Monday 24 January 2022

Illustrating Believable Characters for Children’s Books


This course was held in June 2018 (before 4 extremely busy years!) - If you interested to attend such a course again, let me know. If  more than 6 people are interested I could organize this course again.

The A–Z to Illustrating Believable Characters for Children’s Books 

(- an informal, interactive, lecture-based course, followed by a practical workshop -) 

Presented by Marjorie van Heerden, assisted by Samantha van Riet.

The goal of this two-day course, where the main focus is on picture books,
but not excluding other types of children’s literature, is to learn
how to develop and illustrate believable characters - from start to finish.

Note:   This course is primarily aimed at children’s book illustrators, but anyone interested, is welcome to attend (it will be limited to 12 participants). Also, please note that this is not an official SCBWI (SA) event.

* Please see information on dates, times, venue and booking fee below.
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This course will focus on the various challenges facing the children’s book illustrator, with specific focus on the visualisation and visual interpretation of the characters.  It will be a step-by-step analysis of the process followed, starting with the visual conceptualisation, the rough drawings, and eventually the finished art. This will be done with the main, central character(s) as well as the secondary and minor characters.

The content of this course is designed for published as well as unpublished illustrators and writer/illustrators of children’s books. Although it is specifically aimed at illustrators, the course can also be beneficial for authors of children’s books.

Day 1 (Sat 2nd  June): (compulsory): An informal, lecture-based course.
Day 2 (Sun 3rd June): (optional): A practical hands-on workshop, under Marjorie’s guidance.

Day one: (compulsory)

The following main areas will be covered:
  • How to find the necessary information, from the words written down by the author, of exactly who and what these characters are - you must get to know the characters intimately.
  • How to research all possible details (visually and scientifically) about these characters that may not be covered by the author – you must also get to know the characters objectively.
  • How to stay true to the information reflected in the author’s words. But also to extend that information – to read between the author’s lines in order to visually create a dynamic character.
  • How to analyse the background and the physical environment in which the character(s) exist – how to identify a sense of place. This sense of place is implied or created verbally by the author, but the illustrator must analyse how that environment will influence each character physically and mentally.
  • How to identify, visualise and illustrate for each main and secondary character, their individuality in terms of: their body shape and physical characteristics, their facial and body hair, their clothing and accessories, their personal body language, their personal facial expressions, their personal quirks/mannerisms/eccentricities, their interaction with the other characters, their actions, their attitudes, their emotionality, and so on...
  • How to analyse the development/growth of each character during the progression of the narrative. And then, how to illustrate this visually.
  • How to research and then draw on paper the physical qualities of different characters, children, adults, animals, fantasy characters, monsters and so on. The physical qualities, in all aspects, starting from the skeleton outwards...
  • A look at a selection of well-known children’s book characters and a discussion on why these are so popular and so loved... or so hated, or so feared... But in all cases, so essentially unforgettable and absolutely enjoyable...
Day two: (optional, but a very important part if you want the full benefit of the course)

On the second day the course will continue as a practical workshop:

  • A look at various sources of inspiration for the children’s book illustrator and/or writer/illustrator. A practical session of doing rough drawings and translating those rough drawings into final black-and-white or full-colour illustrations.
  • The course will conclude with each participant, if they so choose, showing their portfolio and/or the work they had been doing during the two days. This will lead to some comments and feedback from the facilitators and the other participants.
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Venue:       Marjorie’s studio (Gordon’s Bay - address/directions will be sent to you if you’re interested in attending)
Date:          Saturday, 2nd  and Sunday, 3rd of June 2018
Time:         Daily from 10h00 to 17h00
Cost:          Day 1 (Sat 2nd  June):  R550
Day 2 (Sun 3rd June): R250 (optional)
RSVP:       (before Monday 7th May 2018) to Samantha at
Note:          Limited space is available > we will work on first come first serve bases. Tea/coffee will be available – bring your own lunch
Inquiries:   Please contact Samantha at

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More about Marjorie and Samantha:
Marjorie Van Heerden, Writer and Illustrator of Children’s Books -
Marjorie grew up on a farm in the Hex River Valley in South Africa. From an early age she loved drawing animals and fairies and people and dinosaurs and children and dragons and monsters and today they appear in all shapes and sizes in the more than 130 published books that feature her work. Since the publication of her first children’s picture book in 1983 Marjorie van Heerden has been published as illustrator or illustrator/author in 36 languages in Africa, England, Europe (Germany & Greece), the East (China, Korea & Malaysia), Canada, & the USA.
She and her husband lived and worked in Stellenbosch near Cape Town for 20 years, in Johannesburg for another ten, traveled for eighteen months on honeymoon in a camper-van around Europe, lived for a year on the banks of Lake Michigan in the USA and for four years in a forest on a mountain north of Athens in Greece. From each of these places Marjorie drew inspiration for her menagerie of animals, fairies, dragons, monsters and people.
Since 2003 the Van Heerdens live next to the sea in Gordon’s Bay, once again near Cape Town. Marjorie’s studio is in the loft and she sits looking at the magnificent view over False Bay while she writes and illustrates her stories. “Our two children are grown up and also live in the Cape. Our three granddaughters are already inspiring and constantly challenging me. My work is my passion and I write and illustrate the world around me but I add a little bit of fantasy ...or is it real?”
Since being back in South Africa she once again became very active in the local organizations for children’s literature giving talks and workshops... 2017 was the ninth consecutive year that she presented the 5-day Children’s Book Illustration Course at the Center for Comic, Illustrative and Book Arts (CCIBA) at the University of Stellenbosch’s Department of Visual Arts. In 2003 Marjorie established the South African chapter of the international SCBWI. She is the Co- RA for SCBWI (SA) with Elaine Ridge (
Amongst the awards she has won for her work, Marjorie has won the M.E.R Award (one of the Media24 Books Literary awards) for best illustrated children’s book, twice, in 2008 for  Nina and Little Duck (Human & Rousseau (SA) 2007) and in 2012, for Goblin Diaries: Apprenticed to the Red Witch  (Tafelberg Publishers (SA) 2011)
For more about Marjorie, you can visit:; 
For recently published books, see:; .

Samantha van Riet, Writer and Illustrator of Children’s Books.
Samantha lives in Paarl, South Africa. For the past 23 years she has worked as freelance illustrator and more recently author. And her clients include most of the South African trade and educational publishers. “I have been involved in the South African publishing industry for the past 23 years since I graduated in Graphic Art at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa in 1993. I draw and paint my illustrations using a variety of traditional materials. I then scan these in to manipulate and compile the artwork in Photoshop and Illustrator. For the past 10 years, most of the briefs and delivery of artwork have been done via the internet. I love illustration and writing courses for the freshness it adds to my style and also for the amazing community of artist and authors I meet.”
Together with her freelance work, she teaches creativity workshops for children. “Through my imagination, fun characters and colour I want to inspire children to look closely and see the wonder in the world around them.”
Samantha is the Illustrator coordinator for SCBWI (SA)
Selected Recent published books:
Roots, shoots and muddy boots (Eng); Knolle, bolle, en tuinkaperjolle (Afr) –Illustrated and written by Samantha (Non-fiction vegetable gardening book for children). Tafelberg Publishers (SA) 2012
Rympies vir pikkies en peuters (compilation of Afrikaans Poems for young children) Illustrated by Samantha. compiled by Riana Scheepers and Suzette Kotzé-Myburgh and Tafelberg Publishers (SA) 2015
Ralphie, Always Loved Illustrated by Samantha, written by Andrea Yerramilli, published by About Something Good LLC (USA) 2017
For more about Samantha, go to:

Hope to see you there,

From Marjorie & Samantha