This year’s Klaus Flugge Prize for the most exciting newcomer to children’s picture book illustration has been won by Mariajo Ilustrajo for Flooded (Frances Lincoln Books). Mariajo created Flooded during the third module of her Masters (Diploma project) at the Cambridge School of Art and says, ‘My aim was to find a new and fresher visual language while I created a good story.’ She explains. ‘By the time I enrolled in the MA in Children’s Books Illustration at Anglia Ruskin, I had around
12 years of experience as an illustrator and a few as a designer.
I always think of art school like driving school. You learn the rules, but good driving comes after many years behind the wheel, and I guess that is what happened during my career.
During my studies, I learned all the rules about illustration: techniques, colour theory, history, etc. However, the experience of working in different jobs was what really shaped me and taught me to be an illustrator. I‘ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects over the years. However, I think even though these previous years helped me to become a much better and professional illustrator. I must admit I was getting comfortable; sometimes, just because the deadlines to complete projects don’t always allow you to experiment and create new things but to do what comes easy to you.
Studying for this Masters was at the top of my to-do list for a long time, as illustrating children’s books has been my big dream since I finished at art school many years ago. However, I knew I had to push myself to do that as the quality of work out there is really high.
One of my biggest aims during the Masters was to create a new visual language, and I think the best advice I got was, ‘what else could I offer as an illustrator?’ During a tutorial with Professor Martin Salisbury, he asked me where my mistakes were. All my sketchbooks were very pleasant to look at; everything was ‘nice’ and ‘correct’. It was clear that I was already an illustrator and that I could produce good work, however, what else could I do? I guess there was no point in studying that Masters if I wasn’t going to come up at the end of it with something ‘different’. So Martin encouraged me to take risks, make mistakes and not be afraid of them. I think this tutorial helped me hugely in finding what I was looking for, which was how to explore what else I could achieve.
This was the time I was starting to work on Flooded, so I was determined to follow his advice, but the question was how? I always liked to work with different materials, but this time, I went big, and I tried everything: gouache, acrylics, coloured pencils, inks, collage, you name it. I didn’t know what I was looking for but I could identify what looked ‘familiar’, and I think it was the iteration and endless hours of work which made me come up with the artwork in Flooded.
To be honest, I don’t think I’ve found out all I can do yet, but Flooded was definitely a good start. One of the things I realised is that playing and experimentation are key to keep evolving. Deadlines often don’t allow you the time to experiment with new things, but I hope I can find the time again to keep finding new and exciting ways of working. I’m a big fan of illustrators Marta Altés and Rebecca Green, and one of the things I admire most about them is how they keep evolving.
Mariajo’s new book, Lost, is out now and her next book, I Hate Love Books! will be published in February 2024.