Featured Illustrator - Melany Pietersen

This month's Featured artist is South African born illustrator Melany Pietersen. An internationally published artist, Melany's work drew much attention at the SCBWI Winchester Conference. Click here to see more of her work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery.

In Nov 2011 I was fortunate enough to attend the Winchester conference in the UK.  I remember having to attend the ‘formal’ dinner party, and being worried about what I would wear.  When I arrived, my eyes met a lovely lady wearing a ball gown and a crown.  This was the real turning point of my career. How wonderful, that this kind of behaviour was condoned at a formal event!  It was there and then, at that very moment, that I officially decided to pursue a full time career as a children’s’ book illustrator.

I finally felt like I belonged somewhere.  I have loved drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. At school, art was my favourite subject.

In 2001 I lived and worked in the Cayman Islands for a year painting murals, and doing freelance illustration work.  After that I started a little mural company called Marvellous Murals. 

Painting murals in children’s rooms & nurseries was the most rewarding.
I loved the idea that the kids would grow up next to my artwork, and thus felt a sense of responsibility.

In  2006 I enrolled at the University of South Africa to study Visual Arts.   Although I learnt a lot, I didn’t quite fit in. Politically informed art, or collecting dead birds seemed to be the in-thing. My childlike paintings covered in glitter / lit up by LED lights were frowned upon by art critics, and my lecturers described my work as ‘too decorative, illustrative, happy & colourful.'  Everyone said my art looked as though it belonged in a picture book.  Looking back now, I should’ve taken that as a compliment.

In about 2009 everything came to a halt.  Due to a shoulder injury, I couldn’t paint murals any more, and had to find another way of earning a living.  This was hard for me, since the only real skill /experience I had was art related.  Little did I know the blissful opportunities that awaited me.
It was then that my mother (Marleen Visser) introduced me to SCBWI.  She had already been illustrating educational children’s books for a while.  I started illustrating for her on a freelance basis.

After attending the 2011 SCBWI conference, I returned to South Africa with a new spark of inspiration. So much so that it spiralled out of control a little. My newly found enthusiasm prompted a great response at the SCBWI Publishers' day in Cape Town. The workload that followed demanded 16-18 hour work days,  6-7 days a week.

 That’s when my husband and I decided to join forces, and we started a little illustration studio called Happy Artworks Studio.

The years that followed were a bit of a blur as we worked day and night on over 300 titles (mostly educational books and readers). At one stage we were a team of about 12. I can’t even remember half of what we drew.

We were all pretty burnt out, so much so that I felt I had to send out an official ‘thank you note’ to our clients.  It had the following image attached:

My pencil was getting shorter by the day (from all the drawing), it was time for a ‘break’. 

To my ‘rescue’, I was commissioned by Meridian-Online, a Chinese publisher to illustrate my very first picture book The Black-Backed Jackal. This was once again a long perilous journey into the unknown.The thought of fifteen thousand copies (the first print-run), being read by thousands of little children all over Asia was a little daunting. Nevertheless I persevered.

The book is part of a series, and is available here

It was only after the book was launched in Beijing 2013 that I realised what a privilege it really is to be a children’s book illustrator.  Finally, I felt as though I had done something meaningful. This set me off on a mission to really go for my dream.

Last year (2014), I revisited the SCBWI Winchester conference.  I entered all the competitions, hoping for yet another leap forward.  To my surprise my work was accepted for the Illustrator’s showcase.

On the night before the conference I remember having to decide whether I’d join the other members for pizza, or go home and finish my portfolio.

I chose to do the latter.  I sat until midnight pasting images into the non-perfect portfolio book. . I felt as though my work was not good enough, and I didn’t think I stood a chance at winning, BUT I had come this far, and there was no turning back.

I was gob smacked, and quite relieved when I was announced the winner of the Best Portfolio Award!!!

Thank you SCBWI!!!  Once again you have helped me regain my hope, confidence and purpose.

 My ultimate dream is to continue illustrating beautiful stories embedded with good values and morals for our future generation.

Favourite stories from childhood:
Alice's Adventures  in Wonderland
 (I still talk to flowers…it helps them grow better)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Katy Caterpillar (animated film): 
so full of great life lessons!!! 

Favourite artists (amongst others):
 Gauguin, Marc Boutavant, Joan Rankin, Phoebe Wahl



“Go where you are celebrated, not tolerated” 
 (unknown author)

Sometimes it’s easier to just start again…it’s okay.

Never crumple your artwork (unless it’s part of your technique)…rather tear out the pretty bits and use as backgrounds for new undiscovered masterpieces (however small).

A nice paper to use for inks / watercolour art: Fabriano Artistico

Just have fun…you can always edit it later in Photoshop!

Where I work


See More of Melany's illustration in her Featured Illustrator Gallery
Her website is www.melanypietersen.com

Happy Artworks Studio (educational books etc)

Community project 


  1. I rally loved your portfolio at the Conference Melany, great to see you showcased here, well done!

  2. I was about to put my name down for your wonderful print at the conference, but someone had beaten me to it! Really love your work. Thanks Melany

  3. Love your work Melany! Very fresh, very stylish. I particularly like the big lion. He's a star!

  4. What lovely artwork! The very best to you for the future.

  5. Thank you so much everyone! Your encouragement means a lot to me.

  6. I think I know who the woman with the crown was. I'm so glad you went for it. Beautiful, beautiful work.

  7. Agree with all here - and fascinating life story behind the work too! Who was your Chinese publisher? Would love to know more about that - such an interesting and yet mysterious market out there and that book looks beautiful too!

  8. Very nice work Melany. Inventive and fun, love it.

  9. Thanks guys :)
    Here's more info about the Chinese Publisher:



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