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Exploring Shai Hills – details that made it into the book design

At the beginning of 2021 I decided my next goal was to illustrate another book. It took me the whole of that year to decide exactly what I wanted it to be about, and after a lot of planning I ended the year with a solid concept for this book. 

I started 2022 with plans, sketches and written lists about all that I wanted to include in this project. As the focus is on my beautiful country Ghana, I knew I needed to explore more of it to be able to make this book unique. 

In the middle of May, we decided to take a trip to Shai Hills as that was the page I was currently working on and I needed some inspiration for it. In this blog I will walk you through how I used this experience to shape the illustrations on this spread. 

Before I even started working on any spread of the book I created a mood board with images I found on the web for each specific place. This was a helpful step in my design process because it served not only as a visual aid, but it also gave me the chance to take into consideration what others see that I might not notice. I then created a quick sketch of how I thought the layout for the page should look like. I knew I wanted to show the vast landscape, as well as the small details and therefore I really needed to plan this out properly. 

Above you can see the initial sketch I started with, which focuses only on the landscape and gives little chance for details. I skimmed through other children’s books to get some inspiration and I found the best layout would be to create a foreground, a middle ground and a background. 

However, I had been to Shai Hills before and I knew that you could not see the mountains and landscapes from the road, so I had to play around with the layout and create a bit of an unrealistic composition so that I could add all the elements I wanted. I found this to be the most difficult stage because I wanted it to look realistic and not stylised so that is when I decided it was time for a road trip!

After a very rainy night, we decided to pack up the car on Sunday morning and drive to Shai Hills which is about 1 and a half hours out of Accra. Thankfully we packed extra clothes and shoes because the hike was very muddy due to the rain from the night before.

If we had not gone on this hike I would not have added a lot of items to my sketch, such as the centipedes, the red velvet termites, and a tourist with sandals! All of these details became a part of the story after I experienced it myself. 

After about a 2 km walk we reached Mogo Hill. I had never climbed a mountain ( or hill before) and to be honest I was terrified. Thankfully my best friend and son went up before me and so I had to show them that I was brave too right? After reaching the top I could not believe how beautiful the view was, I was blown away. 

From the top of the hill we spotted a lonely antelope who got lost from the rest of it’s group, as well as the large baobab trees growing into the surface of the rocks, and the circles on the floor of the hill which were created by women who would grind their food here. I managed to include all these elements to the illustration. They would not have been added if I did not face my fear of climbing up that hill. 

I am extremely grateful to be surrounded by friends and family that push me to break through my limits and believe in both my ability to climb the hill without killing myself as well as the ability to illustrate a book about this beautiful country I call home. 

I highly recommend you visit Shai Hills if you are in Ghana, the beautiful views will take your breath away. And no matter how scared you are, face your fears and climb up the hills!

I hope you enjoyed seeing the process behind this spread! I cannot wait to share the final book with you!

Hi! I'm Elisa.

I’m a designer, illustrator, creative entrepreneur, self- proclaimed Ghanaian at heart, and mom of 2 boys and lots of animals

1 Comment

  1. Now I feel like going to Shai Hills! <3

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