V&A Illustration Awards: In Conversation with Simon Pemberton (Editorial Illustrator of the Year 2015)

December 13, 2019

Simon Pemberton won the award for Editorial Illustrator of the Year 2015 for his captivating image ‘The Blackest Isles’. His work is textural, painterly and vibrant. Combined with a layered approach his technique adds a depth to his imagery which makes it highly engaging. There’s always something new waiting to be discovered upon multiple viewings.  I got in touch with Simon to find out what he’s been up to and hear what wisdom he had for us.

‘The Blackest Isles’

What made you want to become an illustrator?

My Grandad who lived in the middle of Liverpool had a studio in one of his bedrooms upstairs and I used to explore it every time we visited rooting round in boxes of pencils, paints and gold leaf! We were always given piles of paper to draw on and pencils he’d sharpen with a knife! The walls in the studio were painted as one big landscape and the ceiling was the sky. We had his paintings on the walls in our house and he had done woodcuts for local magazine covers which made me dream of seeing my work on billboards at the side of the road. I seem to have always wanted to be an Illustrator

What does Illustration mean to you?

Making a living from doing what I love to do.

Seeing my work published all over the world is a great feeling and I think makes me feel like I’m making a contribution to people’s lives – giving rather than taking.

‘Savage Gods’

Have you ever felt discouraged, if so, how did you overcome that feeling?

You will always feel discouraged at some point no matter how good your work. Sometimes you’re behind sometimes you’re ahead but the road is long.

It’s important to be positive and proactive.

How did it feel to win the V&A Illustration Awards?

Amazing! And totally unexpected. I love that they loved my image so much. When that happens you look again at what you’ve done and see it through someone else’s eyes. Sometimes it feels like someone else has produced a piece of work, it wasn’t actually you. They seem to come into existence in spite of you not because of you. A combination of luck and magic! It was incredible to see the work displayed in the heart of the Museum for so long.

What projects and commissions have you been working on recently?

I’ve been working on some stamps for the Royal Mail recently and was really pleased to do something for the World Wildlife Fund on the need to protect our oceans.

‘Our Oceans’

How do you overcome creative blocks?

Go and do something else. Don’t sit in front of a blank page or screen. Go for a bike ride!

Let your subconscious mind work it out in the background.

Which of your projects has been an important factor in developing your personal style?

The work I did for Taylors of Harrogate coffee packs. I was asked to produce 20 or so images for a re branding of the whole range – all landscapes.

It opened up a whole new way of working and made me remember how much I loved landscape painting.

‘Stonehenge Fires’

Why should illustrators enter the V&A Illustration Awards?

It’s utterly fantastic to see your work displayed in one of the most prestigious museums in the world alongside artwork centuries old. It’s worth it just to take your Mum along to see it! The awards are one of the few great showcases for illustration.

What is the most poignant piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

When you leave art college it’s only the beginning, your work will become something you never imagined it would be.

You never stop growing.


See more of Simon’s work at www.simonpemberton.com   and on his instagram @pemberton.simon


The V&A Illustration Awards are open to entries until Monday 16 December at 14:00. Published and student illustrators can enter for free at https://vam.awardsplatform.com  

A short history of the V&A Illustration Awards and a complete list of past winners can be found on our website at https://www.vam.ac.uk/info/va-illustration-awards 

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