Artist interview: Forest Xiao, Batsford Prize 2023 Children’s Illustration Winner
Next up in our Batsford Prize 2023 (Theme: At Peace) Artist Interviews series is illustration student Forest Xiao, who won the Children’s Illustration category for her picture book How To Catch An Idea.
Forest is studying an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University. How To Catch An Idea is a visual story about a girl who travels to look for a world-changing idea, and learns to find peace and contentment within herself and her inner world is transformed.
HI FOREST, CAN YOU TELL US WHAT YOUR PIECE IS ABOUT? CAN YOU TELL US WHAT INITIALLY INFLUENCED IT AND WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU?
The story is about a little girl who sets out on a journey looking for a great idea. Along the way she met all kinds of characters of whom she asked lots of big questions about ‘ideas’. However, in the end the little girl did not find ‘the one’ idea, instead she collected lots of objects/things/memories from her journey.
This story is inspired by my own creative journey during the final module in the MA course. At the time I felt the huge pressure of trying to come up with the best picture book idea and creatively struggled to make decisions. So I thought maybe I could just make a book about it. I want this story to be less about achieving the ultimate goal of finding the big fat impressive idea, but rather about celebrating the journey. I want to show that the process itself can be transformational and idea generating. I hope this can help the reader to spark some ideas or relax a bit when they feel stuck creatively.
WHAT MEDIUMS OR MATERIALS DID YOU DECIDE TO USE, AND WHY?
Because my story talks about collecting bits and pieces, I think it makes sense for it to be mixed media. So I painted on paper with gouache paints, crayons, colour pencils and pens. Then I scanned them to make digital collages. I then added more illustrations on top with Procreate. This process has allowed my work to keep the hand-drawn texture and feel but also have the editing flexibility with digital software.
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO STUDY CHILDREN’S ILLUSTRATION?
My background is in Graphic Design and my first job was in children’s publishing. I have always loved the format of the picture book and the magic of visual storytelling. So when I found out about the MA Children’s Book Illustration course through my friend, I went in for an open day event and the rest is history.
WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST ARTISTIC INSPIRATIONS? ARE THERE OTHER ARTISTS WHO YOU ADMIRE OR WHO INSPIRE YOU?
My inspiration comes a lot from my own life, my travels, people in my life, my struggles… generally things around me. I hope to catch the sparkle in mundane life through my work.
My favourite children’s book illustrators are David McKee, Anthony Brown, Shinsuke Yoshitake…just to name a few. I love the modern art period, artists such as Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE? WOULD YOU SAY THAT IT HAS CHANGED OVER TIME?
I love happy colours, childlike shapes and talking lines. My style or visual language varies depending on the specific project/story, I try to choose the relevant material and method for each one. Through the MA course I have definitely discovered new visual languages and I believe I will experiment with more in the coming projects.
WHAT DOES WINNING THE BATSFORD PRIZE MEAN TO YOU?
It is very encouraging for a graduate like me to win this Prize, it is a great recognition. I am very thankful to Batsford books for being so supportive of students.
AFTER YOU HAVE COMPLETED YOUR STUDIES, WHAT DO YOU SEE YOURSELF DOING NEXT?
A lot has happened since finishing the course, all very exciting and new. I am working with a lovely literary agent who supported me a lot and we are chatting to some publishers about my book projects. I am very much looking forward to moving my project into the next stage.
Check out more of Forest’s work on her instagram.
ABOUT THE BATSFORD PRIZE
The Batsford Prize is an annual award open for undergraduate and postgraduate students in the fields of applied art and textiles, fine art and illustration. View the winners and runners up of this year’s award here. The theme for the Batsford Prize 2024 will be revealed shortly…
Interviews for the other winning categories are available to read here:
Artist Interview: Alivia Hoy, Batsford Prize 2023 Fine Art Winner
Artist Interview: Megan Du, Batsford Prize 2023 – Illustration Winner
Artist Interview: Pia Elliot, Batsford Prize 2023 – Applied Arts and Textiles Winner
Artist Interview: Ziyi Wang, Batsford Prize 2023 – Chairman’s Prize Winner