Children’s illustrators concerned over UK market

10.06.11 | Caroline Horn

An up-and-coming children’s illustrator has warned that new British talent is being forced to go abroad in search of work as the UK picture book market becomes increasingly conservative.

Frann Preston-Gannon, who was recently awarded a Maurice Sendak Fellowship in the US, said: “I have had a number of openings for my work in the US, while in the UK, I have been told to change my style to make it more commercial. As a new illustrator [in  the UK], the kinds of projects you get are reissues of fairy tales rather than brand new books.”

As well as working in illustration, Preston-Gannon is a children’s bookseller at Waterstone’s in Kingston. She added: “The British market is quite conservative and is playing it safe. It doesn’t seem to be moving forward as quickly as the US.”

Rebecca Patterson, a previous winner of the Macmillan Prize for Children’s Book Illustrations, is also looking abroad for openings and has sold a story to the US that most UK publishers would be wary about. She said. “The heroine is a bolshy, tantrum-throwing diva with zero cuteness.”

During her Maurice Sendak fellowship, Preston-Gannon will spend a month in the US working on a project, with regular tutorials from Sendak himself, and feedback from industry professionals. There are no similar schemes in the UK for experienced illustrators to support newcomers.

Bridget Stevens-Marzo, Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) International advisory board member, said: “A star like Sendak can give confidence to a new illustrator, and help put their name on the map—but the bottom line for an illustrator is the collaboration with an art director and publisher.”

Anne-Marie Perks, illustration coordinator for SCBWI, added: “Children’s book illustration is a very competitive industry . . . I would love to have some kind of mentoring programme [in the UK] where illustrators on the ‘edge’ of being picked up are helped that last mile.”

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