Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Introducing Illustrator Marta Álvarez by Tina Cho


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?

I have illustrated around 40 children's books and some textbooks as well.

     What made you decide to take on God’s Little Astronomer?

I 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 incompatible.

    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, starsetc. 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.

First I 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 sketches.

     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

      What was the hardest part about illustrating this book?

The hardest 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: 

Something between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. I'm not a person before 10 in the morning

Favorite snack:

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 youd 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!

Marta Álvarez is an author and children´s book illustrator living in A Coruña, Spain.

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.

 Marta debuts in 2002 writing and illustrating her first picture book "¡Cómo está o galiñeiro!" published by Xerais. Since then, she has worked for several Spanish and international publishing houses.

 In 2007 her artwork was selected and exhibited at the Bratislava Biennial of Illustration (BIB).

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 Islanda 2023 Cybils award Finalist.

 Marta Álvarez is a member of the Galician Illustrators Association (AGPI).

Follow her on Instagram 


Please follow our blog! Subscribe on the top right blue box!


  1. Hi Tina and Marta, what a great combination of art and words for God's Little Astronomer. Marta, ty for the deep dive into exploring your illustration process and all the decisions that go into the final art. Love and agree with this quote, "Because Faith and Science should not be incompatible." Exactly!

  2. Thank you, Tina and Marta, for this look behind the words and the awesome peek inside the illustration process! Congrats to both of you. I look forward to reading your book!

  3. Thank you, Charlotte! Marta's illustrations are adorable!

  4. Great post about the illustration process. Thank you, Tina and Marta!