Francesca Sanna

Francesca Sanna grew up in Sardinia. She first moved to Germany and then to Switzerland where she achieved a Masters of Art in Illustration at the Academy of Art and Design in Lucerne. In 2017, she was awarded the second Klaus Flugge Prize for the most promising and exciting newcomer to children’s book illustration.

In this post, Francesca talks about her striking debut picturebook, ‘The Journey’, for which she won the second Klaus Flugge Prize. Chair of the judges, Julia Eccleshare said: ‘Through words and pictures working perfectly together, Francesca tells her story in a way that will move all readers, whatever their age’.

Visit Francesca Sanna’s website

Francesca: ‘The Journey’, my first picture book, is the story of a family and of the journey they undertake when they realise their home is not a safe place anymore. As I briefly tried to explain in a note at the end of the book, it was inspired by many stories of many people I spoke with, from many different countries and backgrounds. A part of the research was even focused on historical documents about immigration from the early 1900s.

Front cover for ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna – published by Flying Eye Books, United Kingdom

I didn’t want ‘The Journey’ to be a specific story, I wanted it to convey the idea that everyone has the right to have a safe place to live. For this reason, in the book I try to give as little information as possible about where, or when, the story is set.

At the same time, I wanted the main characters in the story to be strong – to have an active role in their journey. In this sense, there is one character in particular that I thought as the ‘superhero’ of the story, and it is the character of the mother. With her children, she overcomes the obstacles of the journey and she always protects them. She is very brave, even when she is scared.

Illustration from ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna – published by Flying Eye Books, United Kingdom

Illustration from ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna – published by Flying Eye Books, United Kingdom

My process is very unstructured and it changes for every project, but there are some steps I always try to follow. I start with very small and roughly made thumbnail sketches, and I play with them and their sequence until I find a story structure that works.

Spread from ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna – published by Flying Eye Books, United Kingdom

I usually plan my colour palette from the beginning, and I try to assign a specific colour or feature to the main characters. In ‘The Journey’, the character of the mother, for example, has very thick black hair that protects and embraces her children. This represents her ‘super power’.

Spread from ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna – published by Flying Eye Books, United Kingdom

I usually make rough hand-drawn sketches for every illustration. Then I scan the sketches and work on them digitally.

Development work for ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna – published by Flying Eye Books, United Kingdom

Development work for ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna – published by Flying Eye Books, United Kingdom

In the final illustrations, there are some traces of the texture of the paper or of the tools I use to draw… but what ends up on the pages of the book is mostly digitally painted.

My favourite part of the process is to plan the layout of every page. I love to use the space of the book and its limits, and move the characters and the elements of the pictures around the pages.

Spread from ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna – published by Flying Eye Books, United Kingdom

I think that the layout of a book can tell a lot about its story too. In ‘The Journey’, I used a horizontal format because it gave more space for the characters to travel through the spreads.

The idea behind my choices for the colours, the layout, the elements of the story and its structure was to think about the topic of ‘immigration’ in a more emphatic way, with a focus on the personal story and the human dimension rather than on numbers and statistics.

Illustration from ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna – published by Flying Eye Books, United Kingdom

With the last page of this book, where the end is quite open and there isn’t the ‘arrival’ to a new home, I wanted to leave the readers with an implicit question: how would you end this story? 

Illustration from ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna – published by Flying Eye Books, United Kingdom

Author’s note from ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna – published by Flying Eye Books, United Kingdom

Illustrations © Francesca Sanna.

Front cover for ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna – published by Flying Eye Books, United KingdomBuy this picturebook

The Journey

Francesca Sanna
Flying Eye Books, United Kingdom, 2016

What is it like to have to leave everything behind and travel many miles to somewhere unfamiliar and strange? A mother and her two children set out on such a journey, filled with fear of the unknown, but also great hope. Francesca Sanna has created a beautiful and sensitive book that is full of significance for our time.

  • English: Flying Eye Books
  • French: Gallimard Jeunesse
  • German: NordSüd Verlag
  • Italian: Edizioni El
  • Dutch: Davidsfonds
  • Spanish: Impedimenta
  • Catalan: Impedimenta
  • Basque: Ttarttalo argitaletxea
  • Swedish: Rabén & Sjögren
  • Norwegian: Fortellerforlaget
  • Polish: Kultura Gniewu
  • Portuguese (Brazil): V&R Editoras
  • Greek: Patakis
  • Turkish: Taze Kitap
  • Arabic: Hachette Antoine
  • Korean: Pilbut
  • Japanese: Kijitora
  • Chinese (Simplified): Ronshin Group
  • Chinese (Traditional): Wordfiled

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