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Golden Pinwheel takes six!

Behind the illustrators competition with Carolina Ballester

  |   TOPICS: BCBF World
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In occasion of the next China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair, from 13 to 15 November, the Jury will determine the winners of the Golden Pinwheel special awards among the 50 finalists, whose illustration series will be exhibited. For its sixth edition, the 2020 Golden Pinwheel has generated an unprecedented level of enthusiasm, as 2,238 illustrators from 77 countries and territories entered their works in the competition.

In addition to one Grand Award (China), one Grand Award (International) and three Special Mentions, the works will be featured in the 2020 Golden Pinwheel Illustration Yearbook.While waiting to know the 2020 winners, we asked Carolina Ballester, International Programme Manager at CCBF, to tell us something more on how this competition works, and about the growing success of this competition.


In these six years, the number of illustrators has grown: how did the participation changed from country to country? Are there “aficionados” from the very first hour or nations whose participation is looking promising?

The increase of participants has been absolutely amazing. 273 in 2015, 778 in 2017, 1320 in 2018… all the way up to 2,238 in 2020! We are now receiving such a big amount of works that we are forced to review the judging methods in the preliminary round in order to alleviate the jury member’s workload—nobody wants to kill a juror of exhaustion after all!

Beyond the figures, the number of countries represented in the competition is also much higher than in the past. The country number has been soaring with our capacity to promote the competition internationally. In the two first years, we were really limited in resources and time, and our promotion remained quite “confidential”. Like so many other things when it comes to publishing, the human factor is key and we got great support from people and institutions we met around book fairs and events. Illustrators from countries like Iran, Poland and Portugal started participating (and winning) very early in the competition history thanks to those ties.

Today things are a little different. After the Shanghai Book fair teamed up with Bologna—that was in 2018—our two bookfairs have started working as a team to promote our respective networks. It is a real luxury to be backed up by the organisers of one of the strongest illustration exhibitions in the world! And it is thrilling to be able to reach out to so many illustrators.

In any case, I have noticed that in a lot of international competitions, some countries are very active and widely represented—that’d be the case for Italy, Spain, France, most of Latin America, but also Russia, Japan, and more recently Korea—while others are under-represented despite boasting solid publishing industries and great illustration talents. The Golden Pinwheel is following a similar pattern: a lot of our competitors come from the above-mentioned areas although, as a China-based competition, we do have a solid base of Chinese participants. In the future I hope we will be able to reach more participants from other Asian countries like India, Malaysia or Indonesia. I am sure there are talents to discover, which have not yet been dug out by their local publishing scene… That’s my next personal goal to help the competition become even more diverse!

The illustrators who decide to take part must be under 40: why?

Ahahah! That’s THE question, a question that has owed us a lot of resentment from artists over 40. 
I know it is not always easy to understand the rule. This decision has got a lot to do with what was happening in China at the time we created the award. Not so long ago, the Chinese picture book production was mostly accountable to a limited number of well-established illustrators, while younger talents were clearly lacking opportunities to get noticed. China only has got a handful of schools where illustration was taught as a specialty in itself and local social networks had just started playing a role as a way to promote one’s work. All in all, young illustrators were a bit in the shadow, they didn’t know each other much and had difficulties breaking out in the picture book market. Chinese publishers also had trouble finding new talents. So, our immediate aim was to offer a platform where those two worlds—publishers and illustrators—could connect, and to create a catalogue that could be recognised as a handy discovery tool. Moreover, we wanted emerging illustrators to participate without feeling the pressure of their more experienced and more established peers. Age looked like a good criteria to keep the field opened to new comers… and it worked! More than half of our finalists are artists under 30 years old, yet they show impressive potential and maturity! Actually, illustrators from many parts of the world face similar problems to be recognised, so I think this rule is helpful to a lot of people. 
Of course, there are brilliant artists who start illustrating quite late in their career, the age criteria is not perfect…Nonetheless, there are hundreds of illustration competitions throughout the world, among which a vast majority doesn’t establish any age limitation. It is healthy that each competition has different angles and regulations, it makes the whole panorama more diverse, complementary and inclusive. There is room for everyone!
zao naioer
Zhao Niaoer (China), Monster on the Move
2019 Golden Pinwheel Illustration Special Mention

What about the visibility and the opportunities that the Golden Pinwheel offers?

You will often hear me say that we run a “poor” competition: we don’t have enough resources to offer substantial money to the winners. And I think it would be nearly insulting to give a one-thousand-euro-prize to an artist able to win over more than 2,000 competitors. So, if we can’t give good money, we at least try to give our winners as much visibility as possible, and we try to offer them experiences that they might not be able to get otherwise. 
Let’s take our Grand Award winners–there are two every year, one from China and one from anywhere else in the world—as an example. We invite our Chinese winner to travel to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair with us. It is a cool opportunity to travel to Italy, as much as it is useful to their career development. As you can imagine, it is not always easy for young Chinese artists to known what’s happening beyond the borders of their country. They usually limit their promotion to Chinese social networks and are rarely seen on Instagram, Facebook or Behance, which are not in use in China. They rarely have their own website or browse other people’s sites. So, by taking them to Bologna, we try to make them feel they are part of the big picture—we organise a couple of events for them within the Bologna official programme, we give them hints on museums and sites worth visiting (which, in Bologna, means pretty much everything), we point them towards interesting bookstores and publishers. All in all, what we want is for them to get plenty of fresh inputs and understand how things work outside of their usual world. 
In return, the international Grand Award winner is invited to come to Shanghai as official guest of CCBF. For all our winners so far, it was their first time in China, so that was a big thing! We invite them to give workshops and talks of all kinds at the fair, as a way to help them building a name in China. But they also get a chance to meet a lot of different people and dig into Chinese culture—that means a lot of art, very interesting architecture and of course… a lot of very yummy food!
We also give visibility to our winners through more classical means, like the Golden Pinwheel Exhibition and our Yearbook, which has become a reference for publishers searching for talents and vice-versa. Few things make me happier than when editors among my friends get in touch to say they have spotted interesting art in the GP Yearbook. Also, all the visuals we used at the book fair are Golden Pinwheel-related, as we chose our visual identity artists among the competition’s winners. This gives a lot of visibility, as the artists’ see their artworks featured in surprising sizes and different places. 
The list of opportunities for visibility and promotion of our winners and finalists is not closed. Last year, we made a little bit of promotional merchandising with some of our winners’ artworks. We also try to link Golden Pinwheel with our other illustration programmes, like the Illustration Residence, the Illustrators Avenue and the Survival Corner. And we are always for more partners to set up innovative prizes and benefits that will give new life to the artworks. It is all about remaining creative and understanding our participants’ needs and expectations. 
How does the People Choice Award works? Which thoughts stand out from what the people choose?
It is still very hard to determine what is behind our voters’ mind, but I guess this is true for any election! The People’s Choice Award relies on the big diversity of people that take part in the vote. Anyone visiting the fair can vote for the People’s Choice Award. As you might know, we have many different visitors at the fair—from the professionals who make the books to the children who read them. If you are onsite, you just need to scan the QR attached to your favourite series of artworks and you’re done. 
But even if you are not coming to CCBF you can still vote online thanks to the Golden Pinwheel digital gallery featured on our website. This year, where so many things are unfortunately taking place online, we hope to promote this initiative a little more and have much more online votes. We count on you to have a look at our Website starting from 6 November. 
From a stylistic perspective, it is really hard to draw conclusions. I really think we’ve had a huge variety of winners, as you will see by yourself… If you reach any conclusion about the links between the winning artworks across the year, please let me know!
han xu
Han Xu (China), Mr. Octopus Sells Umbrellas
2018 People’s Choice Award 
di cristofaroStefano di Cristofaro (Venezuela), Conejo y conejo
2019 People’s Choice Award 

Tell us about this year’s jurors…
The quality of a competition is measured by the quality of its jury. It means that we put a lot of efforts in building a balanced, diverse and inclusive group of jurors—that’s a headache of a puzzle to complete every year! The 2020 Jury follow that same logic. We have got one publisher, three illustrators—one of which is also a designer and publisher—and a university professor—coming from three continents. 
Unfortunately, some things will be quite different this year, as the jury will be working digitally all along the process. Usually, the first rounds of judging are held online but the process comes to a head when all five jury members meet in Shanghai in November to choose the winners of the special awards and mentions. It takes half-a-day and is a very interesting meeting to observe. One might think that in a jury, dynamics are all about imposing one own’s choice over the others’. Actually, the process is all about discussion and reaching consensus. In 2020, our three international jury members from Korea, Italy and Canada will not be able to come to Shanghai (blame it on the Covid pandemic) so we will hold the final Jury meeting online on 12 November and try to keep the same spirit as if the meeting was presential in Shanghai—that’s a new challenge for everybody! Our 5 jury members span over 14 different time zones… I am afraid someone is going to need a lot of coffee to get through the deliberations!
With a bit of patience, we will all get reunited again in Shanghai… we have invited the 2020 jury members to come to the fair next year anyway so there are plenty of nice projects to look forward to in 2021. 
We can't wait to meet them all at #CCBF2020, but in the meanwhile here's the complete list of the 2020 Golden Pinwheel finalists!
TAG: CCBF 2019
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