My guest today is a fellow uTaler, Maja Sereda. She has illustrated more than a dozen children’s books published in English, Afrikaans and other African languages. She has received three ATKV awards for best illustration (in category ages 3–6) in 2008, 2009, 2011. And her new book A kite’s flight written by W. Gumede won the SCWBI Crystal Kite member’s choice award for the Africa region, 2011. I fell in love with Maja’s owls last month (see illustration below) and am thrilled that Maja has agreed to illustrate one of my stories, featuring an owl and three other woodland characters.
Ten for Starters
- Illustrator or author/illustrator?
[Maja] I’m a full-time illustrator but working (slowly) on becoming a writer of children’s stories as well.
- What’s your nationality and where have you lived?
[Maja] I was born in Warsaw, Poland. At the age of ten my family and I moved to South Africa where I’ve spent most of my life. For a brief year after my graduation I lived in Dublin, Ireland with my sister. I’m currently living and working in Johannesburg.
- I love books that help children discover more about other cultures. Have you illustrated any books with a multicultural theme?
[Maja] South Africa is rich with culture so most of the children’s books that I illustrate embrace the multicultural theme.
- Tell us a little of your beginnings as an artist.
[Maja] As a little girl I was always keen on drawing and creating things. I was also lucky enough to have parents who encouraged me to develop my talents further by sending me to an art school in Pretoria. I discovered my passion for illustration when I was at University doing my Information Design degree. Unfortunately there weren’t many illustrations courses at the time so I couldn’t further my studies. I’ve spent a few years working as a designer, but I hated every minute of it. Eventually I found a great job as a colourist for a South African cartoonist which helped me put the right building blocks into place to start my illustration career. I’ve been freelancing for the past 5 years and really loving it!
- What is your favorite medium for your artwork?
[Maja] I love working with my hands and I enjoy variety of mediums. My first two books were done in gouache, but now I’m leaning towards water colours especially for smaller illustration pieces. I also love using charcoal and oil but that’s more for my fine art. For my illustration work I’m often forced to use my computer due to time restrictions.
- I know you are not only a book illustrator. What other expressions does your art take?
[Maja] I love oil painting which I’ve been neglecting lately. I would love to put together an exhibition one of these days. Portraiture – I think.
- What books and/or illustrators influenced your childhood?
[Maja] As a child I wasn’t a keen reader, perhaps because I wasn’t very good at it. To help me improve my reading skills my mother always made me read to her, which I saw as a punishment at the time. As a result I spent a lot of time looking at illustrations which I loved. I don’t remember names but one of the books was a story about a grasshopper that sang all summer. It was a board book with cut outs in it so that the illustrations ‘overlapped’ – I should try to find it again. There was the story of Ferdinand, Thumbelina, and quite a few other classics.
- Are you involved at all in eBook or App illustration?
[Maja] I have one eBook on www.uTales.com titled Pick-a-Dream Dragon written by Tom Brown. And I’m also working on an App, but nothing I can really talk about just yet.
- What does your workspace look like?
[Maja] My workspace is in serious need of a makeover!
- Can you share a piece or two with us?
Four Fun Ones to Finish?
- What word best sums you up?
[Maja] Quiet, with splashes of colour.
- If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go?
[Maja] This might not seem very exciting but I’m very nostalgic about my summers in Poland. Growing up my parents had a cottage in the forest where we spent our summers. My days were filled with adventures, long walks in the forest, picking wild berries or mushrooms, chasing butterflies or looking after the farm animals in the area. The cottage is still there and I would love to go for two or three months to live quietly with nothing but the sound of the forest surrounding me. I would paint, draw and read.
- What do you do for non-art related relaxation?
[Maja] I love gardening – there is something about digging up fresh soil, the smell of fresh compost, plants growing and bees buzzing about. I also love walking which I do early in the morning on weekends.
- Cats or dogs?
[Maja] Cats – I’ve even worked at a cat shelter for a few years. It was very rewarding.
find out more about Maja on the following sites:
Maja, thank you so much for sharing with us. I have to say a few months in that Polish cottage in the woods sounds pretty idyllic to me… a haven for creativity! I share your passion for the garden! I sure hope that in the crazy life of a freelance illustrator you can find time to do those oil paintings. To your success and good luck on your Crystal Kite Award shortlisting!