Each year the National Portrait Gallery invites a book illustrator to design a guide for families to the BP Portrait Award. I have always loved the exhibition, and was delighted to be involved this year.

As well as being a painter, I also write and illustrate children’s books. The first book, Lighty Faust the Lion, is about a boy and his imaginary friend and how they magically skip through life. The second book, Wanda and Dragonfly, is about a little girl who refuses to go to bed and ends up on a night time adventure. Both books were inspired by my two young children.

The start of the project was very exciting – visiting a vast warehouse in South London to see which paintings had been chosen for the show. It was a chance to have a good look and to start to think about which ones might appeal to children. We then explored themes that would work for the guide, for example finding animals in the paintings, looking for patterns and asking the children to imagine the conversation that the two old ladies were having in the hairdressers!

I also started to think about the characters I would create for the guide. We settled on cool aunt Jude, who is taking her niece and nephew Olive and Kit to the Gallery.

I sketched the characters in different clothes, positions and expressions and worked with the Designer to layout the guide in a way that would be fun for kids exploring the exhibition. I drew the images by hand and then scanned them into the computer to add colour and tweak the facial expressions.

We also created merchandise for the show including a bird badge, magnetic bookmark and fridge magnet.

The opening night was a real highlight – to see the characters life size on the Gallery wall, the exhibition hung and the products in the Gallery shop. Now it’s back to the drawing board as I’m sketching out and creating the characters for new books, here’s a little peek…

Free family art activities take place every weekday during August. Anna Hymas will be signing copies of her books in the BP Portrait Award exhibition shop at 13.30 on Wednesday 7 August.

Find out more about our Family Programme

Exhibition supported by BP

Image captions

Anna's portrait and characters from the BP Portrait Award 2013 Family Trail © National Portrait Gallery, London; all other images © Anna Hymas

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