Helping artists, illustrators and anyone interested in character development and picture book illustration

Create Your Own Velveteen Rabbit This Easter Weekend

Wishing you a very happy Easter! 

As an Easter illustration celebration, I’d like to offer you this FREE audio reading of The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams (read by Xe Sands). Since William Nicolson’s 1920 illustrations, many illustrators have risen to the challenge of illustrating the famous toy rabbit.

This Easter, why not try your hand at designing your very own Velveteen Rabbit?

Nina’s velveteen toy rabbit inspired drawings

In my latest Skillshare class The Art of Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration, picture book illustrations are used to inspire you own bunny art. In this 1 hour class, I walk you step-by-step through the process of how to draw real, anthropomorphic and toy rabbits.

The Bunnies in Books: Toy-Like lesson looks at the many different ways artists have illustrated The Velveteen Rabbit character across time. We use the picture book art as inspiration then dive into our own toy rabbit creations.

‘The Velveteen Rabbit’, by Margery Williams.

Take Maurice Sendak and his 1960’s version of The Velveteen Rabbit. Predating Where The Wild Things Are by three years, the charming duo-tone illustrations add a simple whimsical style to one of the most beloved rabbit stories of all time.

‘The Velveteen Rabbit’, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

In 1983 Micheal Hauge and his watercolour illustrations literally flood the page with moonlight and warmth, where he strikes a balance of intimacy and technical accomplishment.

‘The Velveteen Rabbit’, illustrated by Micheal Hauge

Monique Felix’s pastel rendition of The Velveteen Rabbit (illustrated in 1994) captures a soft haze and play on light.

‘The Velveteen Rabbit’, illustrated by Monique Felix

And finally, nearly a century later, in 2015 Japanese illustrator Komako Sakai brings a textural, gusty block print adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit…and in my opinion the best version since Maurice Sendiks take in 1960.

‘The Velveteen Rabbit’, illustrated by Komako Sakai

A well as The Velveteen Rabbit, The Bunnies in Books: Toy-like lesson also discusses other toy rabbit characters, like the famous Miffy (by Dick Bruna), Knuffle Bunny (by Mo Willems), finishing the lesson off with The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (by Kate Di Camillo).

‘The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane’, by Kate DiCamillo

So why not join me in class this Easter weekend. Enjoy the The Art of Bunnies in Books, create your own illustration gifts or even have a bunny-draw-off challenge with family and friends.

Wishing you a Happy Easter.

Nina 🙂

Use this link to get your FREE GIVEAWAY to The Art of Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration class.

The Best Bunnies in Books


With Easter just around the corner, I’d like to share a selection of work that I’ve discovered (and re-discovered) while putting together my latest class, Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration. With a mix of theory and practical, this class uses picture books and art as inspiration for a series of illustration projects.

Below I list the publications (and art) used in the Bunnies in Books: Human-like lesson of my new class Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration, linking the books that are available to buy online. (Some earlier works are not available).

As well as listing the books, I’ll be giving you a brief outline of the Bunnies in Books: Human-like lesson, with a focus on anthropomorphism and how it is implemented across the time-line of picture book publications.

For as long as picture books have been in print, anthropomorphism has been used by illustrators as a way of bringing human-like qualities to animal characters. It’s interesting to see the different ways illustrators have brought human qualities to an animal…in this case, the bunny.

Asops Fable, ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’.

Looking at early works illustrating Aesop’s famous fable The Tortoise and The Hare you can see the various degrees of anthropomorphism in the animal/human spectrum. From keeping the animal characters looking natural and animal-like, as in Milo Winter’s 1886 illustration (below right) of Aesop’s fable, all the way through to making the animals behave, dress and live in a human-like way, as shown in Arthur Brackhams’s rendition of The Tortoise and The Hare, published in 1912 (below left).

Asops Fable, ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’. Illustrated by: Arthur Rackham, 1912; Milo Winter, 1886

Compare these with a modern version of The Tortoise & the Hare by Jerry Pinkney, first published in 2013Were Pinkney takes the best of both earlier works, striking the perfect anthropomorphic balance of animal and human.

The Tortoise & the Hare, by Jerry Pinkney

In my latest Skillshare class The Art of Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration, you’ll discover the trends of anthropomorphism in animal characters, as well as see a wide range of human/animal variations across time. You’ll also see how history has influenced the modern illustrator and their take on anthropomorphism.

Let’s compare two well-known rabbit characters. Rabbit from the Winne-the-Pooh, by A. A Milnes illustrated by E.H Shepard series and White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carrol, illustrated by John Tenniel.

Rabbit was one the few characters from the Winnie-the-Pooh series to not be designed from a toy, and you can clearly see (below) how Rabbit looks far more natural and animal-like, compared to the other Winnie-the-Pooh characters.

Rabbit from ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’.

On the other hand, the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland is far more human-like. Dressed in fashionable clothes of that time and behaving in a very human-like way – constantly looking at his pocket watch, fretting and running late. A bridgeway from ‘real’ to fantasy, White Rabbit leads Alice down the rabbit hole into the wonderland filled with even more strange and fantastical anthropomorphic characters.

White Rabbit from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Rabbit from ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’

63 years later, we have the development of a new rabbit character who features in The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter. Wearing a little blue jacket and slippers, Peter Rabbit lives with his family in an underground home filled with all the (creature) comforts of human living. Set in and amongst an extended community, walking distance from the local village, school, shops…and Mr. McGregor’s garden! Peter Rabbit behaves very much like a young boy, but remains rabbit-like in movement (especially when he’s on the move).

‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ by Beatrix Potter.

Peter rabbit came from a picture letter original sent by Beatrix Potter to Annie Moore’s son Noel. After being rejected by several publishers, Beatrix Potter decided to publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit herself, printing an initial 250 copies for family and friends in 1901.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter

It was then that the publisher Frederick Warne & Co. – who had previously turned down the ‘bunny book’ – reconsidered their decision. They offered to take it on, as long as Beatrix re-illustrated it in colour. Reluctant at first Beatrix Potter changed her mind and worked with Warne who also suggested cutting the illustrations down from forty-two to thirty-two, marking the beginning of the 32 page picture book that we know today.

‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ by Beatrix Potter

The bunny book was published in colour in October 1902, and timing well with a sudden surge in the small picture-book market, The tale of peter rabbit is now one of the best-selling picture books of all time.

‘Guess how much I love you’ by Sam McBratney illustrated, by Anita Jeram.

Almost one-hundred years later, another successful bunny book is published in 1994. Guess How Much I love You, by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram, features a natural looking Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare. Using the same watercolour and ink combination used to render Peter Rabbit, at first glance Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare look more animal than human. Not wearing any clothing and moving through the story in their natural animal habitat, it’s their human-like behaviour and actions – competing to measure their love for one another – that portray an anthropomorphic quality.

‘Guess how much I love you’ by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram.

Seeing the wide range of styles and techniques that illustrators have used over the years to design and illustrate the same animal. Its interesting to compare the extremes of Anita Jeram’s heartfelt emotive watercolours to the sophisticated style of The Rabbits, by Shaun Tan.

‘The Rabbits’ by Saun Tan, 1998

A picture book with very little text, this story is incredibly powerful. The invading rabbits – inspired by early British explorers – arrive with all the trappings of European culture. They arrive, take over and exploit the land to the point of devastation, taking the small numbats (a rabbit-like native marsupial) from their families, their communities and their home.

The Rabbits are more graphic and statue-like than emotive. The provocative acrylic paintings, capture the vastness and beauty of Australian landscape, changing the tone and the mood of the story as the invasion unfolds.

‘The Rabbits’, by Saun Tan

Now, for a completely different take on a similar rabbit problem, The Rabbit Problem, by Emily Gravett. First published in 2009, the watercolour and pencil-line illustrations are more caricature in style, with their large round eyes and distinguishing characteristics, Gravett’s illustrations bring humour and awareness to a very serious issue.

‘The Rabbit Problem’, by Emily Gravett

The Rabbit Problem shows the bunny characters socialising, sitting in a classroom and behaving in a very human-like way. The story follows the the calendar year, with a Lonely Rabbit sending out an invitation in January for other rabbits to join her. In February, two cold bunnies (Lonely and Chalk) snuggle up together, with the result that by March there’s a pair of baby rabbits. By May there are five pairs, by July 13 pairs and by October there are 55 pairs of rabbits! With rabbits literally bursting off the page, Emily Gravett’s humour brings a very human quality to The Rabbit Problem.

Compare Gravett’s expressive humour to a the dry sarcasm seen in Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, published in 2012. The seemingly simple illustrations are deceptive in themselves, as they portray a very complex and sinister rabbit character, who adopts the role of the villain.

‘I Want My Hat Back’, Jon Klassen, 2012

To finish, I could not run past the two gorgeous bunnies that I illustrated in The Grasshopper’s Dance Juliette McIver, illustrated by Nina Rycroft. Although not officially a ‘bunny book’, my watercolour and pencil bunny characters, march and tumble across the pages of the book in full anthropomorphic style.

‘The Grasshopper’s Dance’ by Juliette McIver, Illustrated by Nina Rycroft

From portraying a tender moment of friendship (above), to the…joy and bounce in the
‘Rum-a-pum pum on the big bass drum, a somersault bunny in the summer-sun-sun!’ (below).
I found bunny characters an absolute delight to illustrate and something that I am truly excited to share with you in my new class.

‘The Grasshopper’s Dance’ by Juliette McIver, Illustrated by Nina Rycroft

I’ve been illustrating anthropomorphic animals since my first publications Little Platypus by Nette Hilton, Nina Rycroft back in 2000. Bringing human-like qualities to animal characters is my favourite thing to do and I’ve learnt a lot of techniques over the years which I share in my latest Skillshare class The Art of Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration.

My new Skillshare class, ‘The Art of Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration’

As well as exploring the popularity and history of rabbits, hares and bunnies in picture book stories, in this class, I take you through the process that I use to apply anthropomorphism to animal characters from drawing using photographic reference to bringing human qualities to an animal character, we create a watercolour illustration (the same technique that I used in The Grasshopper’s Dance) for an Easter illustration celebration.

Whether it’s reading a bunny book and seeing the illustrations with fresh eyes, or drawing, sketching and illustrating bunnies for someone special. Celebrate this Easter with bunnies in books…and maybe a little bit of chocolate! 

The Art of Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration

With Easter just around the corner, I have taken the opportunity to explore rabbits, bunnies and hares in picture book stories, with my latest class, The Art of Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration. 

I’ve spent the past month, putting together a class that not only offers an opportunity to hone-in your drawing skills but also, to inspire you with illustrations and art from a wide selection of ‘bunny’ books, walking you step-by-step through the process of drawing, designing and illustrating animal-like, human-like and toy-like bunnies.

I’m super proud of this class, with 55-mins of inspiration, a bunny booklist, illustration templates and instructions on how to paint and draw bunnies galore The Art of Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration will be sure to get you in the mood for Easter!

‘The Grasshopper’s Dance’, Illustrated by Nina Rycroft

As you may know, bringing human qualities to animal characters is one of my favourite things to do, so having the opportunity to spend time researching and seeing how different illustrators approach anthropomorphism across time, has been absolutely eye-opening for me.

For as long as picture books have been in print, illustrators have used anthropomorphism as a technique to engage and connect to the reader. A balancing act of various degrees of animal/human qualities, from keeping the animal natural looking to having the animal behave, dress and even live in a human-like way. This class will show various degrees of anthropomorphic techniques and how illustrators across time have implemented them.

Full Moon - Water Colour illustration Nina Rycroft

An illustration from ‘The Grasshopper’s Dance’, by Juliette McIver, Illustrated by Nina Rycroft

I’ve illustrated the occasional bunny in my time, and have found them an absolute delight to work with. So if you enjoy picture books, illustration, bunnies and celebrating Easter with more than just chocolate, then this class is a must!

My new Skillshare class,The Art of Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration explores the popularity and the history of rabbits, hares and bunnies in picture books.

Aesop’s fable ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’

From early fables like The Tortoise and the Hare, to well-known characters like the Velveteen RabbitPeter RabbitMiffy and more, this class will inspire you with a time-line of picture book stories, illustration styles and techniques. You can also download a BUNNY BOOKLIST, listing all the books, authors and illustrators that I mention in the class, as well as links to purchase copies of the books. *only if the books are available online.

‘The Velveteen Rabbit‘ by Margery Williams

‘The Velveteen Rabbit‘ by Margery Williams

The Art of Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration gives you comprehensive instructions to try your hand at anthropomorphism, illustrating animal-like, human-like and toy-like bunnies. With over the shoulder instructions, I show you my methods to creating animal characters for picture books, taking you through the entire process, from ideas, drawing rabbits from photographic reference, all the way through to creating final Easter Celebration Illustration using watercolour.

Beginners and seasoned artists are welcome! though I would highly recommend basic knowledge in watercolour.

Easter Celebration Illustration by Nina Rycroft

Easter Celebration Illustration by Nina Rycroft


  • A Bunny Book List (featuring all the books mentioned in class).
  • Illustration Templates for the ‘Easter Celebration Illustration’, ‘Toy Rabbit’ drawings and ‘Bunny Sketches’ from photographs.
  • Material lists for each illustration project.
    As well as this, you will have  55-mins of over-the-shoulder tuition!

Nina’s velveteen toy rabbit inspired drawings

If you join The Art of Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration using this link, you’ll get a one-month-free-trial at Skillshare, where you can enrol in my other (11 character design and illustration) classes as well as take part in thousands of other creative classes.

As always, I look forward to sharing everything that I’ve learnt over the years illustrating character and story!

Enjoy your Easter preparations with books, bunnies and maybe a little chocolate – Nina 🙂


What Can Pooh Teach Me About Shape And Design?

In my new class Draw a Circus of Characters Exploring Body Shapes and Proportions, Winnie-the-Pooh characters are used to explain the importance of shape in character design and how shape can be used to make a first (and lasting) impression. In this class I use the set of Winnie-the-Pooh characters to show how shape can be used to as a device to help distinguish one character from the another and how shape is used to relay and visually enhance a character’s personality.

In this class, I use A.A. Milne characters to demonstrate how a successful set of characters have evolved across time (1920’s – current) and media (picture book – screen) to align with a new, more modern audience.

Here are some fun facts that I found out about Winnie-the-Pooh along the way.

  • During World War I, a Canadian soldier named Harry Colebourn made a pet of a black bear cub he bought from a hunter for $20. Named Winnipeg (or ‘Winnie’ for short) the bear became his troop’s mascot and later a resident of the London Zoological Gardens, where Christopher Robin (son of author A.A. Milne) loved Winnie so much that he named his own teddy after her.

  • Unlike Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore, and Tigger. Rabbit was not based on a toy owned by Christopher Milne.
  • You can see all of the real plushies that inspired the characters at the New York Public Library, with the one exception, Christopher Robin lost his Roo toy in the thirties.

  • In the 1920s, A.A. Milne began writing collections of stories and poems that became the booksWhen We Were Very Young – which introduced a bear named Edward and a swan named Pooh.

  • At first Milne was reluctant to hire a political cartoonist E.H Shepard to illustrate his collection of stories. Taking the initiative, Shepard created a portfolio of sketches for the stories. Even visiting the Ashdown Forest for inspiration for the setting of the stories. He then turned up unannounced at Milne’s home, handed over his portfolio and won the approval to illustrate all of the stories we know so well.

  • Owl and Rabbit were created by A.A. Milne and illustrator Ernest Shepard only to add a little more variety to the character list.

  • In 1961, Walt Disney purchased the motion picture rights from A.A. Milne’s widow, Daphne.
  • Being empathetic to the original illustrations (and toys), Disney redesigned the original characters for a series of Winnie-the-Pooh shorts in theatres in the late 1960s.
  • In 1977, the trio of Winnie the Pooh shorts made up Pooh’s first movie releaseThe Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

  • Pooh remains Disney’s second best-selling character after Mickey Mouse.

  • The 1980s the Winnie the Pooh characters were brought up-to-date for two television shows,Welcome to Pooh Corner and The Mini Adventures of Winnie The Pooh where Christopher Robin became a 6-year-old tomboy named Darby.

    What do you think about the changes in the Winnie-the-Pooh characters?

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