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How a two-hour commute kickstarted Sabrina Smelko's folio highlight

Illustrator Sabrina Smelko neglected her love of storytelling when she began her design studies - until an unwanted, lengthy commute prompted her to pick up her pen again, and find a way of melding her passions to create a powerful illustrated novel.

Tell us a bit about the project...

VOA is a science fiction novel that I wrote, illustrated and designed for my graduate thesis project. It's a complicated tale of love, anger, evil, the power of relationships and truth, and there are eight double-page illustrations placed in the midst of the novel's most pivotal moments.

Where did the inspiration come from?

Really, it came from a lack of satisfaction. I wasn't happy with most of my work throughout school and I didn't feel like I fitted the bill of what it meant to be an illustrator. Now, I realise what that missing puzzle piece was - I grew up reading and writing, but once I began studying at Sheridan I began to neglect this interest.

How did you start creating VOA?

The summer before our final year I interned at an agency in downtown Toronto, which meant a two-hour commute each day. One day I wrote a sentence on the train. Then I wrote a paragraph on the bus and then yet another by foot. I unintentionally began writing a novel.

Before that, illustration, design and writing lived in separate boxes and it wasn't until then that I recognised how that they could fit together to make something beautiful.

What were the challenges?

Creating a cohesion between images and designs proved difficult - I couldn't quite find a look that matched the grit of the story and worked from book cover to interior spread. The original pieces then dictated the remaining visuals. It became apparent that most of the images worked best in black-and-white - some of the moments being illustrated are emotionally heavy or even violent, and colour would make them too 'real'.

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 223.

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