Interview: Serco Prize for Illustration 2011 Gold winner Anne Wilson

The Serco Illustration Prize is held in association with the London Transport Museum and the Association of Illustrators (AoI), and celebrates illustrations created around themes of the UK's capital. This year's competition had the River Thames as its core theme, with the best works shown in a gallery space in the museum. The top, Gold prize was won by up-and-coming illustrator Anne Wilson, who will also see her work appear on a poster across the Transport for London (TfL) network of Underground and DLR stations.

A little gobsmacked at the event, we caught up with Anne the next day to find out more about her and her winning work. Our selection of the best of the rest of the work can be found at the end of this article.

Photo by Russell Cobb

DA: What's your background?

AW: "I studied for a degree in illustration at Bath Spa University College. I very quickly was drawn to the print room where I lived for three years, mono printing and collaging happily away. After graduating with a First Class degree, [I worked on] my first children's picture book for Bloomsbury Publishing. Growing Good by Bernard Ashley, which got me up and running in the illustration world. Six years ago I applied to do an MA, and was accepted into Central St Martins to do an MA in Communication Design.

"It was refreshing to really learn about your working methods amongst so many creative minds -- to have your creativity pulled apart and put back together pushes your work forward in so many ways, and to have an MA with Distinction from St Martins is a real boost to you personally. Since then I have continued to work as a freelance illustrator doing work from childrens books, puzzles and games to editorial pieces."

DA: What prompted you to enter the competition?

AW: "I entered this competition the first year it ran (I think),  back just before my MA. I got to the final 50 exhibitors. The theme was 'Simply Culture',  which was right up my street. I love exploring cultures of the world, colours patterns and textures, found in anything from day to day objects to architecture. After being busy with the MA and having my two girls, I thought I would make sure I entered this year, it is such a great competition to be part of...and I am so glad I did!

"There were also two things I had always wanted to illustrate -- a stamp and an underground poster, so I am so excited to be half way there! (I did ask if they also did stamps in my excitement!)

DA: What was your initial reaction to the brief?

AW: "I had my idea in mind from the start, and just tweaked it along the way. With the subject of a cultural capital and a wealth of visual information, there are always starting points to so many ideas."

DA: How did this translate into the concept for your piece?

AW: "To me a river will always contrast anything man-made. A city will be built around it, never the other way round, and to create the idea visually I really wanted to show the curves of the river against the structure of the buildings. Keeping in mind it was for an Underground poster, I began exploring with the scale of the buildings against the river, and decided to create the buildings small and compact, with the river as large as possible (being the main theme).

"I visualised a big poster filled with patterns of small buildings like a carpet of details and textures divided by a curved river. Once this was in my mind, it was a case of adding the landmarks and elements we know as London. The buses and taxis were ideal things to squeeze into the gaps left between the buildings, and the finishing touch was a Routemaster bus with the Thames leaving its exhaust in recognition to the history of the city and the Transport Museum."

DA: How did you work up your concept into the final artwork? What techniques and tools did you use?

AW: "I love creating texture and mixing colour, so I will always start in my studio with printing inks and a pile of white paper. I create mono prints, creating layers of colours, and just see what happens. For this, I then scanned the prints and worked up the rest in Photoshop. I cut sections of the prints and begin drawing on details on top to create patterns in roofs or windows.

"The great thing about working digitally is that you can create elements large scale and then reduce them as small as you like, retaining the details. As this piece was so large to work on it took me a while to fill all the space with the buildings. I lost count of how many layers I had created in Photoshop, after I was reaching just below 800! So the main tools I used for this was my Mac, my Wacom Tablet and my 2 inch printing ink roller and pallet knife.

DA: Did you expect to win?

AW: "I think it's fair to say that those who saw my face would agree that I was genuinely shocked and surprised, in the best possible way, to hear my name read out [we can attest to this, Ed]. I never saw it coming at all: I had convinced myself that the top three had already been notified before the exhibition for some reason. I did begin to doubt this though after the utter look of surprise on the Bronze winner's face [Liz Rowland], and thought maybe they didnt know, but still never expected to see my work appear on a big screen as my name was announced as the winner."

DA: How do you feel about having your work on posters all around the TfL network?

AW: "I am completely blown away. I have always wanted to illustrate a poster for the London Underground. I remember doing an A-Level art project on them, so to be part of their history is such an honour. I love the idea that so many people will see my work, and so many different types of people as they drive by in their carriages.

DA: What are you working on now?

AW: "I am currently working on some ideas for a children's picture book and finishing work on some designs for cards and packaging. [These are] both personal projects which I hope to share with you soon."

See over for our pick of the best other artworks on show.

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