In Conversation • Tarsila Krüse

Tarsila Krüse is from São Paulo, Brazil and lives in Ireland since 2007. She is an award-winning illustrator, artist, and children’s book maker, with a BA(Hons) in English and another in Digital Communication. Her illustrations have been exhibited in Ireland, UK, Slovakia, England, and the USA. She has several children’s books published to date, mostly in Irish and English, including Ná Gabh ar Scoil!, Bliain na nAmhrán, and My Little Album of Dublin. She’s a member of Illustrators Ireland, Children’s Books Ireland and The Association of Illustrators.

“Did you know that 40% of people in Ireland are able to communicate in Irish? Isn’t it amazing?! I’m proud to say that I am on my way through learning it.”

Tarsila, to be a Children’s Book Maker do you need to recall your childhood and keep feeding it, being always in connection with children’s imagination and dreams?

I believe that you don’t need to recall your childhood, but simply never completely grow out of it. So much of childhood is about whimsy and playfulness, it is living inside worlds we create through our perceptions in which fantasy and reality are mixed and we can’t quite tell what’s what. Working with and making work for children requires a strong connection to that state of mind.

Is your childhood in Brazil part of your works?

My work is influenced by the connection people have and in that sense my childhood in Brazil is reflected in what I make, but not directly or set by its geographical boundaries. I personally feel that the experience of childhood, despite its clear global and cultural differences is, in so many ways, a relatable moment in life. Most of the books I illustrated are originally written in Irish, by Irish speaking authors for Irish speaking children and in that way, I know that even though I haven’t grown-up in Ireland I am able to make work that connects directly to these young Gaeilgoirí because I cherished so much of my own experience both as a child and growing up with books.

How is your process of illustration, like, you know the story first and follow it, and when working with a partner you work the plot together?

The book process tends to start with a written story, but not necessarily, and then the publisher hires the illustrator whose particular style can suit that specific story. In picturebooks (books that are fully illustrated) usually, writers and illustrators don’t talk to each other about the work they are producing “together”. The publisher and editor are the people who manage (and edit!) both parts of the co-creation, allowing each creator to bring their best skills forward. The reason for that is so that the story can be at its best in both its written and visual forms: The writer is the creator of the story in words and the illustrator is the creator of the story in images, both co-creators.  There are occasions in which writers and illustrators partner-up, i.e. My Little Album of Dublin, with French author Juliette Saumande, we conceptualised the idea of our book together and then approached a The O’Brien Press as co-authors, but usually, this is not the common path.

You say that your work is inspired by everyday life and relationships, nature, child’s play and imagination. It seems that those feelings, but also feelings like sadness and anger are born with us, and we learn how to deal with them during our growing and the relationship we build up with the world. How would you illustrate anger, if you would?

We are all filled with such a broad range of emotions and those are absolute parts of our lives, not only as children. I have illustrated stories that depict shyness, frustration, fear, sadness, joy, comfort, surprise, pride…and even anger, but not a huge outburst (though I have some books who depict this emotion beautifully). When creating a feeling in an image I take into consideration all things that evoke that feeling, from the most evident character expression and body language, to colour use, contrast, line work, rhythms in composition, angles, everything. An image is absorbed in a matter of seconds, so it’s important to hit the perfect note on evoking a feeling. For an outburst of anger I would consider using dynamic shapes, explosive motion, shattering details, sharp angles and strong contrasts to make a bold statement.

When and how started your connection with Ireland? In what ways Ireland inspire your illustrations?

My connection began when the Aerlingus plane landed at Dublin airport in March 2007. I’ve never felt this connected to a place before. The more time I spent in Ireland, the more I felt welcomed and at home. Ireland IS my home and it highly inspires me in my work. As I mentioned, being so attuned to the island and culture allowed me to create artwork for Irish speaking children. I used to have a blog about Ireland called Vida Na Irlanda which prompted me to explore and discover the beauties and wonders of the Island of Ireland so I could share them with other Brazilians. That experience alone has made me fall even more in love with the country and then, years later, after having books published, I got to visit many schools all around the country, which just reinforces that connection.

You have studied Languages and also have a great experience in communication, being a teacher and facilitator. Would you say that the way you use illustration to communicate your inner world is different from the way you use words? Is there a fine line between different kinds of arts?

Both written and visual forms are ways of expression and storytelling – they are communication. Although I feel quite comfortable and fluid in both I tend to be a bit more serious with words and more playful with images. I am a self-taught artist and I don’t keep too many rules around my head, I love playing with ideas and trying new things, while I concern myself much more with the rules about words, but that’s my own dynamic.

Many of your books are in the Irish language. How is your connection with the Gaelic, and what are the difficulties of drawing their meanings? 

My connection with Gaelic began when I was given the opportunity to illustrate my first book, Ná Gabh ar Scoil! (written by Máire Zepf and published by Futa Fata) in Irish. Clearly I had seen Irish around buildings and all sorts of places and found it very fascinating (as a good linguist I am obsessed with languages) but didn’t pursue learning it until I was already very much involved in what I call “the secret world of Irish speaking people”. Did you know that 40% of people in Ireland are able to communicate in Irish? Isn’t it amazing?! I’m proud to say that I am on my way through learning it. In terms of book creation, the more I get to know about Irish as a language, the easier it is to convey meaning, but we can go back to the fact that images are easily read in an instant and that they can convey feelings and ideas that transcend cultural differences and in that sense, the stories I have illustrated in Irish haven’t posed any challenges, my only wish is that in the future I will not need them to be translated so I can make the artwork. 

You had a blog project called Vida na Irlanda, in which you shared pictures and tips for Brazilians about life in Dublin. Will you continue this work?

Possibly. Vida Na Irlanda was a very popular blog in a time when there was little to no information about Ireland online, especially for Brazilians. I am very happy to have created and developed it for quite a few years and then I decided to halt it because of another big project in my life – my son. Once we had our son, our lives changed completely and Vida Na Irlanda has been paused since. I am a different person and I want to go back to it at some stage, but I’m not in a hurry. It will be a different project because I am, in a way, also a different person.

Do you think about writing or illustrating an adult’s book?

Absolutely. I make books for children and the children at heart, and I also have a couple of books with adults in mind as the primary (but not solely) target. 

Do you believe that anybody can draw?

YES! It takes practice and determination. I was NOT the child who did the best drawings in school. As a matter of fact there were quite a few other children who were (much) better than me at drawing, but despite my lack of innate talent (or maybe practice) I loved drawing A LOT. I loved it so much that I tolerated not being able to draw what I wanted, the frustration of having my hand draw something different from what I had in mind, I loved drawing to the point that, even if I made a mistake or got criticised, I kept going, and that determination is key. I am a strong believer in the concept of the Growth Mindset from Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. Dweck presents two types of mindset people have: the Fixed Mindset that assumes that our intelligence and skills are permanent (and sometimes born with us) and The Growth Mindset, which perceives our intelligence and skills to be constantly growing and developing and “failures” as opportunities to learn and extend ourselves. Drawing is a skill that can be learned, honed and developed. Surely, some people have an inclination and affinity to it (that happy feeling you get when you make something), like cooking a meal, learning a language or musical instrument. These are skills that anyone can do.

 New projects to come? A Children’s Book in Portuguese, perhaps?

Picturebooks take a long time to make (roughly they take about a year from idea to publishing, sometimes more, sometimes less) and I’m currently working on a couple of books to be launched in 2021. I would love to work on a book in Brazilian Portuguese and I can envision myself working on projects like this not very distantly into the future.

Thank you for the opportunity to be part of Diáspora Cultural and I hope that people feel inspired to take a pen and some paper and have fun. Anyone can do it!


Tarsila Krüse 

Find more about Tarsila’s works: