Featured Illustrator: Alina Surnaite

 For our first Featured Illustrator of 2016 we give a big welcome to Alina Surnaite. A native of Lithuania, Alina studied for an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art and won the best portfolio at last year's Winchester Conference. 
See more examples of Alina's impressive work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.

As a child, I never dreamed of being an artist but I would draw constantly with my twin sister Margarita. Reading children's books and watching animation were my main sources of inspiration. Two of my favourite artists were Richard Scarry and Kestutis Kasparavicius, a well-known children's book writer and illustrator in Lithuania. 

When in high school, Margarita and I decided to take academic drawing lessons. We studied art together for eight years and learned from each other, it has been a long journey of experimenting and growing our appreciation for art, especially children's books. I learned about picture books during my stay in the UK as an exchange student and was overwhelmed by their abundance in this country.

New Year illustrated by Lithuanian artist Kestutis Kasparavicius in 1987

What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry (© Harper Collins)

My childhood drawing

My artistic influences are quite broad. My main sources of inspiration are nature, observation, childhood memories, music, literature and art. I always relate my stories to my own experiences. I feel that telling the truth is very important, as one of my artistic heroes, Maurice Sendak, emphasized. His books and ideas about childhood inspired me greatly during my MA studies as well as artists such as Raymond Briggs and Shaun Tan. They do not shy away from exploring darker themes in their work and create books that challenge the young reader's thoughts and emotions.

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (© Hodder Children's Books)
Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak (©Harper Collins)

Nature plays a big role in my life and I could not imagine myself living in a big and noisy city. I love animals and especially drawing them from observation. My family used to have cats when I was younger so they reappear in my work from time to time.

Cambridge University Botanic Garden
Observation is a huge source of inspiration and also the foundation of the Masters studies in Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. I am grateful to the hardworking and dedicated tutors for their encouragement to observe and analyse the world around me. During this intensive course, I was able to rediscover my childhood passion for telling stories through drawing. My drawing and storytelling techniques are much more advanced now, but the passion remains the same.

My most recent picture book project, which will be published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books in 2017,
is provisionally titled Night, Night, Bunny White and based mostly on my childhood. I liked waking up early in the morning and also imagining creatures when looking at shadows in my room. Suzy, the main character of this book, was inspired by my younger sister and myself. The project went through many changes and editing with the help of the wonderful team at Frances Lincoln before it turned into a bedtime story about the fear of darkness. I enjoy the learning process and hope to share my progress on the way to publication.
Character sketches for my picture book Night, Night, Bunny White with Frances Lincoln Children's Books

I have explored various media throughout my life, from digital to acrylic painting, printmaking to ink painting. I am glad I had a chance to try out different art making techniques and experiment with book making during my BA studies in Lithuania. My recent illustrating process involves drawing with charcoal and then colouring digitally. This way I am able to control the tones better. My picture book creation process is a little more complicated but I start by sketching out my ideas and simplifying them along the way. It includes designing my characters, storyboarding and making dummy books. The writing usually comes first but I do edit the text constantly to make the words and pictures work together.


Here are a few tips I would like to share with you:

•    Be persistent. Learn to enjoy the creative struggle. Aim high and follow your goals. Do not let the negative comments get in your way towards your dreams.
•    Keep learning all the time and do not be afraid to make mistakes. Get to know yourself better through experimenting and most importantly have fun!
•    Network, both online and in real life. Attend art events, workshops and fairs. Join SCBWI if you have not done so yet. Their resources are incredibly useful. 

The Book: Essential Guide to Publishing for Children helped me with contracts since I do not have an agent. The SCBWI Conference in Winchester was an amazing experience and a huge networking opportunity. I was one of the lucky artists to be featured in the SCBWI Showcase this year and also won the Best Portfolio competition, which offered the Illustrator Feature as one of the prizes.

My illustration selected for the SCBWI Showcase 2015

I am very honoured to be featured here. Thank you SCBWI!


See more of Alina's work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery
Her website is here, and Facebook page here

She also has an Online Shop and can be found on Twitter


  1. Thank you Alina, for such a wonderful introduction to your work. Your banner illustration is so atmospheric - and I love the drawings for your up-coming book. Being a lover of both nature and cats, I very much look forward to reading it :-)

    1. Thank you, Nancy. I am very happy you like my work.

  2. Well done Alina, I love your excellent work x x

    1. Thanks, Kerina. Can't wait to see your work in the MA show next month. Good luck :)

  3. Hi again Alina, nice work. Hope you're well.

    1. Thanks, Paul. I enjoyed reading your feature too. There are so many talented illustrators in here! I can't wait to meet them.

  4. Alina, I love your work, very much.


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