March 29, 2016 Neil Wadhwa

A Guest Post by Irene Luxbacher on Illustrating Malaika’s Costume

Only the brightest coloured scraps of paper and the most vibrant foliage would do when it came to illustrating Malaika’s Costume. A spirited girl like Malaika and the festive celebration she longed to dance in inspired intensely colourful backgrounds in my mind’s eye…

Irene Luxbacher Malaika's CostumeI began the illustrations for Malaika’s Costume by first sketching out the look and feel of the characters in the book. First Malaika and then her grandmother… My sketches are usually in pencil and ink and sometimes watercolour. I then started painting lots of different textured backgrounds with acrylic paints on canvas. But because Malaika’s story was so rich and vibrant, I decided to work in oils as well. The richness of thick, buttery oils seemed appropriate when rendering the lush foliage surrounding Malaika’s home and community, and I felt it would serve as inspiration for equally vivid carnival scenes.

Irene Luxbacher Malaika's CostumeWhen I settled on a colour scheme I was happy with, I scanned all my drawings and paintings into my computer and started playing around with different compositions. Incorporating the letter paper with Malaika’s doodles into the art was a happy accident that occurred during this part of the process. I think my favourite part of working on any illustration is allowing for the possibility of surprise. Just when I think I know how a page is going to look, I stumble on a different texture, pattern or swatch of colour that changes everything!

Irene Luxbacher Malaika's Costume

Just like Malaika, I suppose, creating a beautiful costume out of a collection of fabric pieces and her grandmother’s old costume, I felt proud as a peacock to lend my collection of drawings, paintings and collage materials to such a beautiful celebration. I’m so happy I was invited to this party and hope I did Malaika, her grandmother (and their wonderful creator, Nadia Hohn) proud!


Irene Luxbacher is an artist and author living in Toronto, Canada. With more than fifteen years’ experience as an illustrator, Irene has received numerous awards for her children’s instructional and picture books. Some of her awards include the 2003 National Parenting Publications Gold Award, the 2004 Disney Book Award and the 2007 Ontario Library Association Award. In 2009/10 Irene made the USBBY Outstanding International Books Honor List and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, both for her illustrations in Andrew Larsen’s The Imaginary Garden.

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