How Kristjana S Williams illustrated one of this year's most beautiful books

The artist reveals how she used antique engravings to create super-vibrant illustrations of plants and animals from the Amazon to the Himalayas for The Wonder Garden.


I visited Kristjana in her brightly studio in south-west London, which is covered with artworks – both her own and antique reference works – and real stuffed and/or mounted animals, birds and butterflies.

Inside this menagerie, Kristjana told me why she wanted to do a children's book, how she got involved in the project with Wide Eyed Books, and her approach to creating her wonderful artworks digitally – including the techniques she used to create animals that are true to life, if not quite completely real.

Kristjana started her studio four years ago after running design and fashion boutique Beyond The Valley, and now employs a team of three. She's produced artworks, fabrics and homewares for personal and private commissions – as well as for sale through the likes of Outline Artists – with clients ranging from Harrods to Triumph.

Living in London after moving from her native Iceland – the city plays a big part in many of her works, which has lead to commissions for The Shard and Transport for London, as well as the print of hers being sold in the V&A museum's shop.

The Wonder Garden sees Kristjana's artworks move away from London – far away and away from cities in general – to explore Germany's Black Forest, the Amazon Rainforest, Central America's Chihuahuan Desert, the Himalayan Mountains and the Great Barrier Reef.

For most of her works, Kristjana creates physical collages from cut paper – but for The Wonder Garden, she worked entirely digitally to allow her to make changes due to the later addition of the book's words (or just based on publisher feedback). Working from antique engravings, Kristjana and her team cut and spliced these to give them more biological accuracy – and created alternate versions, both for visual interest and to add the likes of baby animals.

Kristjana describes the process of compositing the scenes together as "a bit like paper theatre”: you set the scene, place the characters and then let them tell a story.


Kristjana coloured her composited engravings for a print process that combines traditional CMYK with a single, super-vibrant spot colour for each habitat.

The colours are used primarily in blocks – often behind text – but also to bring out animals and plants of particular interest (such as the octopus and cactus flowers shown here).

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The cover also features intricate and substantial use of gold foil, reminscent of the exquisite artworks Kristjana has produced that use gold leaf in a similar way.


The Wonder Garden has been translated into Chinese (with both traditional and simplified versions), Dutch, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Swedish.

Buy a copy of The Wonder Garden.