport you back to that imaginary world after you had read the book or seen the movie. They did not mean much to you if you didn’t know the story.

Later again, I saw this amazing account on Instagram where the creator—a concept artist, I believe—makes these fantastic drawings and paintings of the victorian age, 1700s scenes, but with monkeys and chimpanzees playing the roles of the people, aristocrats, and such. He would take scenes from what everyday life could have looked like back then but changed the humans to monkeys. Apart from being a humorous, tongue-in-cheek comment on our society, it also suggested a fascinating world where stories could play out. It transported me to that imaginary world even though I hadn’t read stories that played in it.

I think that could be fun drawing challenge, and maybe something that enhances stories: illustrations not from a story, but from everyday scenes in that world that maybe transports the audience to that world. It could improve the reading experience by adding additional material that does not directly illustrate something happening in the story but is designed to transport you to that world.

Which story did you read that had a fascinating world-building? Would you enjoy making illustrations of scenes in that world that didn’t directly lift from that world?

I can see how, perhaps, that could help sell stories. Or be just plain fun to do as an artist.


story illustration by Ayal Pinkus

“I am hopelessly in love with you,” Cole continued. “I desire no other but you, and I will follow you to the ends of the earth...This is my confession. Me wanting all of you.” — Captain Cole Black

Quote from the book The Earl's Secret Treasure by Nicole Renee . Art by Ayal Pinkus.

My Favorite Drawing Exercises

Why don’t you try drawing an illustration for a story you love? Maybe read it again and note down ideas for illustrations. Note the theme and mood of the story. Can you find moments that tell a story by themselves, where you can guess what happened before, but that make you curious about what will happen next?

It is okay if you just sketch the ideas out. Don’t over-think it and just have fun coming up with illustration ideas for that story.

Also try to imagine the characters moving through their worlds outside of the story. What do they do for a living? What do they do for leasure? How do they spend times with friends and family? What do they do to keep fit?

These are not to illustrate the story, but rather to transport you to the world where the story plays.

Above all, have fun with it!



You can find a few more thoughts here about making an illustration for a story.

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