Guest Post: Ron Lightburn

Guest Post: Ron Lightburn

The 25th anniversary edition of Waiting for the Whales, written by Sheryl McFarlane and illustrated by Ron Lightburn, is on shelves now at your local bookstore.

Throughout my illustration career I have never believed in imposing one art style on every project. I’ve been fortunate to have the facility to adapt my approach to the needs of the project, be it a picture book, book cover, magazine article, poster or advertisement. I’m no different from art directors who vary their choice of layouts and font styles for the books they design. I’m probably best known to the children’s literature community for the realistic style I have used in a number of my picture books such as Waiting for the Whales, How Smudge Came, Wild Girl and Gran and A Poppy Is to Remember. This style requires the use of models and extensive research, so it has been refreshing to also illustrate books that allowed me to work more from my imagination such as I Can’t Sleep!, The Happily Ever Afternoon, Pumpkin People, Juba This, Juba That and FRANKENSTINK! Garbage Gone Bad.

Over the years I’ve worked with ink, pencil, coloured pencils, acrylic paint, watercolour, and oil paint. The needs of the project and the style I chose dictated the tools I used. I always liked to experiment and sometimes tried out and discarded a variety of approaches for my picture book illustrations before settling on the most appropriate one. My first concept for the Waiting for the Whales illustrations was very graphic, but not sensitive enough for the changing moods and emotional content of the story.

After completing several illustrations with this linear approach I decided that a softer, photorealistic style using coloured pencils would be more appropriate. In the images seen, I also altered the composition, positioning the characters closer together to better communicate the warm intergenerational bond they share.

First illustration design done in a linear style
Chosen photorealistic illustrations










Ron Lightburn, illustrator
Ron Lightburn‘s career as a children’s book illustrator was launched with his Governor General’s Award-winning artwork for Waiting for the Whales in 1991. Since then he has illustrated numerous other bestselling picture books and has become internationally renowned for his sensitive storytelling skills and range of illustration styles. For more information, visit and follow him on Twitter @ronlightburn.

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