Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 24, 2022

Illustrator Saturday – Afsaneh Sanei

Afsaneh Sanei is an illustrator and a writer of children’s books. She was born in 1985 in the colorful city of Isfahan in the central part of Iran. Afsaneh obtained her Bachelor of Painting at Tehran University in 2008 and completed her Master of Illustration at the Art University of Tehran in 2012. After a decade of working with Iranian publishers and releasing more than 15 books, she moved to Belgium to pursue her dream of being a free international artist.

Her books focus on developmental psychology and mental health in children. She believes a perfect picture book interacts emotionally with its audience, sparking reflection and curiosity. Growing up in a region with ancient and rich history, she has always aspired to apply her country’s literary and pictorial heritage in her art, content, and style.


1: I draw for 2 hours every night just before going to bed. It doesn’t matter which project I am working on. It is something apart from them. I say it is like meditation for me!

Listening to a track of music and I do sketches very fast without thinking! The theme or the source of inspiration may be anything! Then I just add some extra imaginary objects or characters to it.

2: It’s time to make them clearer! I start to paint them rough! Just as you see in the picture! Yes, the result is full of ideas and stories! Some of these frames are very special to me because I can see a potential story or idea inside it.

In fact, I let my unconscious mind fly and create whatever she likes. Some of the ideas are awesome. So, I choose the best of them and complete it with more details.

Most of the time I see them as book covers. So, I make up names for them to keep the story idea fresh!

3: when I choose one of them, the first thing I do is create its characters and after that extract its color palette! In this case, characters are tiny!

4: So, it’s time to start with favorite brushes to shape the main atmosphere. When I do digital painting, I prefer some brushes like real brush strokes.

5: it’s time to add some more details!

Yes! That is my way of making my illustrations. For the picture books, I should consider many things like the concept of and the story which leads to final design and usually it takes a long time.

Interview with Afsaneh Sanei:

How long have you been illustrating?

It’s been about 12 years since I have been working as an illustrator. If I am not mistaken, I started my profession in 2010.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

It was more than 12 years ago. I remember I was working as a character and background designer for an animation company in Tehran. I was a master’s student at that time.

You were born in Iran. What made you want to move to Belgium?

It has a long story, complex with some political and social issues! To make it short, to follow my dreams! My concern has been producing high-quality books both in form and content which stem from my rich pictorial and literary culture. And also cooperating with many well-known publishers around the world!

When I was in Iran it was hard to do so. Sanctions has had a great impact on my country and in many aspects and make it disconnected from the world. As the consequence, its book market is quite small, and the publishing industry is weak. To be honest, the quality of the books didn’t meet my expectations at all and every time my books were published, the result really disappointed me!

On the other hand, you as an Iranian have no PayPal or international bank account, so it is almost impossible to work with non-Iranian agents or publishers because of difficulties in dealing with the payments and the tax issues!

All these things and more led me to leave my country and start my new journey to achieve my goals and dreams!

How long have you lived in Belgium?

Not long! It’s been about 11 months. Since November 2021.

Why did you choose to get your Bachelor of Painting at Tehran University?

As far as I know, I didn’t choose anything!!! I was born and chosen to create new things and paint on any surface I could as a child. It was obvious that I was interested in art, everybody knew this. Then I went to Graphic Design high school. That led me to art university finally. But this time, I chose painting because I thought in this major, I could learn many basics, like drawing or working with colors or testing many techniques, better.

What made you decide to get your Master of Illustration at the Art University of Tehran four years later?

When I finished my bachelor’s, I realized illustration is somewhere between Graphic Design and Painting. That was exactly what I wanted. At that time illustration wasn’t as known as today, at least in my country. I’m talking about 2007 when there was no Instagram or Pinterest or any other remarkable platforms like that. It was hard to find good picture books or any pictorial sources about trendy or up-to-date illustrations, especially picture books for children.  I was extremely thirsty about this vague major, so I decided to apply for the master’s in illustration to learn more about it!

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate books?

When I was working as a background designer for animation! It may seem similar to book illustration but it’s not. I loved books more than animations! Moreover, I wanted to design everything by myself to tell my own story! I must confess that I got bored many times because I thought animation projects took a long time to be finished, and I was turning to a machine for making backgrounds! That time I found out that it was not my cup of tea!

I loved books more than anything!

Did you do freelance art in-between graduating from Tehran University and started at the Art University of Tehran?

No. I was working in an animation company.

When did you learn to speak English?

I seriously started learning English in 2013 after my master’s degree. I needed to search for everything, as I told you before, mainly because of the shortage of information!  And then to find a way to expand my career and communicate with the outside world.

What classes did you like the most at Art University of Tehran ?

Handprints! And Painting Techniques.

Did Art University of Tehran help find illustration work you could do after graduation?

Not really. Although I had learned many things from university, I found my illustration work just by applying for some children’s magazines. Unfortunately, the university system in Iran is not connected to the market like here in Europe! They don’t promote students and connect them to the market.

Do you feel art school influenced your illustrating style?

Personally, I believe everything happens to a human can affect his or her life.

I think I have two styles. In retrospect, one of them is free-handed and drawing alike (the influence of painting art school) and the other one is simpler and closer to graphic arts (the trace of Graphic design high school). Yes! For all these years I have been influenced by both.

What type of job did you do after you graduated?

Mostly doing illustrations for magazines and books. But I also used to teach at university and some other private classes. I also like working with children. So, I used to work with them as an art teacher to thrive their imagination and curiosity. And as I told you before, I also worked as character and background designer for animation companies.

How did you promote yourself as an illustrator?

Well, when I was in Iran, mostly by Instagram. And the strong professional networks that I had built through all these years there. It was quite hard to go beyond this and break the borders of all sanctions and limitations. But I had to do it because of my strong passion to expand my career out of my home country! So, I decided to attend international book fairs which was not a cheap and easy decision! I attended in Beijing and Frankfurt book fair. Hence, I could gain emails of many editors, right managers or publishers to send them my books’ query letters and my portfolio. Yes! It worked. I could sell my first book rights to “Minedition”.

But here in Europe it’s easier to promote yourself via many websites or attending many related associations or societies or various book fairs and even art festivals and galleries! I’m still searching for some other potential possibilities!

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

I don’t know exactly when but if I remember, I have had a great bond with children. I know them well and I am fully aware of their needs or characteristics. Maybe that’s why I started my career with children’s books. And I have an active inner child as well! So, I feed her everyday with my stories and illustrations.

Have you made a book dummy to help sell a book idea?

Yes, I have! It’s an urgent need! It’s the most important part of your presentation! As an illustrator, you must learn how to show off what you have, including your ideas and your abilities in storytelling and techniques. You tell me, is it possible to sell your book’s rights without submitting your dummies in this competitive market?

Was The Day my Dad Was Lost the first book you wrote and illustrated?

It was my first book as writer and illustrator which became my first book to be published out of my country. Before that, I had illustrated more than 15 books as illustrator.

Was Als Papa verloren ging a picture book? 

Yes, it’s a picture book for preschool children.

It has a funny story about a girl who has a big question.” Where does my daddy go every morning!?”

It was published in German and French. Do you think it will be published in English?

I hope one day It will be published in English and other languages, but that depends on the publisher “Minedition” which holds its global rights. Every illustrator likes to see his or her books on the bookshelves as much as possible.

I see you have illustrated two books come out in English in 2021. Was BE READY MONSTER! your first picture book in English?

The book “Be Ready Monster!” and “The Scarecrows Wish” have been published in my country in Farsi. But their rights are available. The aim of having a website, in my view, is to make connections with people in any race or country. So, I had to present it in an international language. that’s why I changed the title of them from Farsi to English.

Madrese Publications published The SCARECROWS WISH. Are they an educational publisher? 

Yes. Madreseh is an old and big publication in Iran that produces both schoolbooks and children’s books with the aim of education.

How did you connect with Christy Ewers at The Cat Agency?

I knew the Cat Agency for a couple of years. She was the agent of my friend Rahele Jomepour Bell, who was very satisfied with her collaboration with Cat Agency. So, she introduced me to Christy. She looked at my portfolio and my dummies, and then our story began!

Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

Most of the time I prefer to illustrate my own ideas and stories. And I am always working on them but in some conditions I might accept. I must like the story. Story is every important to me!

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones?

Yes, I can’t even count them! maybe more than hundred! But all of them were published in Iranians magazines. I haven’t tried working with magazines out of my country so far but I’m open to do so in some cases!

Do you want to write and illustrate more of your own books?

Definitely! My aim is to produce high-quality picture books for children. In the next coming days, “Who Sneezed Inside the wall” is going to be published by Minedition. And I am working on three more picture books to present to the market by Spring 2023.

What is your favorite medium to use?

It depends on the project. Even though, I mostly do digital painting, my personal preferences are oil colors and acrylic-gouache.

Has that changed over time?

Many times!!!

When you are open to learning and curious, changes are inevitable. As human beings, our attitudes, feelings, and thoughts are subject to change so do the mediums we use and the styles we have.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I usually draw one or two hours every night before going to bed. It’s a kind of meditation for me. I just listen to music and draw without thinking. This process plays an essential role in getting ideas for my stories.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?


Depending on the project, I do some research before and during the project. This research usually is on the visual aspects of the project such as characters, atmosphere and so on, or the concept of the story like its structure and its psychological aspects. In other words, extracting the essence and the concept of the story demands lots of research and study.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

I remember the time when the internet was not so common and full of information. At that time, a limited number of books from my personal library or the bookshelves of the university were my only window to the world of illustrations. Internet, however, has provided me and many other illustrators with a strong network and possibilities, through which we can connect with one another apart from the place we live, sell our artistic products or learn from each other by exchanging feedbacks on each other’s works!

What do you think is your biggest success?

I’m so proud of myself when reviewing all the long way I have gone through! Despite all the serious barriers I had had, I could go on and never gave up.

I could keep up with my peers despite living in a country which was somehow disconnected from the world. Yes, I can call it a success!


Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

I used to use Photoshop, and I have never worked with Painter.

Do you own or use a graphic tablet?

Yes, I used to work with Wacom Cintiq pro-13. But now, I have an iPad pro 12 and recently I have been working with procreate app for making my illustrations.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I have many of them! But some are the followings:

To add rich Persian pictorial and literary heritage to my illustrations and create a unique style which is fresh and new and write stories in a modern style for today’s children.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on one of my books titled “Tutu’s Adventure in the Train”. The storyboard is about to finish. At the same time, doing some research, I’m forming some ideas and concepts for my upcoming picture books.

Moreover, I have a collection called “365”. In this collection, I just draw and illustrate whatever I like with no limitations! Different techniques and styles in any size and tools are included. In this long-term project, the aim is to pursue for my unique style and search for new stories through pictures.

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 recently bought acrylic gouache and I must confess that it’s an amazing product! Of course, I combine it with some other materials like watercolor or gouache but in general, using this product is very delightful and handy. This medium like gouache has a matt look and as the same as acrylic, it would be deactivated after drying.

My advice for professional artists is that try to use high-quality materials. The outcome would be far different when you use inappropriate tools.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

My friends, beyond everything is You! Having CLEAR targets, hardworking and consistency is the keys to success!


Afsaneh, thank you for taking the time to answer the interview questions and sharing your process. Please let me know about your future books and successes so I can share them with everyone.

You can visit Afsaneh using the following links:





Talk tomorrow,



  1. Congratulations on following your dreams! You’re an inspiration. Great work!


  2. You had my attention with the villa, dragon and crows, but then the dog with a cat puppet had me LOL…whimsical, fun, and just lovely. I’m looking forward to seeing your books in print ❤️


  3. Wonderful! Love the sense of imagination I feel when I look at your illustrations, Afsaneh! Thanks for sharing!


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