In conversation with Vyara Boyadjieva, Student Illustrator of the Year Runner-Up

Word & Image
November 25, 2020

The Wave was chosen as Runner-Up for the Student Illustrator of the Year at the V&A Illustration Awards 2020. The judges were enthralled by the exhilarating sense of energy and admired Vyara’s lively use of colour and form.

'The Wave', illustration by Vyara Boyadjieva
‘The Wave’, illustration by Vyara Boyadjieva. © Vyara Boyadjieva

Originally from Bulgaria, Vyara graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts of Bologna in 2017 before going on to complete a Master’s in Children’s Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge School of Art) last year.

We spoke to Vyara about her winning illustrations, inspirations and plans for the future:

Congratulations on being Runner-Up for the Student Illustrator of the Year 2020! How does it feel to win this award? 

Thank you! It felt unbelievable at first. In fact, I had to ask for confirmation after I received the news! What followed was immense joy. My closest friend shared the moment with me and, I can tell you, we looked a lot like the dancing figures on the illustration (although we couldn’t find flying animals to replicate it perfectly)!

After the immediate wave of amazement and joy, I felt deeply grateful for this wonderful recognition.

As unexpected as it was, this was also the most significant professional encouragement I could have hoped for at this stage of my career.

Your winning illustration The Wave has such infectious joy – something we can all use a bit of right now! Can you tell us more about this work? 

I’m so thrilled to hear that! The Wave is inspired by my picture book Induli, one of the two book projects that I presented as final works for my MA at the Cambridge School of Art.

Induli, cover illustration by Vyara Boyadjieva. ©Vyara Boyadjieva

I pay particular attention to composition and colour in my work, however, unlike my other projects, this one took form in a very new and special way to me. Instead of starting with an idea, or a theme, I had shapes of colour in my mind that I absolutely wanted to experiment with on paper and, as unusual as it sounds, these shapes and colours were already conveying a strong narrative in them. Almost as a challenge, I decided to create four other illustrations related to this first one, all mutually connected, but not yet held by a common narrative string.

And this is how the story gradually came to life, I dare to say independently of me, as I uncovered and navigated it in its development.

The first illustration in question shows a giant, leaning on a hill, contemplating a tiny, solitary goat. His body is imposing and yet calm and blending in with the earth of the hill, and this is when I thought I’d call him induli, which means hill in Xhosa, a South African language that I admire for its melody and sounds.

Illustration from Induli by Vyara Boyadjieva. ©Vyara Boyadjieva

Once I’d finished the five illustrations, I then had to come up with a solid structure. I based this solid structure on something I have always valued – honesty. I think we’re most honest in those things we have personally experienced. So, I make honesty the source of all my work, because it is what I enjoy giving and receiving from people. The story of Induli is therefore multilayered, tackling themes such as rebellion, greed, restoration, friendship, humility and peace. It is inspired by the Prodigal Son, a parable Jesus tells in the Gospel of Luke. It’s interpreted by my own experience of these themes which move and shape our lives.

I am so happy to hear that people feel joy in my illustration, as this is the fruit of precisely the restoration and peace that the protagonist finds in the end of the story.

‘Sleeping’ from Induli by Vyara Boyadjieva. ©Vyara Boyadjieva

Who or what inspired you to study illustration?

I have always drawn and have always known I would love to keep doing it. However, I didn’t know that illustration was a profession until I turned fifteen! It was not until I stumbled upon an illustration of the Little Prince on some now long-forgotten art blog, when I read that the girl who made it was actually studying illustration! The funny part is, I’m almost sure she was actually from South Africa!

What was driving me ever closer to the art of visual storytelling was the research and mature empathy it required. I find the cross-over dynamic between words and images fascinating and the fact that you are sharing the story with the reader, inviting them in as a co-narrator, is deeply moving to me. But, most of all, I believe it’s actually curiosity about the other that eventually set me on this path. I think it’s a very important driving force, if not an essential one, for any illustrator. 

Illustration from Induli by Vyara Boyadjieva. ©Vyara Boyadjieva

What is the most important piece of advice or teaching you have received? 

That’s a tricky question! I believe I’ll keep receiving important advice, and it would be important because it would be relevant to my current circumstances and phase in life.

But, up until now, what has guided much of my illustrative decisions is “does it tell a story?” and “don’t reveal emotions through a ‘little smile’ or ‘a little look’ but through powerful compositions and context.”

Illustration from Induli by Vyara Boyadjieva. ©Vyara Boyadjieva

Have you been working on any new projects recently?

Yes! I am happy to be working on the other final project that I started on my MA – it’s a young child picture book called Word Trouble – and I have the honour and pleasure of publishing it with Walker Books!

It tells the story of a little boy who has just arrived in a new country with his family and he soon experiences the language barrier, difficulties and all the confusing emotions this entangles! My hope is that it will bring more awareness and compassion towards children (and adults) who want, but can’t, express themselves verbally in the way they wish to.

Illustration from Induli by Vyara Boyadjieva. ©Vyara Boyadjieva

See the other winning artists from the V&A Illustration Awards 2020 on the V&A blog – including Sally Dunne, the Student Illustrator of the Year.

Discover more of Vyara Boyadjieva’s illustrations on her website at or on instagram @vyaraboya.

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