Joe McKendry is an experienced painter and illustrator who specializes in editorial illustration. His work has appeared in over 100 publications worldwide, including the New York Times, Vanity Fair, TIME Magazine, and many more. Recently, Joe was contacted by Art Director John Tomanio to create a watercolor painting of the Sumatran Rhino to accompany a National Geographic feature about the diminishing Sumatran Rhino population. The left image below is the rhino sketched out in pencil, then scanned and colored digitally. The second, final version was flipped horizontally, as seen below.


Check out this fascinating time lapse video showing Joe’s process in creating the Sumatran Rhino painting!

After sending a digital sketch, receiving approval and completing the rhino painting, Joe was asked to create a map in watercolor as well, which would help create a more cohesive look for the spread. National Geographic has high standards for accuracy so, as with the rhino, careful attention to detail was given to the shorelines, rivers, lakes and general topography of the map. Keep reading as Joe walks us through his process, from start to finish, in creating the finished map!

Joe first sent some watercolor samples and color schemes to experiment with topography and technique. The third image below is the in-progress map (also check out Joe’s watercolor palette in the background!):


The map was painted by hand with watercolor on Arches 140 lb hot-pressed paper. To allow for ease of changes and alterations, Joe painted the land forms and water on separate sheets of paper and then pieced them together digitally. Rivers and roads were also painted by hand on a separate layer. He used hatch marks on each so the pieces could be accurately lined up digitally. As Joe explained, not only is this method convenient if small shifts in position, tone, or color need to be made, it also puts less pressure on perfectly creating a single piece of art.

These images depict different versions of the overall color on the spread. Some versions depict the water as the white of the page and the land masses as either more brown or green. One version features blue water and another with gray water.


The final product for both the map and the rhino ended up being slightly desaturated to create a greater balance of attention between text and image. Here is the final spread that printed in the magazine:

Want to see even more amazing work by Joe McKendry? Check out his Directory of Illustration portfolio or visit his website at