The Making of Maya

MayaOwlKids_EllyMacKaymaking - 1


maya_cover_lores_screenrgbMaya officially releases today!  It was written by Mahak Jain and is published by Owlkids. It is about the power of the stories we tell ourselves and how these stories shape the way we feel and see the world.


Jain and MacKay’s story and art work seamlessly to convey an important and subtle story of love, loss, beauty, and joy. (Picture book. 4-10)

TO PURCHASE: It is available at bookstores and online at Indigo , Amazon and Owl.

Illustration shop talk

This is by far the most challenging book I have ever worked on and so I thought I’d share that illustration process with you. There were times when I was working on this book that I really wondered how to move forward. I even threw away 2 sets.

MayaOwlKids_EllyMacKay - 2

The first hurdle was to decide if I could even do this book. I have never been to India, where the book is set and my savings would never allow me to take a research trip like this! I reread and reread the manuscript, worried I would have to decline this beautiful story. Then I realized that most of the book is actually set in a dream world, and that is something I am very familiar with illustrating. I asked for Mahak’s help to understand the urban Indian setting she was remembering from her childhood and she created a Pinterest board for me filled with reference photos… cots, rooftops, rickshaws, birds, animals, and even pyjamas. It might be a surprise to know that authors and illustrators rarely get the chance to interact. This was a real treat. I used her reference photos quite a bit to figure out things as simple as the skyline. Alisa Baldwin the designer, was so helpful too in guiding me (thanks Alisa).


Once I realized that Maya takes place in different dimensions, I had to figure out the aesthetic for each. There is a real world, a story world and a dream world and at times they blend. How to make each world feel separate but united? This is what I decided on:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next challenge was the lighting. Some of the scenes were at night but I rely on light to create my works. The urban scenes were tricky. I found I could put light in the scene in more subtle ways. Here I used the light of the rickshaw to add some interest. These are a couple of process shots.

The dream world had challenging lighting too. It is at first a fearful place but then becomes filled with light and play. This progression was very tricky. I ended up taking photos of each dream scene with several different types of light. We then found the ones that worked best together. Here are 4 rough shots of the elephant to show some of the types of lighting I tried. There is one dream scene that I won’t share here for fear of giving away too much of the story but once you see it, you will understand why I spent so long trying to get it right. It involves shadows.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These were the big hurdles but there were lots of other ones along the way too. How does anyone do justice to the feathers of a peacock? All in all though, I think it came out pretty well and Mahak is happy too (Yay!) It has gotten some great reviews and I am really proud to be a co-creator of it. I hope you will enjoy it too.

MayaOwlKids_EllyMacKay - 1

This post has really been about the illustrations. Mahak can tell you about writing it. Mahak, Allsion MacLacklan and Jemicah Marasigan came to the studio and Jemicah put together this Video Trailer!

I really want to thank Karen Li and Karen Boersma for making books with challenging subject matter. Also, diverse books (without that being the focus of the book!).





I will be at the Gananoque Literary Festival April 29th – May 1st.  Come on out!

I will also be sharing my work at the Festival of Trees at Harbourfront Centre On May 17th and in Sault Ste. Marie on May 27th.

Thank you to all the schools who have invited me to give presentations! It has been loads of fun.





  1. Truly wonderful post (found out about it via Twitter)! I enjoyed the read and will buy that book, just because of the way you described it. I wish you all the best with this new book! Conratulations on your great artwork! Regards, Andy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s