Cast sheets and sketching: get to know Hykie Breeze and her illustration process for 'Ella and the Amazing Frog Orchestra'

Ella and the Amazing Frog Orchestra Ella and the Frogs Hykie Breeze Illustrator Interview YA and Children's

Ella and the Amazing Frog Orchestra, written by Cassy Polimeni and illustrated by Hykie Breeze, is a junior fiction book exploring themes of environment preservation, endangered species (frogs), finding home and human kindness. In this interview Hykie Breeze chats to UWAP intern Samantha Hearn about her illustration process and shares her advice for emerging illustrators.


Headshot of Hykie Breeze

About Hykie Breeze

I’m a Hong Kong born graphic designer and illustrator living in Sydney (Dharawal country), Australia. After several years working in marketing, events and program management, I decided to switch careers and went back to student (and hospo) life to become a designer. In my commercial design work, I've previously worked with the Medical Association of the University of Notre Dame, Canon, Australia Council for the Arts, the Primary English Teaching Association of Australia (PETAA), CommBank (CBA) and ALDI Supermarkets. After building a foundation in communications design, I decided to take a leap of faith and pursue illustration. I’m drawn to children’s books because I wouldn’t be the bookworm I am today if I didn’t have access to wonderful literature as a kid myself, and because I believe all kids need to see themselves and others in the books we read. Check out Hykie's website:


What inspired you to become an illustrator/designer?

I’ve always loved drawing from a young age, but I didn’t consider it as a profession until the pandemic arrived. Working from home instead of commuting freed up the time to reconnect with drawing and that’s when I realised how much I wanted to keep pursuing that joy that came from illustrating.

The more I kept going with illustration, the more I felt it could be my unique way of creating stories where young people can learn about and respect the differences in others. So today, I’d say I’m inspired by the opportunity to contribute stories to the world that are more diverse than it was for me when I was growing up.

The book cover of 'Ella and the Amazing Frog Orchestra'

Why was Ella and the Amazing Frog Orchestra a project that you wanted to be a part of?

I loved how easy it was to connect with Cassy’s writing. By that I mean the first time I read the manuscript I could see myself in Ella, especially in one of the early scenes where Ella tells us how she loves climbing her favourite tree to spend hours reading in, which was basically like holding up a mirror to my childhood too.

It was so wonderful to be involved in a book that had these universal themes of curiosity of the world around you and being moved to act on something that matters to you. I won’t pretend I liked frogs as a kid as much as Ella does, but the story reminded me how fun it can be to sink hours into learning about a subject once you find something that fascinates you, the way Ella does.


Can you tell us about your drawing/illustration process for Ella and the Amazing Frog Orchestra?

The process started with getting to know Ella’s personality and what you could pick up from Cassy’s writing. How can I show what Ella is like in her movements, her energy, her expressions? I also worked on a cast sheet for the main characters too. Here is where a lot of the loose sketching happens, just drawing your characters over and over until I got to know them.

Then it came time to read the manuscript for illustration. The first read was really important, where I’m looking for significant objects and moments that jump out as fun to draw. When I had the defining moments in mind, I showed first a storyboard in rough sketch form for feedback, followed by final artwork.


Internal page from 'Ella and the Amazing Frog Orchestra'
Internal page from Ella and the Amazing Frog Orchestra


Who are some of your favourite illustrators and why?

There are so many illustrators to name here, but maybe I’ll start at the beginning – Janet Ahlberg, because the first time I saw her work was in ‘The Jolly Postman’, which remains one of the first picture books to show me how fun storytelling can be.

Maurice Sendak is another favourite – well, after I’d gotten over the disappointment of not getting to dress up as one of the Wild Things at school, because I had to play part of Max’s boat instead.


Has there been a time when a design decision couldn’t be agreed upon? If so, what is the protocol to ensure a cohesive collaboration with the author?

I don’t think there’s been a time where a conflict couldn’t be resolved, but I think disagreements can be avoided through good communication. My design background has really helped in developing a collaborative process that clearly outlines each step of the way. One of the first things I learned while studying graphic design was never to jump straight into creating final art, no matter how tempting it might be. Instead, show how you’ve listened to your client and their vision by presenting concepts in rough sketch form that invite further discussion on both sides. That way, you’re involving the client in the process early on and visually you can get on the same page as quickly as possible.


a photograph of Hykie with copies of 'Ella and the Amazing Frog Orchestra'


Do you have any future projects in the works? If so, can you provide any details?

I’m always working on art that reflects my ‘dream projects’, which at the moment includes illustrating non-fiction for kids and working on adult book covers. I also love ancient history and learning about traditionally overlooked historical figures that weren’t taught in classrooms – illustrating a book that combines the two would be perfect.


What advice would you offer emerging designers/illustrators?

When I started, I promised myself I would take my illustration practice as seriously as my day job by carving out time daily and showing up consistently. I think coming into illustration later in life, rather than straight after school influenced my approach: focussing first on putting in the time to catch up to illustrators who had tens of thousands of hours under their belt.

Secondly, every illustrator needs outside perspective to make the changes that improve your work process and quality. Connecting with other illustrators and forming a critique group to share feedback and advice has been so vital in pushing my work to be better. Other artists always see things I can’t and without a doubt I have improved much more quickly than if I was working on my own.


Ella and the Amazing Frog Orchestra is out on 1 July 2024 from UWA Publishing. Order your copy here.


Samantha Hearn is a Curtin University student who is in her final semester of postgraduate studies, completing an MA of Arts, majoring in Professional Writing and Publishing. She has a love for reading, writing and literature (specifically in the fiction genres) and has a passion to work within the publishing industry. 
Samantha Hearn | LinkedIn


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