Illustration is at the heart of everything Folio does and we are very proud indeed to work with our many award-winning illustrators.
As well as commissioning renowned illustrators and artists, it is in our DNA to nurture new talent. Launched to mark the Folio Society’s 75th anniversary, the Folio Book Illustration Award 2022 offered an opportunity for aspiring and established illustrators. They were asked to provide one piece of artwork in response to the short story The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe. The winner will receive a cash prize of £2,000, plus £500 of Folio vouchers.
Having received over 650 entries from 56 countries, the four judges had quite the task to whittle the entries down to just five shortlisted artists and one winner. In this fascinating blog the judges, Art Directors Sheri Gee and Raquel Leis Allion, and teacher at the New York School of Visual Arts, Yuko Shimizu, explain what they were looking for, and how they made their selections.
Meeting the brief
‘We were really excited to see how the entries (more than 650 of them) reflected the fact that it’s a gothic horror story,’ says Sheri Gee. ‘We wanted to see how the illustrators had interpreted the story and brought the detail, characterisation and descriptions to life, while staying true to the text. We are ever mindful that all our commissions require the illustrator to follow the book closely – if the character has blonde hair and is wearing a red coat in the text, that’s what they need to have in the illustration. This was a key criteria in judging.’
A unique voice
Gee points out they’re looking for something out of the ordinary. ‘It might be that we’renot looking for their first idea or their first composition. It could be that if they thumbnail a lot of different scenes, it’s the one that’s 20th down the line, where suddenly they’ve had a lightbulb moment and thought, “Wow, this could be really interesting”.
‘There are lots of things illustrators can do to make their illustration really stand out, such as composition and colour. So I think we’re looking for the unusual. We’re also looking for amazing drawing or painting – whatever craft they are using.’
‘We wanted to be wowed,’ says fellow judge Yuko Shimizu, illustrator of Folio’s Japanese Tales and teacher at the School of Visual Arts in New York. ‘Take us to a different place, to a higher level. It’s all about originality – arresting illustrations that evoke the atmosphere and mood.
‘As a teacher, meeting and supporting so many emerging artists, I have learned to focus on helping bring out each individual artist’s unique voice,’ says Shimizu. ‘So, I am always looking for artists who interpret and create from their own unique viewpoints, regardless of medium, technique or style. There are so many artists out there who we may not know yet, who may be doing wonderful work. Their work is waiting to be seen.’
The judging process
Meeting the brief was just the start, of course; each judge then had the tricky job of selection, mentally weighing each entry against a range of criteria, including things such as composition: has the artist selected an interesting part of the story? Does the illustration contain an unusual perspective – a bird’s eye view, a worm’s eye view?
‘Then it became harder,’ says Raquel Leis Allion. ‘We came up with a longlist from each of our piles, then narrowed it down again to the shortlist of just six, and finally the winner. There was a lot of quite lively debate – but eventually we came to a clear agreement.’
All the judges were excited to see so many different interpretations of the same brief. ‘We want people from different backgrounds to know about Folio, and to show us their work,’ says Leis Allion. And, says Shimizu, it’s an opportunity for artists to get their work in front of one of the industry’s most passionate advocates of illustration. ‘You can have a great portfolio, but you can’t just sit and wait to have great things happen to you,’ she says. ‘You have to be proactive – and this competition gives artists a wonderful chance.’
And the winner is ...
‘I really loved the monotone drawing coupled with accents of a carefully curated colour palette. The stained glass windows and coloured light were a difficult element to portray but we felt this piece did it very sympathetically. Looking closer, we loved the array of people in costumes and masks, perfectly illustrating the story,' says Gee.