Workshop for kids by Maja Sereda, illustrator

The 19th of November will see the start of a new initiative at Dibuka. Dibukids, the new label promoting the access to books and literature for children and teenagers, will launch its first workshop by inviting Maja Sereda (practical informations here). A renowned South African illustrator and artist, Sereda has published more than 15 books intended for the younger audiences. The artist has won attention from the art world by her cross-genre approach, using different medium in her illustrations, from gouache to oil and ink to digital media. IntoFrench has met her to understand her approach and to know a bit more about what she has in mind for the workshop.

A diverse program

Maja Sereda is given carte blanche for this first workshop. She has decided to invite Rico, a fellow cartoonist who is famous for his “Madam & Eve” characters, and bring along William Gumede, a journalist and political commentator who has recently launched “A Kite's Flight”, his first children's book. From 10:15 am, Maja and Rico will first propose a “creative workshop” to the children, where they will use paper, pencil and scissors to develop a theme that... you will discover in the following interview. William Gumede will then read his book for one hour from 11:00. After a picnic lunch – children can bring their own food – a musical show will be held from 13:00. For Maja's fans, this event will also be a unique opportunity to (re)discover her work through an exhibition of her illustrations and get personalized inscription in their books. IntoFrench spoke with the illustrator to get acquainted and have an exclusive insight on what will happen on the 19th of November.

Could you explain to us when and why you decided to focus on children illustration?

I became interested in illustration for children in my final year of Information Design at University of Pretoria. Towards the end of my course I realised that I didn’t enjoy design and I wasn’t very good at it which made me look at alternative career choices. I’ve always loved drawing and painting, but I didn’t know how to make a career using those skills. Through research for one of my papers I stumbled upon some books on the topic of the relationship between text and image in children’s books – the topic really intrigued me. As a result I spent more time looking as well as buying picture books, and found myself dreaming of becoming an illustrator. There are so many illustration styles and techniques to choose from that it made me feel like there was a world of possibilities out there. I wanted to create beautiful artworks and illustrate my own stories. However it took a few more years before I actually started illustrating. After university I worked in advertising agencies and only managed to change career course when I started working for the creators of Madam & Eve as their colourist. My very first illustration project was a small book for my sister’s friend. And out of that project the illustration ‘Catching Rabbits’ was born which in turn landed me my first published book with Lapa Publishers titled "Danie Dreyer se dinsourouseier en ander alfabetpret" written by Jaco Jacobs. Since then I’ve illustrated over 15 books and I’ve won 4 awards in total. I find my work very rewarding and it gives me great pleasure to draw fun and colourful illustrations all day every day.

How do you anticipate what your readers are expecting to see in your books?

I spend a considerable amount of time looking at other artists and illustrators’ work. Every one of them has a unique way of solving compositions, layout, colour usage, technique and style. I look at what works and what doesn’t which in turn helps me create my own illustrations. I create work that is fun and interesting for me to do, essentially I illustrate for the child inside of me. As a little girl I loved browsing through books (unfortunately I wasn’t as enthusiastic about reading) – I would spend hours looking at pictures, as well as drawing my own. In a sense a lot of what used to appeal to me then, still appeals to me now. I loved animal characters and insects. I remember a board book about a grasshopper which had cut outs in it and I remember appreciating the different layers in the book. I don’t have any kids of my own, but my friends and family do. I like to read stories to them to see what they respond to in the books and what they like. My niece when she was smaller used to ask me to read her stories at bedtime and point excitedly at different elements. She would then in turn tell me a story of her own using a book as a basis. I make mental notes of what all the children say and like so that I can integrate the ideas into my work.

What should the children expect from your workshop? What will it consist of?

My illustration career launched after I did one illustration titled ‘Catching Rabbits’ and one of my latest books is also about rabbits titled ‘Haasmoles’ written by Jaco Jacobs or in translation ‘A bad hare day’. I thought it was fitting to have it as a theme for my workshop. I will begin the workshop by telling the story about Simon who finds lots of rabbits causing havoc in his house. They jump on his bed, play with his toys, try on his clothes, swing from the fan on the ceiling, open all the cupboards and ride his toy train. Simon and his parents catch all the rabbits and release them into the garden. In the workshop I will ask children to imagine their own bedrooms and draw rabbits playing with their toys or just making a big mess. I’ll show them how to draw different rabbits in various movements: jumping, laughing, skipping, biting things, hopping. The older children in the group will be asked to draw a stylised version of themselves trying to catch rabbits. I will show them how to draw different boy and girl characters and how to make these characters dynamic. All the children will be given art materials such as paper and pencils or pastels to work with so all they’ll need to do is have fun on the day.


Text & Interview by Hadrien Diez