Illustrator Spotlight: Maja Sereda

© 2013 Maja Sereda

Today we introduce the very talented illustrator Maja Sereda, who has illustrated over 15 children's books published in English, Afrikaans, and other African languages. 

Tell us about your background and how you came to children's illustration.

I’ve been drawing since a very young age. My parents were always very supportive and encouraged me to pursue an artistic career. I attended art school and then continued on to study Ba (Information Design) at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. At that time I thought that studying design would be a ‘wise’ career choice, but unfortunately it didn’t suit me. After a couple of years in the industry I got my lucky break and found a job as a colourist for a South African cartoon strip called Madam & Eve. This position allowed me to refocus my interests on drawings and illustration. Then by chance, a friend of my sister’s asked me to illustrate a story. Out of that project emerged one illustration which captured the attention of a local South African publisher. I was asked to pitch for a few manuscripts, which resulted in my first book. It was an alphabet rhyme book published in Afrikaans.

© 2013 Maja Sereda

I have admired your amazing pastel illustrations. Is this the style you are working in lately or do you work in more than one style?

It is very much a style I’m working in lately, although I have worked and still work in variety of styles. The pastels illustrations are time consuming and not every budget allows for it. Pastels are very versatile. I love the medium. I find that every time I work with it, I discover something new. As opposed to digital media, I love how a physical medium enhances the experience of creating an illustration.

© Maja Sereda

What projects are you working on now?

Currently, I’m illustrating a small Afrikaans joke book which will be published later this year in South Africa. Also, I’m nearing completion of a project that has kept me busy for the past few months. It’s an art and craft book for children. There are many elements to it and I look forward to the launch. Lastly, whenever I can I work on personal illustrations. It’s wonderful to discover or tell stories of my own. I would love to do a collection of short stories, similar to The Little Mouse, which was based on a childhood memory.

© Maja Sereda

Tell me about your illustration of the characters from Jo Marshall's Twig series. I just love it and happen to also be a friend of Jo's. How did this come about?

A while back Joanna Marple did one of her fabulous interviews with Jo Marshall on her blog Miss Marple’s MusingsIt was there that I first stumbled upon Jo’s Twig series. Immediately I read two of her books and fell in love with the stories. While reading them I could picture the illustrations in my mind. I simply couldn’t help myself and thus created two illustrations. I was very happy to discover Jo’s warm and positive response. We’ve been emailing ever since and want to create a new series together, so watch this space!

 Image of Slapper from Jo Marshall's Twig Series © 2013 Maja Sereda

What advice would you give to new illustrators trying to break into the field?

Focus on quality of your work. There is a sea of illustrators out there and it’s very difficult to stand out if your work is mediocre. Often the ultimate aim for an illustrator is to have his or her work published. Focus rather on creating a strong portfolio first, make sure your work is ready before getting published. And make sure you learn to listen to criticism, not just the compliments. If you’re serious about your work, you’ll want to continue getting published, perhaps make a full time career out of it.

© 2014 Maja Sereda

Who or what inspires you?

Many different things: anything from nature, art, fellow artists, new experiences or music. Towards the end of last year, I was invited to Le Salon du Livre et de la presse Jeunesse in Montreuil, Paris. It was an incredible experience to see so much talent and look at so many fantastic illustrations. I also had the pleasure of visiting some private art studios of local French illustrators. It was like being submerged in a pool of pure inspiration. I loved every minute of it! I’m currently studying French and I hope that next time I go I’ll be able to converse more easily. My first French book LA GRANDE FLEUR, written by Yves Pinguilly, was published in France last year and I’m hoping that English version will be released in South Africa later this year.

A recent book Maja illustrated, SNOW GAMES

What is something about yourself that most people don't know?

I love working with and caring for animals. I would have loved to become a veterinarian, like my father, or at least work in a field of conservation. A while back I worked at a cat shelter for four years. It was very rewarding work, although at times emotionally draining. I learnt a lot about cats, information which I find useful till this day. Perhaps one day, I’ll find a similar outlet somewhere else. It would be wonderful to work with wildlife.  

Where can people find you online?  

Thank you so much, Maja!

Maja Sereda was born in Warsaw, Poland. In 1989 Maja and her family moved to South Africa. She graduated from University of Pretoria with a (BA) Information Design degree. For the past 11 years she has been living and working in Johannesburg.

Maja has been illustrating children’s books since 2006. Maja Sereda has illustrated over 15 children’s books published in English, Afrikaans and other African languages. Currently, Maja is working as a freelance illustrator and is the sole owner of Bittersweet Studios (cc). In November 2011 and July 2012 Maja held exhibitions of her children’s book illustrations at Alliance Francaise in Johannesburg.

Apart from Maja’s passion for art and illustration for children, she has worked in the field of advertising, design and fine art.  Maja has taken part in a group exhibition in 2006 at the Art Images gallery in Johannesburg. A number of her oil paintings are in private collections in South Africa and Ireland.


  1. Oooh, a fellow pastel and conservation fan...what a joy to read this interview of Maja and view more of her marvelous illustrations! "Focus on the quality of your work" is excellent advice. I heard the same at the recent local SCBWI conference I attended.

    Thanks, Sylvia and Maja!

  2. Absolutely beautiful illustrations! What a treat, thanks ladies.

  3. Fab interview. I am loving Maja's pastel work so much!

  4. And Maja takes lovely photos too! I admire anyone who can work in pastel, and especially those who do such beautiful work, like Maja. All the best in your endeavors, Maja!

  5. Maja, your work is breathtaking! Thank you so much for the wonderful interview!

  6. Oh, Maja! It's great to learn more about you and your beautiful, whimsical talent. I love your art and unique perspective. How exciting to see you chose 'Poppy & Mantru' and 'Fern, Leaf, and Slapper' illustrations to show for this interview. It's very touching.

    Good wishes for your future success!

  7. Oh, dear Sylvia, I meant to say thanks to you also for sharing Maja with your community. You are both delightful to know. I meant to congratulate you also, Sylvia and your friends, on this excellent site. It's a super contribution to children's authors and illustrators.

    Best wishes,

    1. Thank you, Jo. So glad our paths reconnected in the kidlit world!

  8. Thank you Maja. Your work is so entrancing, and I love your advice to focus on the work.


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