'Illustrating Fiction, I'll be the judge of that!' | Art Director Sheri Gee visits the Society of Illustrators in New York

Earlier this month I was delighted to give a talk on the art of illustration fiction, together with two of our fabulous illustrators – Victo Ngai, who worked on Chinese Fairy Tales & Fantasies, and Sam Weber, whose Folio commissions include Lord of the Flies and Fahrenheit 451. The event was brilliantly hosted by the Society of Illustrators in their five-storey town house in New York. I’ve worked with Sam on three books to date, and with Victo on one, but had never met them, so it was so great to get to know them a little and to finally put faces to the names!

Folio Art Director Sheri Gee with Sam Weber

Folio Art Director Sheri Gee with Sam Weber

The talk took place during Illustration Week, coinciding with a whole week of judging for Illustration 57, the Society of Illustrator’s annual juried exhibition. A different category of entries was scrutinised each day by a team of illustrators, designers and art directors working in that particular area. On the day of my talk, Victo was locked tight in deliberation, judging the uncommissioned category, which led to extensive debate on the medal winners, meaning she was detained for the first 30 minutes of the talk!

We drew a great crowd, with standing room only, according to the live tweets! A show of hands at the beginning of the evening revealed a large number of professional and student illustrators, who the talk was largely aimed at, together with a handful of talented art directors from other publishers, illustrators’ agents and one or two Folio members (one delighted to have a previous purchase signed by Sam after the event).

From left, on stage: Victo Nagi, Sam Weber, Sheri Gee © James-Pearce

From left, on stage: Victo Ngai, Sam Weber, Sheri Gee (© James Pearce)

After a potted history of the company, I talked about the typical life of a Folio fiction edition – how we choose the titles, how I marry up illustration to narrative and the approval process involved. Next, I took the audience through the nuts and bolts of a commission. At this point, I invited Sam and Victo to speak about the process from their experience of working with us, which gave great and often amusing insight into the working life of an illustrator. The audience gained insight into the thought process behind their scene selection, the importance of research and how it feeds into their work, they got to see illustration roughs created by each artist, comparing the level of detail in them and seeing how much they differ from the final artwork. We also expanded on our binding process, which most illustrators find an interesting challenge, being introduced to new techniques and technical constraints. Then followed a lively Q&A with lots of questions for me and my esteemed panel – I think everyone learnt something, me included.

Having Sam Weber in the building and a captive audience for his work, it seemed churlish not to reveal a new project we’ve been working on, though it’s not available until spring 2015. For nearly a year now, Sam has been working on our forthcoming edition of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic Dune. So with great pleasure we unveiled the binding and a couple of illustrations, leading one audience member, Art Director Lauren Panepinto from Orbit Books, to tweet live that she can now die a happy lady!

Live tweets from Lauren Panepinto

Live tweets from Lauren Panepinto, Creative Director at Orbit Books and Yen Press

The forthcoming Folio edition of Dune

The forthcoming Folio edition of Dune

Needless to say, after the event, I had a queue of illustrators wanting to meet me and press promotional postcards of their work into my hands – and some lovely work there was too. I had a very enjoyable evening, finished off with a drink in the Society’s bar, overhung by an original Rockwell!

Later on that week I also had the honour of being part of the jury for the book category of Illustrators 57, chaired by Chris Buzelli. Together with Paul Buckley (VP Executive Creative Director at Penguin Random House), Lauren Panepinto (Creative Director at Orbit Books and Yen Press), Elizabeth Parisi (Creative Director at Scholastic) and illustrators  Scott Campbell, Brian Floca, Kelly Murphy, Greg Ruth and Dan dos Santos, we selected 3 gold medal winners and 3 silver and a host of excellent pieces to be showcased in February’s exhibition, from amongst over 500 entries. As many of our illustrators had entered their Folio commissions into the competition, it would have seemed unfair for me to be on the jury, however the team at the Society of Illustrators is well practised in managing the judging process, this being the competition’s 57th year. After each juror has made their initial selections, any interested parties (illustrators or commissioners) are barred from making comment in the final three-hour debate on the medal winners. So it was that I sat proudly back while Mark Smith was awarded Silver for The Singing Sands and Jonathan Burton won Gold for Nineteen Eighty-Four, only contributing to the discussion on the other medal winners. Thanks go to my fellow jurors for recognising Jonathan and Mark’s great talent, I know we’re really proud of what they have accomplished.

To see a list of all medal winners and selected work, click here.

It was a brilliant week in New York, meeting so many great illustrators, designers and fans of Folio. Thank you to the Society of Illustrators for hosting the event and to everyone for making me so welcome during my stay.

Judges of Illustrators 57 book category

Judges of Illustrators 57 book category. From left: Kelly Murphy, Paul Buckley, Scott Campbell, Elizabeth Parisi, Dan dos Santos, Greg Ruth, Sota the dog, Chris Buzelli, Lauren Panepinto, Sheri Gee and Brian Floca (© Chris Buzelli)

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