Acclaimed illustrator, Sarah Massini, was thrilled to be asked to illustrate a picture book of The Little Prince, published during a year that celebrates the 80th anniversary of the original translation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's classic fable. 

Sarah, tell us about the challenges of illustrating this picture book adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's much loved classic, The Little Prince.

The main challenge, or perhaps to be more accurate, ‘fear’, associated with illustrating a beloved classic like The Little Prince is the knowledge that its legions of fans already have preconceived ideas about how it should look. The fear is about falling a long way short of those expectations - and of course, being criticised for it. And then, once you’ve mentally leapt over that hurdle, and decided to grasp the mettle, the next challenge is about how to make it all your own. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s iconic illustrations are familiar to most, but it has also been illustrated by many other artists too. So, as I set about illustrating it, I asked myself how can I make this different and special and fresh, and yet still remain true to the beauty of the original publication?

Your visual interpretation of the story has echoes of the original illustrations but also brings a contemporary edge to appeal to younger readers, with beautifully intricate and detailed illustrations. What is your creative process and what mediums do you use?

I began with a lot of character studies, with the Prince himself at the centre of my early explorations. I tried all sorts of Princes, from ones who looked wildly different to Saint-Exupéry’s vision, to ones who closely resembled it. The publisher Farshore preferred the latter approach - hence why there are echoes of the original illustrations. Then, having established what all the characters were going to look like, I plotted out the spreads in a series of coloured thumbnail sketches. These were revised repeatedly under Farshore’s direction, until everyone was happy. Then came the detailed pencilled rough stage; this same pencil line provided the base structure of the final art. To that I added more pencil, crayon, watercolour washes and details, plus a variety of print and painted textures. It’s a multi-media approach, which I scanned, assembled and coloured in Photoshop. Basically, it’s a huge, complex and very absorbing jigsaw puzzle!

Were you already a fan of The Little Prince?

It’s one of my all-time favourite books, so I was thrilled at having been asked to illustrate it. It was dream- come-true stuff! I said ‘YES PLEASE’ without hesitation and signed immediately on the dotted line. Only then did I consider the challenges outlined above.

Which illustrators have influenced and inspired you throughout your career?

Early influences - during my art A-level years - will have been the fantasy and faery illustrators Alan Lee and Brian Froud, and also Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge series. I remember pouring over those little books of visual escapism and being utterly captivated. Later, when working as a children’s book art editor, I would quiz illustrators about their techniques and stylistic approaches. It was genuine curiosity, not an underhand attempt to steal intellectual property - but I did learn a lot! I was inspired by ALL the illustrators I worked with during those years: Helen Craig, David Melling, Sara Fanelli, Pierre Pratt, Polly Whybrow, Ross Collins… to name a few. And more recently… again, every illustrator out there is an inspiration.

But, to name a few more, my fantasy dinner party guests would be: Shaun Tan, Mark Janssen, Lisbeth Zwerger, Isabelle Arsenault and Angela Barrett. They’re all supremely skilful artists, and all so adept at the same intricate world-building that I was so drawn to back in my school art-room days.

The Little Prince, a picture book version of a much-loved classic full of tenderness, mystery and beauty, with words by poet Louise Greig and enchanting artwork from Sarah Massini. Find more books illustrated by Sarah below.

Published as part of the 80th anniversary of the original translation is a beautiful slipcased collector's edition of The Little Prince, and The Little Prince: Wisdom from Beyond the Stars, a new illustrated book of heart-warming quotes.