Throwback Thursday – Zookeeper Bullied at Work

For #ThrowbackThursday – which I have no real idea if it exists outside of posting old photographs on instagram… Yes, I’m looking at you Hugh Jackman. I thought I’d revisit an old favorite illustration, as it’s nice to discuss old work and show the working process and ideas behind them – providing I still have the documents and memory! Ha.


So, for this week’s throwback, I’ll be looking at my ‘Zookeeper, bullied at work’ illustration! It’s one of my favorite ones from second year at University, mainly because I’d made a bit of a leap in quality and composition with this piece, because I’d been too safe and rough before. There’s also a couple of interesting things about how this work came about.


Firstly, we were issued two pieces of paper by the tutors, written on one was a profession and the other a situation of some kind, mine were ‘Zookeeper’ and ‘Bullied at work’, I had no idea what to make of it, but I think some other people got worse ones, and I think I’d probably swapped 3 times to get this one and I was still struggling what to do, though animals was obvious, we also had to do two different illustrations for the same ‘phrase’, targeting two different audiences. This post will only focus on the one aimed at teenagers, the other was aimed at 4 to 5 year olds. Though I probably wasn’t entirely successful defining them by style, there was defiantly elements in the older audience illustration that required more visual skill to understand.

The Children’s illustration for reference;

Zookeeper Childrens illustration



Working in a simple program called MyPaint on my TabletPC (Motion computing LE1600) I’d got the idea for the a zookeeper trapped in a lion’s stomach, It would count as bullying. The original idea would’ve been ok but I didn’t like the thumbnail as the lion was really rough, daunting to draw the scene well – both elements together, I couldn’t see a the zookeeper so much, So, quite a quick realization I then decided to work closer to the stomach composition, and I could get rid of the lion image altogether, and have these cut sections of the inside of the animal with ribs and such – without knowing which animal it really was, as technically it was irrelevant.

Rough Idea

So I’d gotten this second thumbnail (which was actually a decent size) and worked on it till I was happy, which was probably an hour or two. I exported the image and opened it into photoshop, and I practically traced the entire composition onto a large scale, so It never really changed in that respect. I’d gotten to a point where it was ‘finished’ – as In I’d worked on it for a week or so, and it was a good representation of the original idea, basically a perfect traced composition and then added the details, saved it as a full sized PNG… then BOOM. Disaster.

Illustration at this point:

Zookeeper Bullied at work unfinished


I don’t remember the details entirely due to age and being in severe shock (well, not quite) but there was an issue saving and I didn’t have the original photoshop document anymore… I only had the exported PNG… full-size of course. I remember talking to my tutor Howard about it, he’d gone through the same sort of issue before, naturally being an illustrator for years. There was plenty of time as there were two illustrations to do and I’d just finished this one… So I decided to make changes, the below is a good example of the changes, with the original image, the one below that is an image of the changes made ontop of the flattened png artwork, isolated to show the difference, and below that is the image that was submitted as final.


Zookeeper bullied at work changes


The changes were made because I felt it needed more dynamic shapes, and colours, the elements used for entrance and exit to the stomach were basic and brown… with the strong visual shape of the stomach and the cutaway bones, it was those bits that seemed to be lacking so I added a brighter more interesting element to them.


Overall I was really happy with the image, it was everything I wanted it to be and I’d managed to get a great composition and make it vibrant, though It wasn’t perfect, a few extra details might’ve helped bring the image out a little bit, I remember feedback there were a couple of people who wasn’t sure what it was showing, whilst others did. I also like the fact the penguin seems happy considering the situation. I’d like to think the penguin was a bit of an extrovert and social butterfly, and the zookeeper was a little annoyed as he’d talked for 5 straight hours already. That was my personal narrative anyway, ha.


I feel this illustration was around the point I’d started getting better and working harder than before, it was that moment when passion really started kicking in, as before, especially in college I’d loose momentum, especially if I had to redraw stuff, I’d often get annoyed and settle on the image even if it wasn’t good. Even though this image originally wasn’t developed much on ‘paper’ – I’d spend quite a while thinking about it and perfecting the composition of the thumbnail – which became a strong visual rough after the time spent.


It still remains one of my favorite illustrations from University, I’d like to revisit it or work on something based on it in the future, but I’m also hesitant to touch it as well.


Thanks for reading.

zookeeper silly illustration penguin stomache

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