Updated: Jan 12, 2022
Miro Tartan, our incredibly talented children's book illustrator, was lucky enough to have been born in a small town in Romania, close to the mountains. She developed a connection with nature in her childhood due to Romania's rich natural diversity and UNESCO protected sites. With a Latin-rooted language and culture mixed with many influences over the time, Romania is a really interesting place to have grown up. Miro moved to the UK with her husband and two boys around 4 years ago.
Miro had her first commissioned illustration work in 2014, when she created a personalised wedding book with an illustration of the newlyweds on the cover. For a while she worked on other similar projects for local clients but her first contract to illustrate a children's book was in 2018. She created the cover and around 20 ink-style black and white illustrations for a book in a school related series which was published by a well known Romanian educational publisher. Making such a success of her first published book project spurred her on to a full and exciting future as a children's book illustrator.
Miro is currently working on a silly picture book series written by author Julia Inserro that helps kids find kid-sized solutions to adult-sized emotions. While waiting for sketch and illustration approvals, she is also making the final touches for the next book in her Tiny Explorers series, Music Makers.
Miro is such a joy to work with, we are thrilled to share her artwork with you and to feature her as our Illustrator Spotlight.
Describe your illustration style in 5 words.
Colourful, childish, silly but clean.
How would your art teacher at school have described you? Probably ‘That really shy girl, minding her own business, drawing nicely at the back of the class.'
How did you become an illustrator? That is a long story about finding my inner-self. I always loved drawing but it wasn’t straight forward unfortunately as I was set on a sciences path initially. After getting my electronics engineer master’s degree, I worked for a few years in that field so kept drawing only as a hobby. Receiving a no-name graphic tablet for my birthday opened the doors to the universe of graphic design. I started using the evenings on digital design tools tutorials for the Adobe suite and reading books on graphic design and illustration. I found a junior graphic designer job and also decided to study towards a graphic design degree in parallel. I started combining graphic design with illustration and started illustrating cartoon portraits for family and friends and soon enough I found myself doing paid illustrations.
Can you explain the process you use when developing your characters? I usually start with reading the manuscript a good number of times to get to know the characters and their traits. With that in mind, I can go ahead with a few rough sketches that I share with the author to get ever so precious feedback. Together we settle on one of the sketches or even a mix. I then refine the selected character and develop a few facial expressions, add movement or different body positions, introduce them in some environment context, making slight changes in between based on client’s feedback.
What’s the strangest thing you have been asked to draw?
Until now, I’ve been lucky enough to work with clients that were on the ‘same frequency’ as me but I’m still at the beginning so who knows what the future holds. Most of my clients approach me after seeing what I do on social media. It does happen rarely that the client leans towards a sketch that is not my favourite. The strangest thing I’ve illustrated though was while still being in electronics, I applied for a t-shirt contest and illustrated a smart fly satisfied by its idea to use an LED light bulb to imitate a firefly. But that was my own “brilliant” idea.
What illustration of yours are you most proud of? This must be the first watercolour painting that I did with my very first professional watercolour set. I was already accustomed to digital painting but watercolours seemed scary. It definitely has a place in my heart for being inspired by my eldest son and the fact that it turned out better than I expected, being the first one.
Which techniques do you prefer to use when illustrating children’s books? I like the comfort of painting digitally, the undo button is brilliant. But although more time consuming and more prone to mistakes, the tranquility that the watercolour painting process can give makes it to the top of my favourite illustrating techniques.
What is your favourite part of the illustration process? It must be adding the final touches after everything else is finished. Adding highlights and shadows, those small changes that make the image pop at the end.
Do you have a favourite illustrator? Although my style of illustrating is not at all related to them, I always enjoy the books written and illustrated by the Fan Brothers, David Litchfield, Torben Kuhlmann or Jill Barklem. Apart from them, I was and always am impressed by Oliver Jeffers’ style. I like the fact that most of his illustrations are simple, yet so expressive and always crazy funny. I find that simplicity is really hard to achieve. He also likes experimenting with different techniques which I think comes naturally with creative people and I find that very inspirational.
Do you have any rituals or routines which help you to think creatively and perhaps help you to overcome periods of creative block? I like to switch between creative activities. When I feel burned out, I turn my head to crafting. Paper crafts, softwood, bookbinding, needle felting, and more, enables me to recover from tiring projects while also spending a lot of quality time with my little ones.
A nice walk in nature or seeing new places, inspire me to write and sketch more and have the right set of mind for starting a new creative project.
Any tips for first time authors looking to hire an illustrator for their children’s book? Referrals are probably the safest way to start. If that’s not that easy, then joining an authors and illustrators social media group and asking for referrals there, might be a good idea.
After checking portfolios and having a short list of illustrators I think the first thing an author should ask an illustrator is to describe their process and tools to support the process. The answer will help identify the level of experience.
At this point, investing in a paid demo sketch for a character or even a page from the future book as a task for a few illustrators on the shortlist is in my opinion the most effective way to exclude scammers, identify someone who just ‘doesn’t get you’ but also find the next long-lasting partnership with an illustrator.
Also, illustrators might ‘say’ things through their creations. Be sure to offer constructive feedback. If an illustration communicates something other than what you had in mind, don’t be afraid to say so and also compliment an unexpected idea that maybe makes the story whole.
And don’t forget about making a contract that saves you from future misunderstandings about payment, royalties and other legal stuff.
If you could illustrate for anyone, who would you choose and what are your ambitions for the future? I really enjoy illustrating silly characters and books. And my children really enjoy it when I read a silly book to them, sometimes hundreds of times. With that said, I probably wouldn't mind illustrating for a well-known comedian that decided overnight to write a children’s book.