Winning Isn’t Everything

Fri 07 May 2010 by Jo_Moore

Fantastic Mr Fox by Emma McCann

The event was sponsored by and you may have thought being one of the 'chosen few' would be an enviable position to be in. In conversation with Emma Jo Moore finds out why being a winner isn't always what it's cracked up to be…so read on…

JM: So, Emma how did you find out about the competition?

EM: Through good old Twitter. I followed the links to the site and then to the competition itself on the London Book Fair site.

JM: Were there different categories or age groups?

EM: No, it was completely open, so I made something up!

JM: So what did you choose to illustrate?

EM: Fantastic Mr Fox, by Roald Dahl. I'd really been wanting to draw some foxes for ages, so it just seemed right.

JM: And how many images or spreads did you have to submit?

EM: Just an image.

JM: And how did you go about submitting the artwork?

EM: First I had to register to take part in the competition and the registration fee included the entry into the London Book Fair. I had to submit the image via email in March and I got a reply about ten days later saying I was a winner. There were over 60 entries and from that they selected ten winners.

JM: And what riches were they offering the winner?

EM: There would be a display panel of your winning image in the Illustrators Corner at the Book Fair, you would get a listing on the London Book Fair website for one year, you would get to go to a networking event at the Book Fair, plus one person was supposed to get a year's subscription to

JM: Tell us how your winning picture is constructed.

EM: It's digital collage. The tree is watercolour painted and blown through a straw to get the branches, the grass is a mixture of a digital background and pencil crayon on top, the sky is the first ever Photoshop gradient I've done and the scarf is scanned in real knitting. The shadows are a mix of digital, watercolour and pencil crayon.

JM: So what happened at the 'gala' event?

EM: Well, a week before the event I got a cryptic email asking me get there earlier at 2.35 PM precisely to meet a special, secret VIP. I arrived around 2 pm and found the Illustrator's Corner. The displays looked fantastic, but the area was a bit disappointing as it was opposite a sandwich bar and there were lots of people just hanging around drinking coffee and eating their lunch. I somehow managed to attract the other winning illustrators and we all stood around chatting for ages.…and ages…and ages. It got to 3.20 PM and one of the other girls went off to look for someone. She came back to say that the special VIP had cancelled but nobody had bothered to tell us. And the special VIP was Camilla Parker Bowles, who had broken her leg! I thought it would be an illustration celebrity like Chris Riddell, who was one of the judges - I would love to meet him.

JM: And what about the networking event?

EM: The networking event was held in the Illustrator's Corner later that afternoon. They had put a bar in there and a roped off area with security guy. And that was kind of it. There were no introductions, no "here are our winners" - nothing. There seemed to be about four or five art directors there and about 200 illustrators wanting to see them, so there was a massive queue. Diedre McDermott and Louise Power from Walker Books were there, but Diedre didn't hang around, Louise stayed longer. I spoke to one art director who didn't even know there had been a competition. I stayed until about 5.15pm and then I made a mad dash around as many stands as possible saying "take my card, take my card" and then I left.

JM: Didn't you get your picture taken?

EM: No!

JM: Not exactly what you would call a glittering event?

EM: Not really. It was the first time they've run anything like this so I suppose they weren't 100% sure of what they should be doing!

JM: What were the other winners' work like?

EM: Quite a good mix, actually. A couple of traditional illustrators, some digital, while another was a big page of coloured pencil line drawings, doodles really. They worked really well large scale.

JM: Professionally speaking was it a worthwhile experience?

EM: I produced some new work and it was 'recognised', but the Fair itself was disappointing.

JM: Any results from your blanket-bombing business cards?

EM: Not yet. The London Book Fair tries really hard, but it's not Bologna. Most business is done there (Bologna), London might not be the best place. But it's always a good way to see who is publishing what and what's popular at the moment, plus get contacts etc.

JM: What about Fantastic Mr Fox?

EM: Other illustrators seemed confident it would get published and I'm pretty happy with it as a one-off image.

JM: Do you think it's worthwhile taking part in competitions?

EM: It's the first competition I've taken part in. Although it was a little disappointing it hasn't put me off.

JM: Oh my God, and you won - a 100% success rate! Often competitions can be a way to try a new style of work in a 'safe' environment. Is this a departure from your regular work?

EM: Yeah, it was a "see what happens situation", a bit of a play about.

JM: But you didn't even get a little badge?

EM: No. But apparently they are going to send me the big panel of my image, which will be nice.

JM: And what are you working on now?

EM: I'm drawing a Bungry, which is a rainbow-patterned, stomach-dwelling monster. Somebody contacted me through the BiG website and said she had written a children's book. She asked for an image to send out with her text to publishers and, because she's already a published author and therefore knows what she's doing, and because she didn't want me to do a whole book for £2.95, I agreed to do it.

JM: And what other Emma publications can we look out for?

EM: The Super Frog series early reader books, published by Wayland. Star Pirates, two junior fiction titles with black and white illustrations, published by Whizz Book, and Munch my own picture book, published by Meadowside Children's Books.

JM: Thanks very much Emma. Check out more of Emma's work on the BiG website or at