Maja Sereda has illustrated number of picture books published in English, Afrikaans and other African languages. She has received 3 ATKV awards for best illustration (category ages 3–6) in 2008, 2009, 2011. And her book A kite’s flight written by W. Gumede won the Crystal Kite member’s choice award for the Africa region, 2011. Her latest book La Grande Fleur, written by Yves Pinguilly, was published in France (2013).
Maja tackles each project with great passion and enthusiasm, which she best communicates through her fun and quirky illustrations. Maja works in soft pastels as well as digital media. She loves drawing all creatures great and small, including little children!
Here is Maja explaining her process:
I create a sketch for my illustration using a colour pencil on 60gsm paper.
The sketch is scanned and rough colour dropped in.
I trace image onto final pastel paper and start pasteling.
I always work from left to right or from the center outwards in order not to smudge the pastel. It is a very delicate medium.
To create details I use pastel pencils, whereas for the fine outlines I once again bring in a colour pencil. Most often a brown.
Background is drawn last.
Below: Snow Games written by Joanna Marple (www.utales.com) 2012
LA GRANDE FLEUR COVER
La Grande Fleur was published in France by Oscar Editeur in 2013.
The book was part of the French/South African season.
La Grande Fleur interior art.
How long have you been illustrating?
I’ve been illustrating books since 2007.
What made your family move from Poland to South Africa when you were young?
My dad received a work contract and decided to take it. It was supposed to be a temporary move, but I fell in love with South Africa and persuaded my family to stay.
Have you ever gone back to Poland?
I like to visit from time to time. I still have family and primary school friends living in Poland.
What University did you attend and what did you study?
I studied BA (Information Design) aka graphic design at University of Pretoria.
What was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?
I did a number of illustration jobs while working in the design/advertising industry, such as story boarding or product drawings. I believe the very first paid illustration job was my first book.
What type of job did you do right after you graduated?
I moved to Dublin, Ireland for a year where I worked for a marketing company as a junior art director.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
It was in my final year of studies. I realized that I’ve chosen the wrong field. Design was simply not for me. It took me a few years before I could start freelancing and working as a full time illustrator.
How many picture books have you illustrated?
Approximately 17 picture books, however I’m not counting illustration work done for educational books.
Were any of them published by a US Publisher?
Unfortunately not, however I’m hoping it will happen one day soon. I’m always dreaming and wishing.
What was the first picture book that you illustrated? And how did that contract come your way?
My sister put me in touch with a client who wanted to illustrate a story that her father wrote. It was small private project. Out of that book, an illustration of mine title ‘catching rabbits’ was born, which I sent to a local South African publisher. They replied immediately and asked me to pitch for a book. I had my first real book contract within in a week. I was over the moon.
How do you connect with art directors and editors and find illustration work?
So far I’ve been very lucky. Work finds me. Nevertheless, from time to time I do like to contact a publisher via email and send them my updated portfolio.
Are you represented by artist agency? If so, who? If not would you like to find one?
I’m not represented by anyone at the moment and I am currently looking for US representation. In South Africa, the market is very small and a freelance illustrator can easily approach publishers directly.
It looks like you have illustrated books in many different languages. How do publishers help you work with a book that is written in another language?
Even though my Afrikaans isn’t very good, I do understand it and therefore am able to read a manuscript without translation. Many of the other African languages are sent to me with the English translation. I’m currently studying French. One of my latest books LA GRANDE FLEUR written by Yves Pinguilly, was also translated for me into English.
Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?
I do regular work for a local magazine Hoezit! It is also an Afrikaans publication.
Have you done any work for educational publishers?
I work for educational publishers on a regular basis. This work however doesn’t inspire me and therefore doesn’t feature in my portfolio. I prefer to work on picture books for young children.
What is your favorite medium to use to do your illustrations?
At the moment, it’s soft pastels. I simply love the medium – the intensity and variety of colour is incredible. Most of my recent work has been done in pastels. In the past, I’ve worked with gouache, acrylic, ink, oil and Photoshop.
Has that changed over time?
I have grown a lot as an illustrator, I don’t think one ever stops growing and learning. When I started illustrating my focus was simply on creating sweet, quirky illustrations, but now I’m leaning more and more towards fantasy and also more personal work.
What do you consider is your first big success?
My first book received an award for best illustration, it definitely inspired me to keep going.
Do you ever want to write and illustrate a picture book?
Yes, mostly definitely. I write and sketch ideas often – my big aim is to set aside some time and only focus on doing my own book. Perhaps this coming year! Recent trip to Reunion Island was very inspiring and I would like to use some of the incredible imagery in my book.
Would you be open to working with an author who wants to self-publish a picture book?
Yes, and I have in the past although these projects are often tricky. There is the issue of budget, quality of the writing, etc.
Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?
I take photographs, I search the web, look through books. Research is vital for any project.
Do you think your Polish roots or the South African culture is reflected in your art?
Little bit of both, however I do feel a stronger connection with my polish roots.
What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?
I have so many things, it’s difficult to choose! Pastels of course, but also colouring pencils. I find them fantastic to sketch with, much better than the graphite pencil.
Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?
As much as I can, but I don’t have a specific number of hours in mind. I also believe it’s good to take breaks from drawing and creating. I love spending time behind the camera lens as well, especially photographing birds and insects.
Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?
Absolutely. Hasn’t it for everyone? It is incredible how we are all connected, we share our work and meet fantastic people online.
Do you use Photoshop or Corel Painter with your illustrations?
I use Photoshop for my digital artwork. I also use to help me plan layouts.
Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?
Yes, I use a Wacom tablet.
Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?
I have many dreams, it’s hard to summarize them all here. Ideally I want to have the freedom to write and illustrate my own books. Also create a product line using my art.
What are you working on now?
I have one or two potential books to create. I’m still deciding which one to take on.
Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.
I love using 60gsm layout paper for sketching because it’s slightly transparent. I can always overlay my sketches and work over them.
Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?
Work hard, believe in your dream, make sure that the work you produce is of high quality and then be brave. Not everyone is going to be a fan of your work, but sometimes you simply have to look for the right audience.
Thank you Maja for sharing your journey and process with us. Please let us know all your future successes. We’d love to hear about them and cheer you on. You can see more of Maja’s work on www.childrensillustrators.com/majasereda and see more of her portfolio on: http://www.facebook.com/MajaSeredaIllustration
If you have a moment I am sure Maja would like to read your comments. I enjoy reading them, too, even if I don’t always have time to reply. Thanks!