5 Minutes with the Illustrator: Marie Toh

“To view the wordless story Marie illustrated – Out of the Box – click here.”

1. How did this idea of illustrating a story about a boy and a lion come about?

As a team, we wanted to create a story that tells about the sacrifice God made for man. But we didn’t want to lift a story straight from the Bible. We wanted a story that was more symbolic and metaphorical, to encourage the reader to ponder about the themes on their own and ask questions.

2. Did you take a long time to complete this illustration?

The whole process took about a month. It included the time to brainstorm, lock down the storyline, develop the character and background designs, followed by the actual illustrating and editing.

3. Is illustrating something you’ve been doing all this time?

I have always been drawing, but I became more serious about the medium of illustration about a year ago.

4. Not everyone has this gift. What do you love about illustrating?

I feel that it is the purest form of storytelling. Before books and films came about, people used pictorial images or illustrations to tell stories.

5. Is there anyone in your life who inspires you in your artwork?

If by person it includes God, then I would say He is the person who has and continues to inspire me most.

6. What was the hardest thing in doing this illustration?

That would have to be designing the character that was to represent God. The initial idea was to draw a lion, as it is majestic in appearance and people can easily relate to it, because of literature such as The Chronicles of Narnia. But I wanted to try and see if there were other creatures that may fit the story better. After trying out various other creatures, such as bears and imaginary winged sphinxes, however, we decided that a lion would still be the best visual representation.

7. How did the team come up with the idea not to have any words in the illustration?

Like I mentioned earlier, illustrations have the ability to tell stories without words. As much as this was a personal challenge I have always wanted to undertake, it’s also a good idea. Having no words removes the language barrier, which means this story will be able to reach more people. In addition, readers can feel free to interpret the story in whichever way it speaks to them.

8. What was your inspiration behind the look and feel of the illustrations?

My main inspiration for the look and feel of the illustrations came from an Australian illustrator called Shaun Tan. In his book The Arrival, he illustrated a whole book depicting a story about immigrants with absolutely no words, and it was able to bring readers to tears. It made me realize the power of illustration and pushed me to create something inspired by him.

9. Is there a reason why the whole illustration is in one color except for the tree, which is in a different color?

As all the illustrations are in a sepia tone, I wanted the fruits to stand out. This was to show that the tree and the fruits it produced did not come from “within the frames”.

10. Why does the tree exist by itself and not in the frame?

The tree exists outside the frame as everything within the frame is perfect and good, much like how everything was good when God created the world. As the tree represents temptation and evil, it cannot exist inside the frame; it goes against all that the content within the frame represent. To make this more visually apparent, the tree is therefore always drawn outside the frame and the fruits are drawn in a different colour and medium (digital instead of graphite), making the tree look like it does not belong in the landscape.

11. What message do you hope the reader will go away with?

I hope whoever sees this illustration will think about these three questions:

  • Why did the lion choose to eat the fruit when the boy was not even willing to listen to him?
  • What could be the “tree/fruits” in our lives?
  • Are we like the boy? Have we been treating someone the same way the boy treated the lion? If so, who and what would we like to change about our behavior?
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