Literally ‘Building’ an Illustration


It seems ‘normal’ to me to begin an illustration with a piece of paper on which I transfer a sketch and then begin to draw and paint. When I’m done, I have my finished illustration. So, the thought of constructing all the tiny parts and pieces of a picture and assembling them in a wooden stage/frame to be meticulously lit and photographed is quite a fascinating undertaking to me. “Fall Leaves” published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, written by Loretta Holland and illustrated by Elly MacKay took my breath away. Each page turn has large header type and is wordplay with homonyms, “Leaves leave… Temperature falls… Fall Leaves”.

There is a small paragraph narrating the changing of the seasons with some interesting nature trivia and observations. But what ties everything together for me are Elly MacKay’s magical illustrations. They make the book a feast for the senses. One wants to just crawl into the page, it’s such a believable world she creates.


 There’s something otherworldly about Elly’s artwork. Her technique is to build ‘sets’ out of paper creating a three dimensional space, then light them in a way that gives an ethereal effect and photograph them. Elly uses Yupo paper (a synthetic watercolor paper) that she paints, cuts out, and assembles.


 I contacted Elly to ask her how long it takes her to make a completed image and she said that she completes about 2 per week, working about 6 hours a day. Elly has a very successful etsy shop (where I first saw and admired her images several years ago) at

fallleaves3 fallleaves4 fallleaves5

Constructing and photographing theaters for one’s illustrations certainly requires a varied skill set. “Fall Leaves” is a captivating book and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Elly’s unique and intriguing illustration process, hope you did, too!





Thanks for visiting!

Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Jennifer is the illustrator and author of several acclaimed picture books. Most recently is Always by My Side, 'A Stuffie Story', which she wrote and illustrated. She also is both the author and illustrator of Playing Possum, and Blue Ethel. Jennifer illustrated Gondra’s Treasure, written by Newbery award winner Linda Sue Park. As well as, Sometimes You Fly, by Newbery medalist, Katherine Applegate. She illustrated Yaks Yak, Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park, The Inventor's Secret, What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford, by Suzanne Slade, Rabbi Benjamin's Buttons, by Alice B. McGinty, and The Adventures of a South Pole Pig, by Chris Kurtz.


  1. Hey Jennifer,
    Thank you for such a wonderful article. Incredible pictures too. Very inspiring – so much so that I think we should get creative with this approach in our next book.
    Jamie Shaw

  2. Wow!! What a unique approach with a gorgeous outcome — this leaves me very inspired. Thanks for sharing, Jennifer!

  3. WOW. These are jaw-dropping! The way she uses light and shows wind movement with her cutouts … incredible.

  4. Thanks so much Jennifer for the post and kind words! Working on a tiger scene today – great fun! Seems like a wonderful community of picture-book makers here. Hope everyone has a lovely day. – Elly

  5. This title just went on my must get list. The illustrations are inspirational. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Wow! Truly lovely illustrations. Her process reminds of the way that Disney Studios did their layered animations for films like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.

  7. Stunning. Everything a children’s illustration should be and beyond.

  8. This is breathtaking illustration! I would love to have a text that could live up to this kind of beauty. Many thanks for sharing this!

  9. Oh, wow. I’ve got to check out this book — AND Elly’s Etsy’s shop. Amazing! Thanks, Jennifer!

  10. Hi Linda, yes take a trip to etsy— all her images are magical and beautiful!

  11. simply awesome…really cool idea….

  12. so amazingly beautiful…i need to get this book for my collection! thanks for sharing.

  13. Thank you fr sharing this woman’s magic. It is such a treat!

  14. WOW! …is all I can come up with. Thank you for your post – it opened my eyes to the intricacies of illustrations. Elly MacKay’s are absolutely amazing!

  15. Wow! Wow! Wow! Thanks for sharing this.

  16. Elly’s work is, indeed stunning and her process is so unique. Thank you for visiting our blog!

  17. Amazing!

  18. Wonderful! On my list to find 🙂

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