Francis Vallejo is the Professional winner of the Commercial Publishing Category. Here he gives his insights into how he created this award-winning project.

I illustrated the Folio Society release of the book Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. I created 8 full color paintings, and 31 ink drawings. Before I worked with The Folio Society, I wanted to work with them for many years. Their books are beautiful. So I strategically entered a show that their lead Art Director was judging, hoping she would see my work.

As it turns out, I received the top award for that show and she did in fact reach out to me a bit later. It worked! When they offered the project to me, I initially turned it down. While it sounded amazing, their deadline was too quick.

Amazingly, Gaiman really wanted me so Folio Society came back and agreed to my pitch for 1.5 years to work on the project. Because of logistics, I ended up having just a year to create all of the art. That seems like a long time, but I am a very meticulous artist – my prior book took 2.5 years. So I purchased a Cintiq specifically for this project, and implemented a lot more digital techniques to speed things up!


I was send a copy of the book. I was amazing. The hardest part was selecting which scenes I wanted to illustrate. That is a good problem!


I initially asked if I could be flown to the various locations of the story, but the deadline would not allow it. Instead I brought on assistants to help me research London, the Caribbean, and to help locate appropriate models to photograph for the various characters.


I used everything! For the cover paintings I began the finals digitally and printed them out and finished them with Winsor & Newton acrylics. I also applied ink and pastel, scanned it back in and tweaked it again digitally. For the inks I created them completely digitally, as well as with nib and brush traditionally.


Read the book twice and left sticky notes on pages that had potential for illustrations. I took those sticky notes and stuck them to a wall like a crazed detective. I then reorganized them many times to establish the number of illustrations, that they were evenly distributed throughout the book, and which would be paintings and which would be ink. I then thumbnailed out the scenes to be approved by the AD and Editor. Shot photo reference of models. Tight sketch and color study comps. Then finishes!


The deadline was the main challenge. My prior book, Jazz Day, was completed in 2.5 years. I created the same amount of work for Anansi Boys in 1 year. I HAD to bring in assistants to help me out as well as use digital tools. I barely made it even then!


Fight for deadline lengths that will allow you to do this best work.


I was teaching full time as an Assistant Professor of Illustration at the College of Creative Studies in Detroit, MI. I was also a boyfriend, son, and friend trying hard to not be absent from the lives of those important people in my life as I tend to get lost in projects.


Sheesh, 1,500 hours maybe spent for the entire project. 3 assistants. Countless albums listened during the creation. And one celebratory run along the Detroit River when completed.


I wouldn’t change anything.


There is only 1 of you. Your life is interesting whomever you are. Embrace those experiences and let them guide your work. There is a lot of work being created that looks the same and the commercial arts have always been that way – people want to work. But that journey to finding a personal voice is a beautiful one. I’ll be on it my entire life.


Relax and live my life outside of art. You might notice me mentioning a lot about time spent on my art and work/life balance. Well, I have been illustrating professionally for 10 years. I have illustrated two books that have done really well for me. With that said I sacrificed A LOT to make those projects work. I am fortunate to have a great full time job teaching illustration, good health, and generally being comfortable in my life. I just finished 5 longs years of graduate school and received my M.A. degree. I’ve never taken a moment to enjoy all this hard work. So that’s my plan. Try to not be defined by my art and travel, date, lift heavy weights and run long distances.

Dream Commission

To illustrate the ’89-90 Bad Boy team for the Detroit Pistons!!!

Favourite thing to draw

Figures with interesting shadow shapes.


I’m fortunate to own a sizable home in Detroit. I have a digital studio room, a traditional studio room with a figure stand and printing press and the regular painting area, along with an attic for storage and shipping. I have a lot of ficus plants and a few real ones to keep me honest. I also have an incredibly overbuilt gym in my basement to keep me moving after sitting all day. I realize typing this it seems overly luxurious, but I’m telling you MOVE TO DETROIT! You can get so much for so little here.


Thank you to my peers and the judges of the WIA! I am honored. And thank you to my family and friends for putting up with my long nights 🙂

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