ILLUSTRATION FEATURE A walk around the 2020 Anglia Ruskin MA Show

Just one of the 10 walls over 2 floors of the MA show in the Candid Gallery London (photo Jane Porter)

The Anglia Ruskin MA course in Children's Book Illustration has just concluded its annual graduation show at the Candid Gallery at the Angel, Islington before it opens in Cambridge until 28/2/20. SCBWI London's picture book critique group paid a visit. Bridget Marzo takes a look at the emerging talent.

Hats off to the talent, the professionalism, energy and commitment of every single Anglia Ruskin MA (Master of Arts) 2020 graduate in Children's Book Illustration, and to the teachers too!

Visiting the exhibition is "like walking through a portal to a world of visual storytelling" as fellow visitor Candy Gourlay put it.

As a passionate book-maker myself and occasional lecturer, I have seen the exhibition by graduates of the Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge, MA in Children's Book illustration grow year by year, until in 2020, as its reputation has spread across the world, it covers the entirety of two large floors of the Candid Gallery at the Angel, Islington.

You can glimpse sample images of all the illustrators here and in a print catalogue which will travel to the MA stall at Bologna 2020. The exhibition itself moves from London to the Ruskin Gallery in Cambridge until 28 February 2020. That said, only the London exhibition has room to show all the development work - the careful prep and studies in sketchbooks about the process of picture book creation. As Candy writes, it can be “like a bonfire of inspiration that will hopefully spark your own creative work.”

A glimpse of the 2020 catalogue & just some of the illustrator handouts (photo B.Marzo)

Every year the Cambridge MA graduate work offers rich pickings for the publishing industry to graze in, and as the new Course Leader Shelley Jackson comments in the MA Children’s Book Illustration 2020 catalogue, many have made their mark on the year's notable illustration awards.

Giving a Sense of the Exhibition

Even the best part of a day spent there can't really do justice to all the exhibitors' amazing work. I met with some of my picture book critique group pals, including Candy, Layn Marlow, Jane Porter, Heather Kilgour and Cliff McNish at the Candid Cafe next door and asked them their thoughts. Heather, an ARU MA graduate in our crit group, was able to track some continuity of style and content from past years: "a certain use of limited palettes, naive and design-focused images and lots of animals”.

This year though, we all were particularly struck this year by the increasing breadth of approaches and genres on display, from picture book projects to non-fiction to graphic novels and more.

Shu-Man Lu (Photo C Gourlay)

Candy Gourlay: "My favourite thing is to study the portfolios, especially the ones that show the development work an illustrator has put into character and story. I loved, for example the meticulous notebooks of Shu-Man Lu, who created a story about a polar bear who just wanted to bake baguettes."

'It's the unfinished artwork that I find especially breathtaking. Check out the economy of Shu-Man Lu's line in this sketch' Candy continues. (Photo C Gourlay)

Jane Porter’s biggest treat was seeing the work of Sarah Lee Lian Hand, who was a student of hers and Zehra Hicks’ at Putney School of Art before she enrolled on the MA at Cambridge: "Her inky drawings are wonderfully light and expressive, and her book My Sad Friend (which was a runner up in last year’s Salariya prize) definitely deserves to be published soon."

Sarah Lee Lian Hand
Other stand-out stories for Jane & Layn included Eve O’Brien’s hilarious cat story Kevin.
That exuberant Croc Around the Clock gathering drew me in too. (Photo B Marzo)

Jane found Tzu-Chun Chang’s sketchbooks on migration
were tender and touching and it was a privilege to get a glimpse inside. (photo J.Porter)
Her card-dispensing character below left seemed to have a story of his own to tell.  (Photo B.Marzo)

Like Jane, I was struck this year by some highly original subject matter in book projects not least of which was Roozeboos’ stick insect story, Mr Stick.

How often do we read a good story with a stick insect as main character?

I was lucky to meet Roozeboos at her display
(a childhood nickname for Anne Roos Kleiss). (Photo B Marzo)
What a tonic to read such a child-friendly story - and to splash in that fab swimming pool on the wall! And then I started to think of that perennial question for us all as children's books writers and illustrators.

However wonderful the crowd we are in, how can we really stand out from it and get noticed?

One way of course is to meet up in person. The opportunity to do that as an MA student or graduate - not to mention at SCBWI's House of Illustration workshops, is precious.

For Flora Delargy, bold graphic work is one good answer to that question. Her display was unmissable. (photo B.Marzo)

Flora Delargy, detail from Carpathia (Photo C Gourlay)

Add to that, the unique subject matter of the non-fiction story of the Carpathia, the ship that rescued the Titanic survivors.

Of course an original character is another way to stand out.

Jane Porter: "I enjoyed looking through Joanna Ghosh’s sketchbooks and seeing the development process for her delightful Rock Giant story (and seeing the crochet giant himself)". (photo J.Porter)
Evie Fridel’s display with (l-r) Layn, Evie and Candy (Photo B Marzo)

Layn commented on Evie Fridel’s story:

"That Night is a powerful portrayal of a child's experience of life-changing tragedy. For me, the controlled black and red pencil marks offer a degree of reassurance as the child's world shifts through fluid shapes into a surreal journey.

"I was equally impressed by Fridel's other piece - Yoavi’s First Day, a joyous scene of a child riding an elephant through town, exuberantly depicted with gorgeous paint colours, much more loosely applied.

"It was exciting to see such contrast of emotional content handled so deftly."

a page of That Night by Evie Fridel (photo C.Gourlay)

As a writer in our group, it was interesting that Cliff agreed, saying about That Night: "A great example of where pages of scenes without dialogue deepen a story."

Another perennial question, particularly for illustrators hoping for a UK career is that some of the books, as Candy noted, "do not fit into the neat pegholes of the commercial picture book business.”

I wonder if that commercial business is not in fact changing, in part thanks to innovations coming from the Anglia Ruskin MA school and its founder Martin Salisbury, as well as the rise of newer 'boutique' publishers.

In any case, Vyara Boyadjieva’s work would fit easily within the French publishing I'm familiar with, for starters.

We all loved her stunning dreamscapes in her wordless book Induli by Vyara Boyadjieva (Photo C Gourlay)

part of Vyara Boyadjieva's display (Photo B Marzo)

I could also imagine overseas publishers snapping up Sonia Albert’s beautifully evocative wordless graphic novel Summer Camp. She also did the striking shadow pics on the catalogue cover you can glimpse top right of her display.

Sonia Albert 's display (photo B Marzo)

Sally Dunne

And I was struck by Sally Dunne’s poetic realism as applied to an immigrant story - her work a perfect fit for older non-fiction titles

Sometimes one picture pulls you in. And the hidden stories and interactions in it.

Chris Knight’s busload of child characters plus one!

I wish I’d had more time to know what happens next in this picture!

Congratulations to Ellan Rankin, this year's Sebastian Walker award winner. This award was launched in 2011 for the most promising graduate selected by Walker picture book publisher Deirdre McDermott with Creative Director, Ben Norland, and the MA Course Leader Shelley Jackson.

Ellan Rankin

Ellan Rankin's story The Curry Bird was inspired by a news article. Her work exemplifies the kind of telling detail in a picture book that young visual readers would want to return to and explore, just as the character in the story explores.

A different detail in this picture drew the attention of a writer nearby who asked - "why the nose?" Well - the history and culture behind the depiction of facial features is a fascinating one - so don't get me started! Suffice to say the few orange/red nosed characters I saw reminded me of a trend that I spotted in the mid 1990s in new books emerging from Editions Le Rouergue and it has clearly travelled across Europe since.

The choice answers the demand of Sebastian Walker, reminding us of the children and young people that this particular Children's Book Illustration MA is ultimately geared towards, and his comment which heads up the award :

All that counts is that a child says at the end of the book, "Again!"

‘Again’ is the word I’d like to end with, looking forward to seeing next year's graduate show and also to next month's critique group, and a pointer to our 'independent solitary creators' need for community. That of the MA students and graduates and of my SCBWI friends make for precious mutual support through the vagaries of our careers and our passion for book making.

And inspired by their work, at the Candid Arts Cafe here we are, to say thank you ALL the MA graduates for the work you put in to the exhibition. Good luck with your futures in book making! More and AGAIN please!

Our picture book crit group at Candid Cafe l-r Layn Marlow, Cliff McNish , Heather Kilgour, Jane Porter, Bridget Marzo (me!) and Candy Gourlay  (photo C.Gourlay)

Header photo:  Jane Porter

Bridget (Strevens) Marzo has illustrated over 25 picture and novelty books for English, French and American publishers. The first ever SCBWI International Illustrator Coordinator, she returned to London in 2011 after decades in France. You’ll find her on Instagram @bridgimage_art and Twitter @bridgimage


  1. Great wrap-up, Bridget! You even got the nose comment in!

    Loved all the work. Can't wait for next year's exhibition.

    1. Yes - seeing all the great work is also a healthy tonic for anyone tempted to slack.
      Ah yes noses! I gave a talk way back for the AoI looking at the variety of culturally bound ways to depict Mice, Mothers and Others in illustration and I touched on the cultural difference in the representation of Noses too - but hey, that could be a talk of its own.

  2. Thankyou very much for this article, it's a lovely insight into the exhibition and much appreciated from one who cannot get there in person. What a great opportunity to see so much variety or illustration in one place!

    1. Thank you Hannah for thanking - yes we felt lucky to be able to attend and hope you may get to go in the future - it is usually mid February in London, then late Feb in Cambridge

  3. Thanks Heather - just wish there'd been more room to expand to include more pics and illustrators!


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