Outright at the Museum

Outright at the Museum

The V&A Illustration Awards have upped the ante for this year’s instalment, with the overall winner to receive the inaugural Moira Gemmill Illustrator of the Year Prize and an increased cash kitty.

The winner in each of the awards’ four categories—Book Illustration, Book Cover Illustration, Editorial Illustration and Student Illustration—will pocket £3,000 (the Student runner-up will receive £2,000); with the quartet contesting the overall gong and an additional £5,000 prize money. The winners will be annouced at a ceremony on 23rd May at the V&A, with the new overall award named in honour of the museum’s late director of design, Moira Gemmill.


The finalists for the Book Cover Illustration, Book Illustration and Editorial Illustration categories.

The judges include Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Creative Review editor Patrick Burgoyne and Annabel Judd, head of design at the V&A. The Student category was judged separately, by Canongate art director Rafi Romaya and Illustration editor Ruth Prickett.

Romaya has previous with the awards: last year she took home the Book Cover prize for her direction of illustrator Yehrin Tong for Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things (Canongate). When asked about being on the other side of the judging process this year, Romaya told The Bookseller: “It was amazing to be part of the awards last year with Yehrin—she’s such a talented and generous illustra- tor to collaborate with, so it was great to see her work recognised by such a prestigious award. Being on the other side of it this year, judging the Student award, made me realise how stiff the competition is and how much amazing new talent is out there.

“The standard was incredibly high and it was great to see illustration applied in so many ways. Rather than themes [emerging among the submissions], it was just how personal the work was and how successfully they had found their own voice. I hope all those shortlisted go on to have fulfilling careers and I can see how many of them would lend themselves brilliantly to publishing, from children’s books to exquisitely illustrated cookbooks.”

The finalists in the Student Illustration catgeory.

On the topic of illustration being applied across genres, I ask Romaya what she looks for when commissioning an artist to work on a Canongate title. “I’m very open-minded about who I collaborate with, from skateboard designers to music folk, but I do look for an illustrator or artist who chimes perfectly with the manuscript—whether that’s through themes or execution, as for me the cover should be a visual expression of the book in some way.”

When asked about the shortlisted books—notably the book categories’ inclusion of smaller, more niche imprints, with The Folio Society scoring a trio of nominations—Romaya says the driver of a book’s aesthetic is the market into which it is issued: “Coralie Bickford-Smith’s book is utterly beautiful; I think having an in-depth knowledge of book design, and having writ- ten the book herself, she will be instinctively aware of how the illustration will translate into the final book to create the perfect rhythm. The look of a cover is very much led by the book’s content and the marketplace...the publisher is always trying to make it appeal to the right person. Sometimes it’s hard for designers to get those briefs, [those] that lend themselves to beautiful illustration rather than a photographic approach, for example.

“More and more book covers are filled with knowing references to great design of the past,” Romaya replies when asked about current book cover trends and which practitioners she admires. “Most of Canongate’s design work is done in-house— there are three of us in the art department—and I occasionally work with Gray318, among others, which is always a pleasure. Regarding publishers, I’m a huge fan of Knopf in the US, as its work is often very ideas-led and imaginatively executed. In the past
few years Pushkin Press has reinvented itself and its book cover design is always on the money. And Visual Editions...what joy!”

Working together

Clearly Romaya has an eye for talent; her collaboration with Tong was widely acclaimed—it also bagged a nomination in the British Book Design & Production Awards’ Cover Design category last year, and was strongly featured across the design blogosphere—and the pair continued their work together on a dual-edition paperback of Faber’s novel, a new Canons issue from Faber, Some Rain Must Fall, and a recently revealed poetry collection. Romaya says that “after the success of The Book of Strange New Things it was a natural decision to work with Yehrin again—and it’s been a joy”, adding that Tong’s unique aesthetic helps to bind together Faber’s genre-bending ouevre. “We knew we wanted to keep the foil finish [from Strange New
], so it was built into the design from the outset.

"For Some Rain Must Fall, as it’s a book of short stories, we wanted to capture the feel and atmosphere of the book, so the title appearing to shimmer and drip off the page was the perfect solution. For Undying, we wanted to create a moment of reflection: the moon glistening on the water gives a glimpse of this and how the two worlds are connected. Yehrin has produced something quite beautiful, something that has some of the magic and tranquil energy of Japanese printmaking.”