The AOI: Investing in Illustration

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When you embark upon a career, there is usually an organisation, be it government run, or an independent body, there to make sure you are paid correctly and the conditions under which you work are fair and just.

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The Association of Illustrators (AOI) was set up as the trade association for illustration to be a voice for illustrators, protecting their rights and interests. They campaign for the professional and ethical standards within the illustration industry with an aim to promote and improve the standing of illustration as a profession.

With over 1,800 members, that includes freelance illustrators of every kind, agents, students, colleges and commissioners, the AOI provides support, advice and education to the illustration industry from all over the world and at every stage of their career.


I recently attended The Klaus Flugge Shortlist nominations, where a panel made up of authors and illustrators talked about their careers to date. Author and illustrator, Emily Gravett made a very interesting point: She said she had never realised illustration could be a career path, or as she referred to it, ‘a proper job’. But it can be — and Emily, along with the rest of that panel, including Mini Grey and Michael Foreman are living, working proof of that fact.

As a freelance worker though — how do you know what to charge for your time and skills? Where to begin?

Well an agency can help: Your agent can guide you in the right direction, and they should be brokering deals that get you the best possible contract. But aside from this, it’s a really good idea to be part of a professional body, and for illustrators that’s the AOI.

The AOI gives you access to so much information and to networks of illustrators from all over the world — a great thing for communication in what can sometimes be quite an isolating line of work. There are talks, workshops, meetings — you name it, The AOI are providing it. It’s a brilliant community to be part of individually and a great way to stay on top of your game, but it also does really important campaigning work. The AOI team work across the industry – with illustrators, agents and commissioners, to make sure that standards are met, contracts are fair and that being a skilled creative is not only valued but a viable and rewarding career choice.

Ren Renwick, Managing Director of the AOI sums it up perfectly:  ‘We advance the industry through our campaigning work, we empower illustrators with education and advice and we promote the industry and individuals within it.’  One of the notable ways work is promoted is through their annual World Illustration awards – the most prestigious global illustration award there is. 

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In 2015, Benji Davies won The AOI award, for his second self-penned picture book, Grandad’s Island. What does it mean to win an award such as this? In a candid and thought-provoking article: Children’s Book Awards and Why They Matter… Benji shares his view on awards along with fellow illustrators, Sue Hendra, Nicola O’ByrneDavid Litchfield and Yasmeen Ismail.Endpapers

AS MUCH as some people might tell you they don’t… awards DO matter… Grandad’s Island winning the AOI Children’s Book award was a moment of real pride for me. To be recognised by true industry experts — it felt like a real benchmark in my work.” Benji Davies

This year sees several artists represented by The Bright Agency on the AOI World Illustration award shortlist.

They are as follows:

Mark Chambers

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“I’m very proud that this piece of work has been shortlisted for the AOI World Illustration Awards and that it managed to strike a chord with the industry experts that are on the judging panel. It’s a personal piece that came together quite quickly last year to commemorate the 100 years since the Battle of the Somme and Armistice Day. I wanted to be sensitive to the subject matter but also produce a powerful enough image that would resonate with everyone who saw it. They were just boys themselves when they signed up to go to war and I think this image captures the fragility and the horror of the situation they were all going into. The AOI World Illustration Award is held in high regard in our industry and to be shortlisted is a great achievement for me personally, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for when the winners are announced sometime in June.” Mark Chambers
Read more about Mark’s submission here.

Carly Gledhill

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“The AOI awards are great to join in with, it’s a prestigious award and even to be shortlisted is a huge honour. The range of different illustration entered shows the real breadth of talent in the illustration world and to be chosen by judges who know the industry so well

I haven’t entered since I was a student and my work has really developed in those 10 years. The AOI is a valuable association for illustrators, I recently went to the AOI and Picture Hooks conference in Manchester, a whole day of talks about picture books! It was really inspiring and I learnt a lot of useful information about working in this industry.

I submitted a gang of illustrated ‘anorak’ characters, as yet I haven’t got a story for them but they are some of my favourite guys so far. Character design is a major part of my illustration practice so I naturally chose this from my portfolio. It’s a self-initiated project, though I hope they will come to life in a story at a later date.” Carly Gledhill
Read more about Carly’s submission here.

Clive McFarland

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“The diverse AOI Illustration Awards shortlist is always inspiring to me, highlighting and showcasing work and talent that I might not have been aware of previously. The awards are judged by respected industry professionals and I’m excited to have made it onto the shortlist this year.” Clive McFarland

This is not the first time Clive has been nominated for the shortlist!
Clive’s first picture book, A Bed for Bear, was nominated  in 2014. 

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Read more about Clive’s submission here.

Maria Karipidou

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“The artwork I submitted for the World Illustration Award was commissioned by a very special client of mine: A children’s magazine based in Germany. I enjoy the full confidence of the art directors and publishers in my artwork, and that’s why I really love working with them. I had the freedom to visualise a children’s poem/limerick as I imagined it, and to try out new ideas, composition, colours and materials. When the page was finished, everyone was happy with it, so I am delighted to be shortlisted with this special piece of artwork for the WIA.

 Being shortlisted for the WIA is a really big acknowledgment of my current work and the ideas behind it, and that inspires me to continue in this manner. I’m looking forward to being included in the Award’s Catalogue and I thank the jury for considering my artwork in this year’s Shortlist for the Children’s Books Category of the WIA.” Maria Karipidou
Read more about Maria’s submission here.

Founder and MD of Bright, Vicki Willden Lebrecht is on the board of trustees at The AOI. It has always been her mission to make sure authors and illustrators have the same rights and ethical workplace values, as those in the general sphere. 
Art and illustration are truly valuable skills, and something to be treated with grace and respect. 

Ren says; ‘A lot of what we do is a bit hidden, but really important.  We are working with government to introduce a new Bill enhancing creators rights, and we are making sure that despite Brexit the UK adopts some really progressive new legislation which is currently going through the European parliament.  It’s a slow process, and one that can take years, but is vital that someone drives it forward.’

The Association of Illustrators (AOI) is a not-for-profit trade organisation promoting contemporary illustration and maintaining industry standards. Established in 1973 the AOI has worked successfully with businesses and colleges to increase the standing of illustration as a profession and improve commercial and ethical conditions. With a membership that includes freelance illustrators, agents, students and colleges, the AOI continues to support and educate future generations at every stage of their career, with the endorsement of national treasures in picture book making such as Sir Quentin Blake, Shirley Hughes, Ralph Steadman and Raymond Briggs.

“In case you are not a member, remember, the AOI is more relevant than ever to the advancement of students, illustrators and illustration.” Sir Quentin Blake

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Patrons of The Association of Illustrators.

In partnership with the AOI, Bright offers it’s artists a discounted membership. If you’d like to find out more contact us here.