After the judging panel had assessed the work of 730 illustrators hailing from 58 countries all over the world, The Folio Society has announced the winner of its Folio Book Illustration Award (FBIA) 2023.
Emerging as the overall winner from a strong field of contenders, illustrator Cristina Bencina has scooped the award. She becomes the second winner of the illustrious annual free-to-enter competition which launched in 2022 to mark The Folio Society’s 75th anniversary.
The competition is open to illustrators, student or professional, who have not previously been commissioned by The Folio Society. At the same time, the FBIA aims to find, promote and support new artistic talent from around the world.
For 2023’s competition, entrants were tasked with illustrating a single scene of their choice from acclaimed science-fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘The Fliers of Gy’. Once the illustrators’ work had been submitted, a judging panel of five experts, including last year’s FBIA winner Evangeline Gallagher and Theo Downes-Le Guin, Ursula K. Le Guin’s son and literary executor, had the difficult but joyful task of selecting five runners-up and one winner from the hundreds of entries.
This year’s winner Cristina Bencina, an artist and illustrator based in Colorado, will receive a £2,000 cash prize, £500 worth of Folio Society books and a portfolio review with the Folio Society Art Directors. Her work was inspired by Ursula K. Le Guin’s description of a ritual persecuting the select few born with the ability to fly in a society of feathered people, who are thrown from a cliff and attacked with arrows: “Whether she flies or falls, all the men of the tribe, screaming with excitement, shoot at her with bow and arrow.” Intricately detailed and balanced in composition, Bencina’s illustration was selected for its imaginative depiction of the persecuted Flier.
Theo Downes-Le Guin, Trustee, Ursula K. Le Guin Literary Trusts and member of the judging panel, said “My mother loved working with illustrators, she loved seeing different interpretations of her work. Cristina Bencina’s composition stood out to the entire panel for its dynamism and its original interpretation of this moment in the story. The contrast between the dark values of the illustration and that bright punctuation of fire at the top was absolutely entrancing.”
Raquel Leis Allion, Folio Art Director and FBIA judge, said of the winning submission: “Cristina Bencina’s piece is instantly eye-catching with its strong graphic imagery. The pop of colour from the flames at the top of the mountain in the dark landscape guide your eye around the image. Christina has captured the sense of falling perfectly.”
Sheri Gee, Folio Art Director and FBIA judge, said: “This illustration has incredibly delicate line work that really wowed us on close inspection, contouring across the character’s feathers; and a nice element of merging trees and arrows visually. We also loved the interesting viewpoint which immediately made it stand out.”
The judging panel also selected five runners-up who will each receive £500 worth of Folio Society books and an individual portfolio review with the Folio Society Art Directors. Their work can be seen on this page. They comprise Tommy Barclay (UK), Merran Coleman (UK, previously longlisted in the FBIA 2022), Den Owen (UK), Nate Sweitzer (US) and Jens Maria Weber (Germany). Each of these artists presents a unique interpretation of the story’s narrative and its feathered people, the Gyr.
Speaking of the calibre of this year’s runners-up, Evangeline Gallagher, winner of the FBIA 2022, said: “It was such a difficult task to narrow down these entries from such an incredible group! I would pick up a book illustrated by any of these artists. I really loved seeing the variety of interpretations across all of the longlisted submissions. From Den Owen’s moody and fantastical vignette to Nate Sweitzer’s beautifully composed scene, each entry exhibited a really personal voice which made the judging process both super challenging and super exciting.”
Tom Walker, Folio Society Publishing Director, said: “The range of illustration styles was spectacular for the FBIA 2023: from the classical and painterly, to the energetic and informal, and all shades in between. The variety and quality of the entire shortlist showed both the depths of Le Guin’s writing, and the depth of talent in the illustration world today.”
The Folio Society, based in London, publishes beautifully produced books – available worldwide exclusively at foliosociety.com. It publishes some of the best names in publishing past and present, across the globe in beautiful, high specification, collector editions.