Today I welcome award winning illustrator, Marta Álvarez Miguéns. She is the illustrator of our new picture book, God's Little Astronomer, out February 20, from Penguin Random House's Christian Imprint, Waterbrook. You might recognize her name from other books she's illustrated, most notably, Shark Lady. To see a sneak peak of our book, click this link.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a children's book illustrator who lives in Coruña, a city in northern Spain facing the Atlantic Sea. I have been illustrating books since 2001 for Spanish publishers and since 2014 for publishers mainly in the US and UK, although many of my books have already been translated into many languages such as Chinese, Swedish or Japanese.
How many books have you illustrated?
have illustrated around 40 children's books and some textbooks as well.
What made you decide to take on God’s Little
have always been interested in topics about science and nature and I had barely had the opportunity to
illustrate about the universe and its mysteries. So when they offered me this project
with such an original approach, it seemed great
to me. The story is engaging, educational and
combined with an inspiring Bible verse.
Because Faith and Science should not be
What kind of research did you do for this book?
Since my job
is to add images to the story, my research is quite visual. I have to see
photos of everything, of what the Milky Way looks like, the appearance of a
comet, a rocket, the planets, stars…etc. Always looking for reliable sources.
Then I have to digest
everything to simplify it and show it in a way that is attractive to children.
Tell us about your illustration process.
usually make a design of the main character of the story. Then
if the book is
non-fiction, I document and take references to start with the first line
sketches. In this phase I pay close attention to the composition and point of
view of each scene and what I want to show or where I want to show more emphasis. Here I
try things until everything fits like a puzzle. Sometimes my sketches are not
very defined and are like scribbles and I think “my goodness, I hope the editor
understands this”… I don't like to define them too much, because as they can
undergo many changes, I prefer that they simply point to a general idea of
composition. Then I like to be more specific, especially in the final art
phase. Once the sketches are approved I would move on to color, where I
usually add more details or elements that did not appear very specific in the
How did you come up with the girl main character? And I’m happy the other
character is an Asian boy, which isn’t as popular in books, especially
nonfiction. I’m glad to see a diverse cast of characters.
The truth is
that at first I thought of the character in a practical way and with a color
palette. I like my illustrations to be with very vibrant and contrasting
colors. As the illustrations about space could all end up being a very dark and
monotonous blue, the color had to come from the characters. So I wanted the
protagonist to have red hair, which my editor liked, but there also had to be a
lot of diversity among the protagonists. Although red-haired people usually
have white skin, there is also a percentage of red-haired people with other
skin tones and we decided to design it that way. Then I remembered a British
sci-fi series with puppets from the 80s: “Terrahawks” and one of the
protagonists, Captain Kate Kestrel, was black with pink curly hair and I
thought it was fantastic.
We also included an Asian child who would expand the range of diversity and who would interact with the protagonist to give a little more life to the space. In the end I think the two characters turned out super adorable.
What is your favorite spread and why?
I think it's hard for me to choose just one. I have many favorites! I love the illustration of the comet because of how simple it is and at the same time impressive.
I really like the two children inside
the rocket, one floating right side
up and one upside down, showing the lack of gravity. I really like playing
with symmetry in illustrations.
And also the illustration of the girl shining like a star. All thanks to the inspiring text of the story.
What was the hardest part about illustrating this book?
thing sometimes is trying to be as scientifically accurate as possible but at
the same time keeping things simple and accessible for children. And since a picture
book is made between the
collaboration of a writer, an illustrator and an editor, we also always have to find
a point at which we are all happy with the result.
What’s next for you?
Well, now I am working on the next book in this series, “God's Little Oceanographer” which this time is starring the Asian boy who appears here. I think it is looking beautiful.
Any advice for budding illustrators/writers?
My advice is to be persistent. At first it is difficult to enter this world, but once you start, if you do it well, more and more projects tend to come. It’s necessary to work on a good portfolio of images, and if possible, present your own project or in collaboration with another writer/illustrator. It’s also good to illustrate a classic story so that publishers can see how you perform in a narrative sequence. And always, always, once you start working on this, join an association of writers or illustrators to guide you with agreements and how to budget. We should not give away our work in exchange for publication, or in exchange for promotion, we already have that in our social networks. At the end this is like any other job that has to pay the bills.
What do you like to do for fun?
Many things! I like to dance lindy hop, learn to play the piano, watch a
lot of movies, make delicious meals, play with my cats, walk through the
forest, listen to music, travel…
Favorite working time:
10 a.m. and 7 p.m. I'm not a person before 10 in the morning…
70% chocolate with almonds or hazelnuts
Favorite part of outer space:
The constellations. I love those imaginary figures drawn in the sky that
come from Greek mythology. It is a gift to be able to see the starry sky at
night and feel that you are a small dot in the immensity of the universe, that
we are part of something much bigger.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
It has been a pleasure to participate in this interview and illustrate
this beautiful book. Thank you
very much Tina.
Ah, thank you so much, Marta! I love your work and can't wait to see our next book together, God's Little Oceanographer, coming in 2025!
She graduated in Psychology from the
University of Santiago de Compostela in 2001, however her real passion was always
drawing doodles in the margins of the notebooks.
She illustrated "Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean´s Most Fearless Scientist", which was named one of the Best Children´s Books of 2017 by Parents Magazine, and won the Blue Spruce Award in 2018. She also illustrated the funny and charming illustrations of "What is Poo?", which won the Silver Award at the Junior Design Awards 2017 and “The Girl Who Heard the Music: How One Pianist and 85,000 Bottles and Cans Brought New Hope to an Island” a 2023 Cybils award Finalist.
Follow her on Instagram @martalvarez.art
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