World Illustration Awards: Interview with Bethan Woollvin

The World Illustration Awards 2017 Exhibition is touring the UK. It makes its first stop at Ruskin Gallery part of the Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University.  We caught up with Bethan Woollvin, a 2015 graduate of Cambridge School of Art, and the new talent winner of the World Illustration Awards 2017 Children’s Books category, sponsored by Walker Books.

Hi Bethan. You graduated in 2015 from Cambridge School of Art and have had a lot of success already. Can you tell us a bit about you and your work?

I’m a freelance author and illustrator currently living in Sheffield. Of the two, I’d consider myself an illustrator first, and an author second, making a mess is more fun.

Illustrator Bethan Woollvin

My interest in illustration and storytelling comes from my love for books as a child. My two biggest inspirations being Tove Jansson and her magnificent Moomin world, and Dr Zeuss’s peculiar characters and limited colour palettes. People have noted that these influences are evident in my work, my quirky characters in retro-limited colour palette show my inner workings. I mainly create my illustrations in gouache paint, or by screen-printing, as I love my artwork to have that hand-made, painterly quality to it.

I currently have two books published in the UK by Two Hoots, my debut Little Red (2016) and Rapunzel (2017) which have both received amazing receptions from readers all around the world. Both books are illustrated in just three colours, black, grey and an accent colour. The bold colours in these books are equally matched by the bold female protagonists who, contrary to traditional fairy tales, use their wits to outsmart their foes and come out on top.

What did winning the World Illustration Awards 2017 New Talent Children’s Books category mean for you?

I was really excited to enter the World Illustration Awards 2017 as it was something I had aspired to do ever since being at university. While studying, my course leader would frequently use the AOI website to show us interviews and portfolios of contemporary illustrators, along with the important business side of the trade like invoicing and contracts. The AOI is such a strong community of illustrators, I felt privileged to simply be considered, winning my category was more than I could have wished for!

The awards ceremony and private view was a real treat too. It was a slightly surreal moment when I saw my work alongside all the other incredible creatives in Somerset House.

Bethan receiving her award from Deirdre McDermott of Walker Books


Has your work or process changed since you finished University? Did you find it challenging to make a transition from student to professional?

Well my ‘transition’ started when I was only midway through my studies. I created Little Red while in my second year as part of a six week book project. Despite never having illustrated for children, or ever written a story in this format, Little Red went onto win Macmillan Children’s Book Competition!

Off the back of the competition Two Hoots (an imprint of Macmillan), offered me a book deal for Little Red which I continued to work on while at university. Though it was hard work to juggle university projects and professional commitments it really helped shape and refine my practice. I must thank Two Hoots, they’ve nurtured me into the publishing world, which at the time was a completely unexplored industry for me. So by the time I left education I already knew what publishers’ expectations were and what to expect in return.

One of Bethan’s sketchbooks for Little Red

Have you got any advice for illustrators who are finishing their studies and making the move into working as a professional illustrator?

I think it’s important to remember that no matter what stage in your illustration career you are, you should always keep experimenting with your work and trying new things. This could be in the form of going to see new exhibitions or museums to help inspire a new project, trying a new medium of work, or drawing things from life. This will help you to keep your work fresh and inspired, and keeps the ugly creative-block-monster at bay!

What have you got coming up next?

I am working on some new projects in the picture book world, but I am totally sworn to secrecy so…watch this space!

Bethan’s work is on tour as part of the World Illustration Awards 2017 Touring Exhibition, showing at Ruskin Gallery from 23 November – 21 December 2017.

The World Illustration Awards are presented by the AOI in partnership with the Directory of Illustration. They are the most prestigious awards for illustration in the world.

The Awards offer illustrators an important boost in their careers, placing their work in view of audiences and commissioners world-wide.

The World Illustration Awards 2018 call for entries is open until 6 February 2018:


14th November 2017

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