Book Illustration Competition 2017: Illustrators share their research processes

Thinking of entering our Book Illustration Competition? This year’s book is Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, but how do you go about turning a classic into a masterpiece of your own? We asked illustrators with experience of being commissioned by The Folio Society how they went about stage one: the research.

The Austen Collection, from The Folio Society

The Austen Collection, from The Folio Society

Sheri Gee, Art Director at The Folio Society, said of this year’s competition: “There are a number of factors we have to consider when choosing potential illustrators for an upcoming title. In part we are looking for a style sympathetic to the genre and narrative style, but we are also very mindful of the historical period in which the book was written or set within. The historical period may not dictate the medium of the final illustrations, although sometimes it does, moreover, we are looking for illustrations that viably represent the world in which the book was set.

“As we judge this year’s competition, we’ll be looking out for entries that really enter into Jane Austen’s world, complete with researched costume, carriages, hairstyles, side burns and all things suitably Regency!”

All those interviewed will be featured in the Book Illustration Competition exhibition, along with the 2017 longlist.

“I began exploring ideas through small thumbnail sketches” says Sam Weber. “Once things began to solidify I started pulling together the necessary reference to make the paintings. Reference comes in all forms, everything from bits and pieces of interesting things I’ve gathered over the years to hiring models and building maquettes. Ideally I like to move back and forth between drawing and research, so that one part of the process is able to influence the other.”

“I really tried to research the clothing and the military uniforms; to attempt to give a sense of the period in which the book is set” says Anne Marie Jones (Shortlisted for the Book Illustration Competition, 2011) on illustrating A Farewell to Arms. “As I was reading the book I would mark pages and make notes if any image ideas came into my head. Then from those I made some sketches.”

Illustration from A Farewell to Arms by Anne-Marie Jones

Illustration from A Farewell to Arms by Anne-Marie Jones

John Vernon Lord had the task of illustrating James Joyce’s formidable Finnegan’s Wake. “Reading and re-reading the book took far more time than illustrating it. I also read 24 scholarly books associated with the novel including biographies of Joyce, his wife, his daughter, his brother and his father in order to climb into the spirit of James Joyce’s world.”

Finnegan's Wake, from The Folio Society

Finnegan’s Wake, from The Folio Society

“I read the whole book twice during the project. The first time I read at a normal pace, following the storyline. Once I got the idea I started to work on the cover,” says Shan Jiang of Shotopop on illustrating The Man in the High Castle. “’80s and ’90s action manga became my main style reference”.

The Man in the High Castle, from The Folio Society

The Man in the High Castle, from The Folio Society

Quentin Blake has been drawing for the Folio Society now for just over forty years. His one of his earlier commissions from The Folio Society was George Orwell’s Animal Farm, illustrations from which will feature in the 2017 Book Illustration Competition exhibition. “I felt some level of reality was necessary, not least to show the pigs behaving like humans and becoming more and more like them. Drawing the pigs was certainly one of the attractive features of the task – their gestures, the distortions of their mouths and in particular getting a variety of expression into their little eyes.”

Illustration from The Folio Society edition of Animal Farm, by Quentin Blake

Illustration from The Folio Society edition of Animal Farm, by Quentin Blake

The deadline for entries to the Book Illustration Competition is Monday 16 January 2017. Apply here.

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