Art Director, Sheri Gee, guides us through the process of submitting an entry for the Book Illustration Competition. Have you ever wondered what makes a good illustration, or a good binding design? Is it bound up in a personal aesthetic, or can a winning formula be applied? Entrants starting out in this year’s Book Illustration Competition may well be asking themselves these very questions as they begin to read and plan their illustrations. The competition is now in its eighth year, and this year’s chosen book is a collection of short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Selected Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Given the plethora of Holmsian imagery that already exists, from illustration to TV and film adaptations, crafting original compositions while staying close to the text will be a challenge. For each illustration commission there are key questions that need to be answered, almost subconsciously, which help us achieve the right tone, visually. It’s the answers to these questions that inform our search of illustrators’ portfolios before we commission, and I think anyone entering this competition should ask themselves what are the most important factors that the illustrations should convey. This varies for each book or genre. For instance:
- Does the author give specific details about the characters’ appearances? (I advise noting down every description very carefully and, if necessary, researching other literary descriptions of Holmes and Watson that may have been given in Conan Doyle’s other stories and novels). Which particular characters ought to be shown?
- Does the narrative involve a lot of action? What scenes ought to be shown? Is it better to build tension rather than illustrate the climax of a story?
- Is the narrative mostly conversation-led? How can that be visualised in a compelling way?
- Is landscape/setting very important to the book? When reading, does it add to the atmosphere?
- Is the book set in a specific historical period? Where/how can that best be researched and visualised?
- Does a certain style of illustration suit the atmosphere or genre of the book, or the period in which the book is set? Would any styles or techniques be unsuitable?
- Where will the illustration be placed? (Colour illustrations can only be placed in certain places, where the signature (which comprises 16 pages of text) falls.) If the last scene is illustrated, can it be placed earlier in the story without giving anything away, or is it best to avoid illustrating the final page?