Q&A with Ilya Milstein, illustrator of The World of Agatha Christie Jigsaw

Outset Completed Graphic
The World of Agatha Christie Jigsaw from Laurence King Publishing, illustrated by Ilya Milstein

The World of Agatha Christie jigsaw was released in summer 2022 and features illustrations of key characters and clues from Christie's works as well as monumental moments from her personal life. Laurence King Publishing caught up with the illustrator of the puzzle, Ilya Milstein, to discuss the process of creating such an intricate design.

Hi Ilya, can you firstly give us a brief introduction into who you are and what you do?

I’m Ilya Milstein, an Italian-born and Australian-raised illustrator living and working in New York. Working in a hand-drawn and often highly-detailed style, I make drawings for various clients including The New Yorker, The New York Times, Apple, and Spotify.

Can you tell us a bit about your process? What steps do you take from the initial brief to completion of project?

My process always varies because different projects have different needs. Sometimes, as was the case with The World of Agatha Christie, my commissioned projects are developed through research and ongoing dialogue with collaborators. The World of Agatha Christie is very much a collaboration between myself, Laurence King, and Agatha Christie Limited.

This puzzle began abstractly enough as a long list of characters and objects pertaining to both Agatha Christie’s biography and bibliography, compiled by the Christie authorities at Agatha Christie Limited. We’d initially intended for the puzzle to depict a larger streetscape, but with time it became clear that the biographical nature of the puzzle and the small scale of many of the objects from Christie’s narratives demanded a more intimate scene, so we instead chose to depict Christie at home, surrounded by objects and clues that might have been lost in an image with a different scale. From there, my role was almost solving a different kind of puzzle by researching Christie’s life and the full list (e.g. ensuring that all the objects were era-accurate) and combining everything into one harmonious scene. Then through many rounds of sketches, inked line work, and different approaches to colouring, we gradually arrived at a final image.

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Line drawing depicting Ilya's image for the jigsaw

What influences your practice most?

At the risk of coming across as a bit self-serious, I’m influenced by how the world feels to me in all its variety, density, and excitement, and I try to capture some of that in my illustrations. My work is often detail-oriented because I feel that a fuller picture of our surroundings can be understood through focusing on small and occasionally-overlooked objects and phenomena. I feel that something similar is wonderfully explored in Christie’s narratives, in which nearly-imperceptible clues often provide an understanding of dramatic crimes.

How long did it take to create the whole puzzle?

It took several months, although I was working on other projects simultaneously! One will often not have this kind of time to develop illustrations, but due to the degree of the detail and research the illustration required, some small legal concerns that come with depicting real places and things, and the commitment held by myself, Laurence King, and Agatha Christie Limited to do the project justice, we benefited from being able to really reflect on the puzzle throughout the process of making it, and hope the solver will enjoy reflecting on it too.

Did you have a favourite section of the puzzle to illustrate? If so, why?

The whole puzzle was a delight to draw because it contains so much variety: whether it was the floral textile of an armchair or a small framed photograph of Egypt, every square inch contained its own unique little challenge. However, my absolute favourite section to draw was the frieze in the top section of the image. This depicts a series of scenes and characters from Christie’s stories, but is based on a real military-themed series of murals in Christie’s Greenway home that were painted by one Lt Marshall Lee when the US Coast Guard requisitioned the property during the Second World War. Including this frieze was a fun way for us to depict Christie’s characters and a great deal of action, capturing some of the more exciting moments of Christie’s work without interrupting the overall tranquillity of the domestic scene.

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Close up of the frieze, Ilya's favourite area of the jigsaw to illustrate

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