Years ago, when I finally got around to creating the South African Animal Alphabet - an idea that had been brewing in my mind for quite some time - I knew that there would be certain letters that would be more challenging than others. Not necessarily more challenging to illustrate, but certainly more challenging in their conception.
For example, "A is for Aardvark" came absolutely naturally. I could see the final artwork so clearly - down to the last detail - even before I even put pen to paper. In stark contrast, the conceptualisation of "N is for Nyala" almost got the best of me. Try as I may, I just couldn't come up with a good idea (or even a bad one, for that matter!), and I almost stopped working on the alphabet altogether.
The last three letters of the alphabet were challenging for a different reason: There just aren't many South African animals to choose from that begin with the letters x, y and z!
"Z" was the easiest of the trio. A zebra was an obvious choice, and would be pretty and popular. The concept of the zebra painting its own stripes also came to me easily.
"Y" was more challenging... Take a moment to think of South African animals that begin with the letter "Y". Yellow Mongoose was a front-runner for a while. And there's a variety of birds called "Yellow Something-or-other". But they aren't necessarily widely known or loved... Once I thought of the charismatic Yellow Hornbill, and their cheeky way of inviting themselves to your safari picnic (an infamous event in the Kruger National Park), the concept of a Mad Hatter's picnic came easily. Turns out that the final product is actually one of my favourite letters!
And finally... The horror of the letter "X"...
Do you know what a Xerus is? Neither did I... It's a genus in the squirrel family, commonly known as a ground squirrel. Sure, they're super cute. But nobody has ever pointed to a ground squirrel sitting next to the side of the road and said, "Look at that cute Xerus!". It just didn't sit right with me.
For some time, I thought of borrowing an animal from one of our many beautiful African languages. But that also didn't really make sense, when the rest of the alphabet is in english. After all, I wanted to make use of the Universal Language, so that the SA animal alphabet would be accessible to the largest possible group of people (and thank goodness I stuck to it -- my alphabet is more widely travelled than I am, bringing joy, education and a passion for South Africa to kids and the young-at-heart all over the world!).
Finally, I decided to use a creature that does NOT, in fact, start with the letter "X", but does at least contain it: oXpecker. The concept of Doctor Oxpeckers doing what they do best, perched on a giraffe-print "X", then immediately came to mind.
I'm hoping that most people would forgive me for the little indiscretion. Or at least that it will be overlooked, since not a lot of names start with the letter "X"!
But perhaps I'm wrong about that too...?
More blog posts and behind-the-scenes action of the SA Animal Alphabet:
The South African Animal Alphabet range is available in my online store: