This sweet new book written by Caroline Nastro is illustrated by Vanya Nastanlieva. She stopped by to talk us through her process.
e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Vania: Heart-Art : If I can feel something, anything, like emotions, mood, atmosphere, then there is a magic. If I am able to get closer to the character's soul, to his/her emotions, fears, dreams, then there is a magic, there is life, there is heart in it.
e: What is your creative process, can you walk us through it?
Vania: I am constantly learning and up-grading the process of my work. Sometimes it really depends on the the project I am working on and what I need to achieve in my illustrations. I do not have a specific or unique process/ style. Generally the idea drives my work, and then the creative process/style will follow the idea. I always try to experiment with a variety of new techniques and materials.

      I love my pencil and I love the process of drawing and sketching.
      I start with sketching, doodling, storyboarding in my sketchbooks and notebooks.

There I have many notes/ideas I make that I can refer back to anytime, it could be an image, a sequence or just simple words or even a text or very often a combination of everything above. I find it very natural and easy to focus on developing and getting to know my characters, the setting, the composition, when I use my black pencil. Once the rough sketches are to my satisfaction and the publisher's, as well I do the more detailed drawings. And next I add the colours to the black and white drawing.

Sometimes the colours could be on a different paper, sometimes I can add the colours on one piece of paper.

I use a more limited-colour-palette, probably because of my textile background.
      The computer comes in when I need to scan the illustrations and the different layers. I scan it, clean it if needed in Photoshop and then connect the layers all together, the black and white drawing with the colour ones. There could be some finishing touches, adjustments or arranging but generally my work is all hand-rendered.

e: For illustrators - what is your medium?
Vania: Pencil, pastel pencils, oil pastel, tempera, gouache, acrylic, watercolour, Photoshop. It could be from dry technique to mix media.

e: What was your path to publication?
Vania: Years ago, after I finished my high school, I had a solo exhibition in my home town. There was a writer who liked my drawing of animals very much and contacted me and asked me to illustrate his book, so I did.
      While I was studying at the National Academy of ART, I was juggling various part time jobs and doing illustrations for a children's magazine, then a newspaper for a short time. I also illustrated short stories written by my friends.
      The real break-through happened after I studied for an MA in Children's Book Illustration in Cambridge, UK. As soon as I graduated I went again to the Bologna Book Fair in Italy (this time more prepared). I met and made many contacts with publishers, art directors and editors, while showing my work and my dummies. I kept in touch with the ones who were the most interested in my work. I was lucky enough to meet the right people and then, after a while, I was offered my very first picture book deal and this is how it started.

e: What is your favourite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Vania: The Favourite - to be able to create, anything, anytime, anywhere, even if I don't have any a pencil, pen and paper (that is very unlikely, but it happens sometimes). I just do it in my mind, I make mental notes and try to remember the main idea or even very small things till I can get hold of some paper and a pencil and then write it down so I won't lose it.
      The challenge is to express and leave on the paper what is in my mind, in my heart. Sometimes the way from the heart to the hand can be very long and very challenging. But once you catch the flow it goes very easily and smoothly, just like fluid pouring from your heart through your hand and leaving the marks on the paper. I love it when this happens.
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Vania: I have always believed that everyone has his/her own special path to go through and discover himself/herself. And everything, everyone who she/he meets on this path is just a part of the big puzzle, the big picture and serves to rediscover and develop herself/himself.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Vania: At the moment I am working on a third book of my own. I wish I could say more but it is still at a very early stage.

e: Thanks Vania!

Kirkus Reviews said, "Cuddle up with this Bear and his pillow for a just-right bedtime story."

Visit for free, downloadable activities for The Bear Who Couldn't Sleep.


Robyn Campbell said...

Such an enjoyable interview. Your art definitely shows 'heart art'.

vanya nastanlieva said...

Thank you very much Robyn for your kind and warm words. I am glad you like it:)