I am Jenni Desmond and I create picture books. My first book was Red Cat Blue Cat which won the Cambridgeshire Read it Again Award 2013. My new book is The Zebra Who Ran Too Fast (Walker Books). This summer I was the illustrator for the BP Portrait Award Family Trail, and here I am going to tell you how I created it.

Things started when I cycled from my studio in Hackney to a meeting inside the National Portrait Gallery. We discussed the characters in the trail and what they should look like, and how the trail should be laid out. 

A couple of weeks later I cycled down the canal to a warehouse by the London docks where all the chosen artworks were being photographed. We looked very carefully at each painting and came up with some themes such as dogs, lace, and personal spaces. It felt very special to see the artworks before they were in the Gallery.

Back in my studio I started sketching the three characters in pencil. I put them into lots of different poses and clothes so that we could decide which ones we liked the best. I thought a lot about the personalities of each character.

When I coloured my characters, I used watercolour, acrylic paint, pencil crayon, and collage paper.  I painted the green banner on the front by splashing lots of green and blue paint onto paper. I would then show the work to the Gallery staff and the graphic designer and we would discuss them. Finally I scanned and emailed the art to the designer to put into the trail.


It was very strange seeing my illustrations in the Gallery for the first time, as the only time I had seen my drawings were on my desk.  There was a big vinyl sticker on the wall, a trail, badges, bookmarks and also my new book, which had just been published.  It was overwhelming and exciting. I hope you enjoy the trail as much as I enjoyed making it.

Image credits from top to bottom

Author portrait © Jenni Desmond

Cover The Zebra Who Ran Too Fast © Jenni Desmond

All other images © National Portrait Gallery, London

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