V&A Illustration Awards: In Conversation with Jessica Voorsanger (Published Categories Judge 2019)

National Art Library
November 29, 2019

Each year the V&A Illustration Awards carefully select a new panel of judges to raise the profile of the Awards and bring fresh perspectives. To our delight, Jessica Voorsanger joined last year’s panel for the Published Awards alongside Nicholas Coleridge, Chairman of the V&A Trustees, and Olivia Ahmad, Curator at the House of Illustration.

Jessica Voorsanger at the V&A Illustration Awards 2019 Ceremony. Photo by Manqiao Fang

Jessica is a multimedia artist who explores popular culture through a range of media, including painting, performance and film. Her work has been shown at the Royal Academy, the Whitechapel Gallery and the Drawing Room, among many other institutions. She has also worked with Hospital Rooms to transform a ward at Croydon PICU, devised a large banner and led a suffragette march with Turner Contemporary and is the lead vocalist for The Apathy Band.  Furthermore, Jessica also lectures at a number of Universities and is an advocate for art education.

After the furore of Freshers and before the December deadlines,  I caught up with Jessica to hear about her experience judging last year’s awards:

Thank you for accepting our invitation to judge the 2019 published categories, it was a pleasure to have you on-board. How did you find this experience?

I loved every minute of it. The panel were all very lovely (and polite)! There were no arguments. We all danced around each other nicely until we came to a final decision. One thing that was in agreement from the start was that the submissions were of a very high standard indeed.

I do want the entrants who didn’t make the final list to know how impressed we were with the submissions. The quality of the work was fantastic and I’m not just reiterating platitudes but they did all deserve to win.

What advice would you give to any published illustrators entering the awards this year?

Well, because all of the work was so strong, it was the work that stood out that caught our attention. It’s easy to use tropes and recognisable styles and familiar language but how can you make it yours? Some of the finalists used collage in extraordinary ways. In the end, the ones that stood out for me were the ones I felt I hadn’t seen before.

V&A Illustration Awards 2019. In display case: Yehrin Tong, Book Cover Design Winner. Wall display: Nora Krug, Book Illustration Award.


You’ve lectured at a number of universities, including Goldsmiths, University of the Arts London and University for the Creative Arts. Would you encourage student illustrators to enter the awards?

Absolutely! Students of the UK submit your entries!

Even though I wasn’t a judge on the student panel I was privy to seeing the submissions. The only difference I could see in the student submissions was that they were made by students. This could launch your careers don’t be shy give it a try!

Tell us more about your practice as a multimedia artist…

I trained as a painter and was really adamant that painting was the only medium for me (all the way until I finished my MA in Fine Art) and then I didn’t paint again for 15 years! What I needed to realise for myself, was that there were other visual methods to express my ideas and I have tried to explore many of them from performance to watercolour. Mainly the conceptual idea of the work often dictated the medium to explore. I have come back to painting in a big way and am loving it. Let’s see where this goes … !

Jessica Voorsanger, Artist in Residence on the Starship Enterprize at the School Gallery, 2019


Jessica Voorsanger, Hospital Room Project at Elephant West, 2019


Your CV is remarkable and includes exhibitions at The Drawing Room, the Royal Academy and the Whitechapel Gallery, among many others. What advice would you give to early career artists?  

Don’t close the doors to possibilities. From my experience one thing tends to lead to another.

Try to put on a thick skin because disappointment goes hand in hand with success. Believe in what you do and others will too. What you want is to get your imagery and ‘visual voice’ out there so you can build on what you do.

Still We Rise, Suffragette March, 10 June 2018


Bob and Roberta Smith RA and Jessica Voorsanger,
This is Angelica Kauffman RA, 2018.


Jessiva Voorsanger, The Ladies who Knit for Peace and their Favourite Artists, 2018.


The Apathy Band, 2019


The V&A Illustration Awards 2020 are open to entries until Monday 16 December and will close at 14:00 GMT. Enter for free at https://www.vam.ac.uk/info/va-illustration-awards 

Find a copy of The Art of Jessica Voorsanger in the National Art Library. 

Find Jessica Voorsanger on Instagram @jessicavoorsanger

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