Prize for Illustration: Notes from a winner – by Julia Allum

Julia Allum, winner of the Silver Award  in 2017 Prize for Illustration, and the artist behind this year’s promotional image, shares how her winning artwork was created, what it was like to take part in the competition and how her career benefited from it.

The AOI’s Poster Prize for Illustration was a competition I had been meaning to enter for quite a few years, but for some reason or another never got round to until 2016. When the call for entries was announced, a commission I was expecting had just fallen through and so I decided to put the extra time to good use.

The theme of the competition was ‘Sounds of the City’, and I wanted to tackle the brief from a different angle and produce something that wasn’t too obvious. After brainstorming several ideas, and being inspired by a visit to Kew Gardens, I decided to focus on wildlife living and thriving in the city. Parakeets seemed the ideal choice: not only do they have a distinctive, incredibly noisy sound, they also bring a little piece of the tropics to urban London.

‘Surprise City Sounds’

The final poster design was a long way from where it began. The image initially developed through scribbles. I then spent a lot of time moving shapes around, and  the design evolved from birds featuring within a cityscape to them being the main focus. I am fascinated by pattern, symmetry and repetition and enjoy exploring shapes and how they fit together to create images. What began as trees, slowly morphed into Transport for London’s roundel, and the final design began to take shape. Influenced by my love of Art Deco posters, my work has changed substantially over the years, it has gradually become more simplified and stylised.

When working on this design I was still in the early stages of this new style and a little unsure about it. In fact I was so unsure about my entry – thinking it was too simple to count as ‘proper’ illustration – that I didn’t tell anyone I had submitted it. It therefore came as a great surprise when I heard that my piece had been shortlisted; never in a million years did I think I would go on to win one of the awards!

In the eighteen months since, I have concentrated on producing work as much as I can; work I enjoy doing, and forging a style that is uniquely mine. In turn this has led to more enquiries and collaborations, including commissions for interior vinyl graphics, travel posters, editorial illustrations, a shopping bag for a national US chain and of course the marketing image for this year’s Poster Prize for Illustration. Furthermore, towards the end of last year I was in discussion with some dream clients, so I am looking forward to what 2019 may bring.

The Poster Prize for Illustration is such a wonderful platform for illustrators to showcase their work and further their career, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in organising it.

Besides receiving enquiries and commissions, the most important thing I took from the award was confidence and self-belief. This opportunity gave me the push I needed to take my career to the next level. Having my work acknowledged and praised by industry professionals, plus seeing my poster on the London underground gave me such a boost.

Visit Julia’s website to check out her work.

Our new exhibition Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories, organised in partnership with the AOI, opens at London Transport Museum on 8 February 2019. On the same date, we invite you to join us at our Friday Late launch event, where you can find out who the winners are, and join us as we bring London’s stories to life, engaging the senses through captivating talks, workshops, and activities.

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