Part 5: Words and Pictures

Exercise: Educational Strip


You have been asked to produce an illustrated strip of up to five frames for use in schools explaining to young teenagers how to cope with the onset of puberty. You can decide on which aspect you want to tackle. Due to the subject matter and the intended age group it is suggested that you use metaphor and humour when conveying the message – though take care not to trivialise a serious message. The client would also like you to provide a single illustration of your character for use on the front cover.

The leaflet is called What’s happening to my body? It’s all going mad!

You will probably find thumbnailing very useful here to work out how each frame will relate to the others.

You need to submit all stages of the development process – thumbnails, visuals and client visuals for the cartoon strip and the stand-alone illustration.


I began this exercise by reading about the various stages of puberty on the NHS website. I also found a US website called Amaze aimed at guiding young people and parents through this sometimes confusing and turbulent period in an individual’s development. I thought the use of animations had impact and would make them more appealing to the target audience than reading through a lot of information. I came across another example of animations being used, but I did not think this was as effectively done as by Amaze.

I looked at some examples of books about puberty and selected those that appealed most to me in terms of illustrations for closer analysis:

  • The Period Book (both 1997 and 2017 editions) by Karen Gravelle and Jennifer Gravelle, and illustrated by Debbie Pallen.

I particularly liked the style of these illustrations and felt they would appeal to the target audience. I really enjoyed Debbie Palen’s illustrations and looked in more depth at her work, which I felt conveyed humour and warmth.

I also set up a Pinterest board with examples of information regarding puberty for young people along with another board with examples of illustrated strips.

After some consideration, I decided to focus on girls and their periods.


Using both my research and personal experiences, I mind-mapped ‘periods’.

Mind-mapping ‘periods’

I decided to focus on the emotions/feelings side of periods, as oppose to the scientific/medical/physical sides.

Initial Sketches

I sketched out some very rough ideas based on a character experiencing different moods and emotions that can result from having a period.

Initial Ideas (click on image for larger version, opens in new tab)

I then redrew those which I felt could have potential. The ones below are meant to represent: taking the time to relax and feeling angry/irritable.

Building on initial ideas (click on image for larger version, opens in new tab)

The idea below is meant to represent: feeling tired and like staying in bed all day.

Building on initial ideas (click on image for larger version, opens in new tab)

The ideas below are meant to represent: feeling like everyone ‘knows’ and being more emotional/getting spots.

Building on initial ideas (click on image for larger version, opens in new tab)

I was quite pleased with how these turned out and that I had maintained a similarity of the character in each one. I used my light-box to clean up the lines, ready to scan into Illustrator.

Clean lines version (click on image for larger version, opens in new tab)
Clean lines version (click on image for larger version, opens in new tab)

Working in Illustrator

Once I had scanned the drawings into Illustrator, I used them as templates to create the outlines.

Line versions of illustrations

Adding Colour and Tone

I then moved onto to adding a base layer of colour.

Adding colour

I decided that the background was not right, so changed this to a dark blue instead.

Adding colour
Adding colour

Also made some alterations to the lines as I went as well (e.g. the shape of the nose).

Adding colour
Adding colour
Adding colour
Adding colour

I also tried to think about how a background could be utilised to add emphasis to the message of the illustrations, as (hopefully) demonstrated in this one.

Adding colour
Adding colour

So far in this course, I have been disappointed with my attempts at adding highlights and shadows to my illustrations and I wanted to improve on this, so I spent a lot of time on this aspect (I ended up with nearly 100 saved files for the colour and tone versions!). I really felt the time used on adding tone to my illustrations boosted the quality a great deal and I was mostly pleased with what I had managed to achieve. I had to think very carefully about where to logically place the highlights and shadows, which was not always easy.

Adding tone
Adding tone
Adding tone
Adding tone
Adding tone

Designing the Cover

Once I was fairly satisfied with the illustrations, I came up with a very basic design for the cover.

Rough sketch of idea for cover design

I then scanned this into Illustrator and used the sketch as a template.

Creating outline in Illustrator

I was not sure about the positioning of the pupils in the initial idea and ultimately changed these. I added colour and tone as before.

Adding colour to the cover design

I was genuinely impressed at how adding tone to an illustration can improve its quality so much.

Adding tone to the cover design

Final Designs

The final designs (with suggested captions) can be seen below. Please click on the image for a larger version (opens in new tab).

Final Thoughts

Overall, I was pleased with what I had achieved for this exercise. I enjoyed working on the designs and the challenges as they presented themselves. I felt I managed to convey a consistency across the illustrations in terms of style and the character. I also thought the illustrations were fairly successful at communicating their message with or without any accompanying text.

I was pleased I attempted to add shadows/highlights and that this was quite successful overall. It definitely increased my confidence and I will continue to build on this in future work.

There were certainly some areas that need addressing, such as my apparent inability to come up with many initial ideas to explore before committing to my chosen path.

I felt the ‘staying in bed’ illustration was the weakest of the set as the colour was not quite right and I found the shading on the bedsheets very difficult (and I noticed later I had also not added highlights to this area either). I also was not particularly happy with my attempts at depicting hair.

Additionally, although the proportions of the body were mostly satisfactory to me, in hindsight the bent legs in the ‘angry’ illustration should have been shorter.

Despite these issues, I genuinely found this exercise very enjoyable and learnt a great deal from working on it.


Amaze: Age appropriate info on puberty for tweens and their parents, (n.d.). Amaze: Homepage. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 March 2021].

Brook, (n.d.). Free RSE resources. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 March 2021].

Palen, D. (n.d.). Debbie Palen Portfolio. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 March 2021].

Debbie Palen Illustration, (2019). Debbie Palen Blogspot. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 March 2021].

Health Promotion, (n.d.). Busy Bodies. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 March 2021].

Healthy Schools: Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, (n.d.). Puberty. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 March 2021].

Gravelle, K. (n.d.). Karen Gravelle – My Works. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 March 2021].

NHS, (2018). Stages of Puberty: what happens to boys and girls. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 March 2021].

NHS, (2019). Starting your periods. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 March 2021].

Ravi, M.J. (2021). 11 Best Puberty Books For Girls of 2021 [online] Mom Junction. Available at: [Accessed 28 March 2021].

Sarah Horne, (n.d.). Sarah Horne Portfolio. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 March 2021].