Tombow Talks to: Bia Melo | Tombow

21 December 2022

Tombow Talks to: Bia Melo

When did you decide you wanted to be a professional illustrator?

I think it was something that happened gradually. I have a background in Graphic Design and worked in publishing for several years, where I had the opportunity to work and be inspired by wonderful artists.

Simultaneously, I’ve kept developing my own practice illustrating, printing and self-publishing. I used to work all day on my job and then spend the nights folding zines and preparing prints, so that on the weekends I could go showcase my illustrations across the country at fairs and markets.

At some point I decided that I had to take illustration more seriously and that the time that I was dedicating to it wasn’t enough, so I decided to take a leap I quit my full-time job and enrolled into the MA in Children’s Book Illustration.

You’ve lived in various cities... which one has helped you the most at developing your artistic vein?

Yes, I’m from a big city: São Paulo, in Brazil, but I’ve been based in East London for 10 years now. And before that I lived in the lovely Barcelona for a couple of years. Although my experience in Barcelona with the gorgeous architecture, the sunny days and the Mediterranean lifestyle were very important to reconnect myself with my creative side, it was only living in London, in the buzz of the city, with so much cultural life that made me realise that this was a career option. I believe that I carry a little bit of each of these places with me. 


What do you want to communicate with your art? 

My work is all about fun, play and all the little things that put a smile on a face. 


Which book inspired you, if there is one?

 I’m very passionate about children’s books, so it is very hard to pick one. But if I have to, the classic Petit Nicolaus from Sempé was one of my favourites when I was a kid and I believe his joyful, naïf way of seeing life, somehow still resonates with my work today.


What would you say to somebody that’s taking their first step in the art world?

To be patient, to take it slow and steady. There are so many different paths that can get you where you’d like to go, we can’t even start imagining it. The important thing is to keep working, studying, practising, being curious and playing. Those small doses of work, will build you in the long run.


How is your 2022 looking like in a picture?

After this very gloomy period that we all had in the past years, I think hope and colour is what I choose to see in this new phase!


What’s your typical day like? 

As a freelance illustrator, everyday looks different, ultimately depending on the projects you are working on, which suits me well as I tend to get bored with routine. That said, some structure is needed to get things done and I try to split my day into morning for analogue and afternoon for digital. That way I can focus my fresh mind and energy to create, play, draw or write, enjoying the best light of the day. And after lunch I start on editing, photoshop, admin stuff. So that if I need to work extra hours on that it doesn’t get over my creative hours.

What’s your fav Tombow product/shade?

I’m a huge fan of the water-based brush pens. They are extremely handy to take outside for location sketching, great to quickly block a first big layer of colour and build details on top of it. More recently I also started to use the water pens, and now I always have one on my pencil case too. As for colours I’ve realised I have quite a collection of pink shades, at the moment I’ve been using a combo of two pink shades 772, 761, mixing with yellows 993, 131 and a purple 603, combined with a couple of Irojiten pencils to add details.


Describe your art in 1 word

Play. No Play no Gain! – is my mantra.


What’s the best project you’ve ever worked on? 

Well, the best project I’ve had the chance to work on is actually happening right now, and I feel so lucky about it. I’m starting to illustrate children's books, which has been a dream of mine. So, I feel that exciting things are yet to come!

Quick Fire


Pen or Pencil?

Pencil, as long as it is colourful!

Favourite thing to draw?

I love drawing characters! This can be either people, animals or imaginary creatures! The more imaginative the better. I especially like interactions with space and scale of things – who doesn't feel small or big depending on the day?

If you could have dinner with three artists (past or present) who would they be?

The Picture book masters Maurice Sendak, Beatrix Potter and Mafalda’s creator cartoonist Quino.

Favourite Gallery or Museum?

National History Museum. I love to go there to sketch the fantastic animals.

What song or podcast should we be listening to right now?

I listen to things in a very obsessive way, so when I’m into a song I listen to it on repeat for weeks! Now, I’ve been listening to Bleachers.

Piece of design you wished you had created?

Miffy character from Dicky Bruna, this little bunny says so much with so little features. And its bold colours are so great!

What’s your favourite city?

The one yet to be discovered! I love to travel and the excitement of discovering a new place, getting lost on the streets, and seeing things with fresh eyes for the first time, is so inspiring.

Best advice you have ever been given?  

To use a timer, based on the Pomodoro technique. I use an hour timer, to get focus on a task that I’m procrastinating to do. It gets you started and normally I end up engaging and doing more time afterwards.

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