BLOG: The Making of Fog Island, An Ode to Ireland

“In New York I found the city I never found, but in Ireland I found the country I always wanted.”- Tomi, in Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story

Illustration for Fog Island, pastels and ink on tracing paper. ©Tomi Ungerer

Tomi Ungerer and his wife Yvonne touched down on the outer edge of Ireland in the early ’70s, to set up a new life. They had seven suitcases to their name and no idea what to expect, but their move to “give destiny a destination” proved to be the best decision they ever made. Tomi still lives in Ireland with his family, and in 2013 he published Fog Island, an ode to the country and to the people who welcomed him there.  To mark St. Patrick’s Day, we’re sharing some material from the making of Fog Island

Drawing from Life

Preparatory sketch for Fog Island, with notes.

 Tomi has led a varied life, and his books often develop from his memories. When creating Otto, he didn’t need to look up how to draw tanks or uniforms, he remembered them from his childhood under the Nazis. And when it came to depicting the rural Irish scenes in Fog Island, Tomi didn’t need to look up what a lamb suckling looks like, or how the light falls over the hills in the countryside. These are the type of scenes that now surround him in his adopted home. 

Preparatory sketch for Fog Island. The dog is collaged in on tracing paper.

The Ungerer family have assimilated into the local lifestyle. “If you are an Alsatian you adapt to wherever you go,” Tomi told the Irish Times in 2013. “Adapted is adopted…We are part of the farming community. The boys are running the farm. We have some 600 sheep. That is no small matter.”




The Islands of Ireland

Final illustration for Fog Island, ink and pastel on tracing paper. ©Tomi Ungerer

Another source of inspiration for Fog Island was the book The Islands of Ireland (1936) by Thomas H. Mason. When Tomi’s daughter in law gave him a copy of the book,  he began researching the construction of old fishing boats, called curraghs, which are still used recreationally on Ireland’s islands. Much of the story of Fog Island came from this research, and a fascination with the old way of life on Ireland’s remote islands. 

The scene in which Finn and Cara are rescued from the swell by a curragh was a particular challenge to draw. Depicting the movement of waves in the sea required some experimentation.


One of Tomi’s preparatory sketches for this key rescue scene.


Tomi speaks in this video about the techniques he used to create his final illustration, and how he was eventually able to capture the movement and colour of the sea.

A Friendly Fog Man

How Tomi Ungerer created Fog Island

Final illustration for Fog Island, ink and pastel on tracing paper. ©Tomi Ungerer

Throughout his life Tomi has been inspired by the moon. Since moving to Ireland, the interaction of the moon, the fog and the sea near his home has captivated him. Tomi wrote Moon Man, one of his most beloved books, in honour of his fascination with the moon, and Fog Island is a paean to the fog. 

Fog Man is the mysterious sole inhabitant of Fog Island, who offers Finn and Cara food and shelter when they arrive unexpectedly on his doorstep. His generosity to these strangers reflects the welcoming attitude of Tomi and Yvonne’s new neighbours when they first arrived to Ireland. Fog Man explains that he creates the fog using magma from the earth’s core. Tomi was really proud of this idea, which harks back to his interest in geology and minerals as a young man in Strasbourg.

Craic agus ceol

Music and laughter are a reknowned part of Irish life, and in Fog Island, Tomi captures the joy of a rural Irish community when Finn and Cara are returned to them safe and sound. Tomi’s compositions in this preparatory sketch captures the cluster, crowding and noisy atmosphere that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent a night in an Irish pub, especially when there’s an excuse for merriment!

How Tomi Ungerer made Fog Island

Preparatory sketch for Fog Island

We hope that all Tomi’s fans in Ireland and abroad have a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day. 

Find a copy of Fog Island in your local independent bookstore, or on Amazon


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