Bristol Prize

Our Volume 6 Anthology Cover

September 4, 2013   Joe Melia

Each year we run a cover design project with the final year Illustration degree students at the University of the West of England. We set them what seems like an impossible task – to design a cover for an anthology of short stories that they haven’t read and know nothing about. Because of our timetable and the students’ timetable, the project deadline comes well before the stories have been selected for the book.  And every year we are astonished and delighted with the designs that are submitted.

This year is no exception. The winning cover design (left) for our 6th anthology was created by Emily Nash (below right), and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to use it for this year’s anthology.

A huge thanks to all the students who took part and to the continued enthusiasm and commitment of the inspiring Illustration course leaders at U.W.E – Chris Hill and Jonathan Ward.

We took the opportunity to ask Emily a few questions about her work and this year’s wonderful cover:


What was your reaction when you found out that your design had been chosen for the BSSP anthology cover?

I was extremely pleased to have been chosen, it’s a very exciting opportunity as it’s my first published book cover. There where so many great designs to choose from and it was hard to predict who it would go to, so I felt very surprised and honored that mine was picked.

How has the Illustration degree course affected your work and your ambitions?

My work has changed a lot of in the last three years. The course started with a lot of open and experimental briefs and were encouraged to try using a wide range of mediums and styles. Collage has always been something I’ve been interested in and I found that it was always mixed media that I reverted back to. When I first started the course I wasn’t thinking so much about a career, I was thinking more about the process and what I enjoyed doing most, but throughout the three years I have become much more career focused and am now very excited to be working as a freelance illustrator. Professional practice modules where a big help in preparing for the more practical side of the job and I ended up writing my dissertation on the living and working conditions of a freelance illustrator. You would think this would have put me off, but strangely it hasn’t!

What and whom are the major influences on your work?


Old fashioned patterns and textiles such as those of William Morris influence the way my work looks aesthetically. I have huge collections of old newspapers, magazines, fabric and leather. Old fashioned clockwork toys have been my latest interest and I aim to start making characters and bespoke toys our of sheet metal and fabric. As for whom, I would say graphic novelist Sean Tan and children’s book illustrators Jon Klassen have particularly inspired me. I admire the way Sara Fenelli’s work appeals to such a wide audience having had commissions from The Tate, Zizzis  and the New York Times, as well as illustrating her own books. I especially like surreal, other-worldly and slightly disturbing work which is why I think collage suits me.


What makes a great book cover?

I would say a great book cover is what makes you pick the book up! Everybody judges a book by it’s cover and it’s the illustrator’s job to lure people in. The design should be instantly eye catching which I don’t think necessarily means bold and bright. It could be a conceptual idea that makes you look twice of something as simple as a repeat or delicate pattern, I think this all depends on who the books is aimed at. A good book cover should respond to the narrative; hinting at the story without giving too much away or misleading the reader. I think a book covers can be like little poster that advertises what’s going on inside.

As a rule, how many drafts or re-drafts does a piece of your work go through before you’re satisfied with it?


First I do a pencil draft of the rough imagery and spacing of the book cover. Normally I’ll have one initial idea but will aim to think of at least four or five before starting on the next part of the process. I will then start collaging the components of the image on sheets of paper which are then scanned in and placed in photoshop. I like to do most of the illustration by hand and I use a knife to draw with, cutting out the little pieces that create the image. It will take a few drafts to play with the colour and positioning of things until I am happy with how the illustration looks. I will sometimes have a few different versions that I can refer back to.

I’ll try to talk to at least one person about the image during the process as other people’s ideas and input are always important. They will often point out obvious things that you wouldn’t have been able to spot yourself. I have to stand back and view it as if through somebody else’s eyes to know when it’s finished. When working for a client it’s hard to say how many drafts you will do- as many as it takes until you’re both happy with the outcome.


How do you see illustration participating in an increasingly digital publishing industry.


When photography first became affordable and accessible there was a scare that illustration would be redundant. It is true that most of the images accompanying an editorial article or adorning the front of a book is now a photograph but illustration has certainly not gone away. If anything I think illustration has been made more of a luxury. Book covers that are illustrated seem more of a novelty now more than ever and I don’t think books will ever disappear. There will always be demand for beautiful books. If you think how affordable and practical Kindles now are, but still the percentage of people who own a one is less than those who would choose to take a paperback on holiday or keep one by their bed.

I think it’s up to us to keep up with consumer demands and find other ways we can adapt to the market. Illustrators are increasingly being commissioned to work for   online-only magazines and websites. More and more children’s apps, games and digital story books a being produced that require the work of illustrators and animators to bring them to life. There are spaces to be filled, we just need to think of clever ways to fill them.


What are you planning to do now that you’ve finished the degree course?

I am lucky enough to have received funding to carry on studying, so I have another year of being a student ahead of me! I’ve been accepted onto the Illustration MA at Camberwell and am very excited to be moving to London, although I will very much miss living and working in Bristol. During the course I plan to develop my narrative work but also push my practice towards adult book jackets and editorials. I plan to freelance throughout the year alongside my MA work at Camberwell.


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