Book Illustration Contest | 2020 
"I like to give to the public an opportunity to connect the puzzle pieces in a different way, find their own solution of the jigsaw puzzle I’ve created and interpret the story in their own way."
Manuel Šumberac
 Vote Now -  Until March 16th
All Illustrations © Manuel Šumberac
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The 10th Book Illustration Competition theme is Love Poems which was selected and edited by Imtiaz Dharker. The winner will be commissioned to complete a further six illustrations and a binding for the book which will be published by The Folio Society. 

Manuel Šumberac is one of the 25 illustrators longlisted for the The People’s Choice Award at Book Illustrators Competition 2020. Manuel is an award-winning animator who gained his Masters in Animation and New Media Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb.

Hi Manuel, thanks for talking to TNC, how's your week looking?

Hi there. The week was kind of a „regular week “, not to different from other weeks in the last couple of months. There was a bit of everything, working on some commissioned projects, developing some personal projects, teaching at the Academy of fine arts and finding time for a social life and so on. So, lets put it this way; a bit of books a bit of illustration a bit of animation and some real life in between.

Congratulations on making the longlist for the BIC 2020 People's Choice Award, what does it mean for you be part of this competition?

Thank you. I felt really excited when they announced that my illustrations are longlisted for the BIC 2020 awards. As there were nearly 500 entries from all over the world it really feels good to be a part of the 24 longlisted. When I first saw that there is a competition to illustrate poems, I’ve instantly decided to take part. In my career I rarely got an opportunity to illustrate poems, so it was a good way to try something new, to explore that field through illustration a bit more.

Do you ever feel any apprehension when you hand over your work like this to the pubic?

These days not as much as earlier in my illustration career. Showing my work to the public is something I do almost on a daily basis, either through illustrating a book that will be published, or doing a cover artwork for a book or just posting my personal illustrations on social media. Public is a crucial component for every author and I think it is very important to put your work out there, show it to them and get feedback of any type. It’s a good way of developing yourself as an artist. The  fear component that things won’t go well and that the public won’t like it Is always there, but as you get more experienced and you become more confident with your work, style, knowledge, it becomes easier to handle it.     

Is this the first time you have been part of such a competition like this?

It is the first time I’ve entered the BIC competition, but I apply to different illustration contest almost regularly. I usually pick a few illustration contests over the year and do my best to meet the deadlines. It depends a bit on how much free time I have to work on the pieces, besides my regular day to day work, but with some good organising skills it is possible. I think competitions are good if you take them as an opportunity to explore your own style, to get out of your comfort zone and in the end to showcase your work to the public.

Can you tell me a little bit about the work you submitted to BIC 2020?

Yes. So, the theme for BIC 2020 was “Love Poems”. The entrants were asked to submit illustrations for three selected poems (edited and selected by Imtiaz Dharker). The poems are, “Good Morrow” by John Donne, “Wild Nights!” by Emily Dickinson and “The Trick” by Imtiaz Dharker. I’ve submitted three illustration, one for each poem as asked, done digitally in a monochromatic black and white style, with strong texture shapes and spots of very saturated colours. For each illustration I kind of gave myself the freedom to completely freely interpret the poem.

The theme for this years BIC 2020 is Love Poems, how did you go about creating your pieces based on this theme?

I admit, at a first glance it was so hard for me to illustrate these love poems. I really wanted to make the illustration a bit different, to illustrate emotions that I felt reading the poems rather than just illustrating the text of the poem. But in the early stage of the process that was a step to big for me. Then, at some point, after failing a bit and contemplating over it, I’ve decided to give myself enough freedom in the interpretation of the poem which opened sort of a new world for illustrating them. I’ve added some abstract elements to the piece, some strong shapes with strong textures, characters that are a part of this weird world and so on. I’ve set some personal guidelines and boundaries on the approach of the illustration process as well that helped me through illustrating a series of three pieces. All these elements helped me get back to my initial concept, the idea to illustrate emotions through interaction of the characters with their surrounding or with themselves.

What was the most challenging aspect of creating these pieces for BIC 2020?

I think the most challenging aspect was creating a piece that isn’t just a raw depiction of the poem, but rather in expands its initial story. It creates a world of its own that is in correlation with the poem. They work together as one, but they respect each other as well, so they can stand on their own if needed. Each of them on its own tells his own story, though is always just half of the whole. Together, the image and the text glued together by the reader, create sort of a third entity that talks on its own, has its own voice. Achieving that was the most challenging aspect of creating these pieces.

Did you use any other love poems to help you whilst you created your pieces for the competition?

No, not really. I was really focused only on the pieces provided in the contest.

Do you have a favourite love poem?

From this competition I like the poem “The Trick” by Imtiaz Dharker a lot. It was the easiest for me to illustrate, and when I read it I already had a very blurry distant impression on how the final image will look like. Through the process of illustrating that blurry image, that distant idea, became clearer and clearer with each brush stroke I’ve added or removed from the piece. Overall, I am not so much into love poems so it is hard for me to pick one that is a favourite. It is kind of a new world to me, but for sure will explore it more.

"It is kind of a new world to me, but for sure will explore it more."

Have you always had a passion for animation and illustration?

No, not really. It all happened to me more as a lucky set of circumstances. When I was a child I wanted to be a police officer, an astronaut or a soccer player. Though I was always drawing and I was kind of god at doing it, the idea to pursuit a visual artist career came to me later. First, I enrolled at a high school of applied arts and design, and at that time i wanted to be a graphic designer. Just before graduating at the high school I’ve heard that you can study animation and make a living out of it.


So, I’ve applied at the Academy of Fine Arts in my country, at the department for animation and new media and that is the moment when it all “officially” started. Illustration came a bit later. In the beginning it was more a necessity. Part in a preproduction process of creating an animated film is doing still images that will represent the story. So, I guess that was a starting point in my illustration career. Later I’ve got involved more in illustrating books, in children illustration, editorial illustration and so on. And from there the story kept unfolding in this animation/illustration direction.

You are a graduate from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, what was this experience like for you?

It was the best time of my life. Just this idea to be in a small space surrounded by art and to have all the time in your day involved in drawing, studying art, talking about art, exploring art, hanging out with friends from the art community makes it such a great experience. I loved every moment of it. I’ve enjoyed it so much that sometime I would love to get back and study again (though I am in sort of a way, as now I am teaching at the Academy, at the department for animation).

"Just this idea to be in a small space surrounded by art and to have all the time in your day involved in drawing..."

How much would you say your style and approach to you illustration and design has evolved since you started?

I think it evolved quite a lot. As I am changing as a person and as an artist the style is changing and evolving as well. I always try, especially in my personal pieces, to find new ways to illustrate a specific topic, to find a visual style that fits the story. I don’t like doing the same style over and over again, or to have the same approach in every piece I create. I get easily bored with that, so I try to find a new style, or rather a new approach to every story I work on. Sometimes these changes are smaller sometimes bigger from the previous one, but this kind of approach keeps me in shape and gives me enough motivation to keep going, to keep exploring this fantastic world of illustration.

What inspires your work?

Huh, a lot of things. I think what mostly inspires me are the other artist that, thanks to the internet, I find every day. But I do find inspiration in everyday situations as well. Either in nature or in society, watching a movie or just listening some music. I do get inspired by talking with friends but often, I get inspired just through talking to myself, through some sort of a contemplation process, through thinking. A lot of things inspire me.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your work?

I am not completely sure. I always try to create stories or visuals that are layered and that can provoke different interpretations. So, I like to give to the public an opportunity to connect the puzzle pieces in a different way, find their own solution of the jigsaw puzzle I’ve created and interpret the story in their own way. Sometimes the public view of my piece matches my initial idea, but there are times when it doesn’t, and I like that, we are all different after all.

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