In conversation with Kate Winter, V&A Illustration Awards Student Shortlist 2020

Word & Image
December 23, 2020

Kate Winter was one of three, highly commended illustrators shortlisted by our judges for Student Illustrator of the Year 2020. Based in Cambridge, Kate works with mixed media in the art of storytelling and is currently working with Penguin Random House on two narrative non-fiction books.

'Lascaux', illustration by Kate Winter
‘Lascaux’, illustration by Kate Winter. Anglia Ruskin University, (Cambridge School of Art). © Kate Winter

After graduating from the Slade School of Fine Art in 1999, Kate moved into film and began a career in stop frame animation, directing commercials and music videos under the moniker Duckeye. Kate has since found a love for both writing and illustrating, and in 2019, graduated from Anglia Ruskin University with a distinction for her MA in Children’s Book Illustration.

We caught up with Kate to learn more about her studies and winning work:

Congratulations on being one of the highly commended students at the 2020 V&A Illustration Awards! Can you tell us a bit more about the illustrations for your picture book Lascaux?

I created the illustrations of the discovery of the caves at Lascaux for my MA in children’s book illustration. I had visited the caves in Lascaux and had found the story of their discovery so magical.

It made me think about my own childhood and my early memories of visiting archaeological sites or an interesting museum to visit while we were on holiday. The magic of these stories behind found objects from the past, had a long -lasting effect on me.

Illustration by Kate Winter. © Kate Winter

I visited all the different reincarnations of the ‘Lascaux caves’ (the original cave is out of bounds to the public in order to preserve it). I drew the landscape around the cave, some original settlements of prehistoric man, the paintings and animals in a prehistoric zoo and imagined what it would be like to discover these incredible paintings myself and to live as they did, in the rocky French landscape.

I was blown away by the paintings on the wall. They made me feel so connected to our prehistoric past as an artist and as a story-teller. They made me question why we write stories and tell stories and why I illustrate and draw pictures for other people to enjoy.

Illustration by Kate Winter. © Kate Winter

There are still many questions around what the paintings were for. Some theories suggest they were like an early form of cinema and that oil lamps were used to tell stories and animate the imagery by casting light on them and moving shadows across the wall.

As a story-teller I feel like these are examples of the first storybooks, which became the narrative of these illustrations. It makes me realise how important it is to do the job I do.

Sketchbook, illustration by Kate Winter. © Kate Winter

Our Student Judges, Sheri Gee and Yehrin Tong praised how your work highlighted “our intrinsic need to learn through creativity and to tell stories through imagery”. How did it feel to be chosen as one of the best 5 students by our judges?

I was so honoured to be shortlisted by Sheri Gee from the Folio Society and illustrator Yehrin Tong, and pleased that they saw the theme in the story; of our intrinsic need to learn through creativity and tell stories through imagery. I would like to praise the work of my fellow nominees Vyara Boyadjieva, Ruo Hsin Wu, Laura Winstone, and in particular, the winner Sally Dunne who I studied with and am a great admirer of.

Seeing such different ways of working in the final five was such a celebration of the diverse range of creative voices we see in books today.

You completed your MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin in 2019. How would you describe this experience?

My experience was life changing. The tutors there are all experts in their field and have a deep love of the drawn image, so they were encouraging and so knowledgeable. They knew just how to draw out the best in each of us.

I have always loved to draw, particularly from life but this intense time of constantly exploring my personal creative language and learning to trust my own distinct voice, really helped me bridge the gap from observational drawing to my imaginative drawing; or drawing from my head. I learnt to construct my own compositions, develop characters and be confident about the way I draw, trusting the process.

Have you always wanted to be an illustrator?

Rather than always wanting to be an illustrator, I think I have always wanted to tell stories visually, however that may work for me in that moment.

I have always worked in the visual arts and I have always loved to paint and draw. As a child I made books and stories all the time and as I got older my stories found their voice in home-made short films and documentaries, culminating in a career as a stop-frame animator directing music videos and commercials. Animation was a revelation to me as I could create quite wild narratives with relatively small budgets working with just my hands and some basic materials.

Work in progress. © Kate Winter

Currently, I am focusing on writing and illustrating books and this feels like the ultimate way to control every element of the story myself. Plus the imagery has no limits; it can be whatever you can dream up. My current book journeys from 280million years ago to the present day.

Is there anyone or anything that particularly inspires you?

I realised through my MA that all the things that have excited me through my life can be the subjects of my books and that I could transfer that excitement to anyone who reads my work. I have always been interested in documentaries and biographies, history, and real-life stories and I feel so happy to be making books that take me on similar journeys. Exploring narrative non-fiction feels like the best place for me to be right now.

The illustrators that inspire me the most are probably all the wonderful friends I met on the MA. It’s amazing to see how far they have all come; to have watched them discover their creative voice and take risks with how they work and then to see them now producing incredible work and books. I think this inspires me the most to keep going.

Illustrations by Kate Winter. © Kate Winter

What projects have you been working on recently?

I am writing and illustrating a narrative non-fiction book with Penguin Random House. I don’t think I can say much more about it apart from that I am exploring the life of an extraordinary person, in an extraordinary time.

Discover more of Kate Winter’s illustrations on her website at or on instagram @katewinterfreeland.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are not running the 2021 competition. The V&A Illustration Awards 2022 will open to entries later this year.

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