Earlier this month, Mariajo Ilustrajo was named winner of the Klaus Flugge Prize for most exciting and promising newcomer to children’s picture book illustration. She won for her book Flooded, published by Frances Lincoln. Flooded is a funny but powerful demonstration of the impact of climate change in which animals attempt to carry on with business as normal, even while their city is flooding. Finally, they listen to a voice of reason and work together on a solution. Humour lightens every page and the book’s ending is positive and upbeat.
Mariajo describes how the idea for the book came about.
Flooded was born during my Masters in Children’s Books Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University during the Diploma Project module. We had to create a children’s book and I had too little experience at writing, in fact my only previous experience of writing was in the previous module when I wrote Lost (now my second published book). However, I was determined to write the story myself, as I didn’t want to illustrate an already written text and also, I like a challenge!
This was a difficult task in such a short period of time, as we had just 3 months to complete the project. This was quite a tight deadline as the creation of a book usually takes at least 6 months.
The inspiration came from a single image that I created as an experimentation in the printing room. A lithography in 3 colours of animals walking along the platform in Oxford Circus.
One of my tutors, Elys Dolan, suggested creating a story from there as the image was already telling a story. But what was the story? Where were the animals going or coming from? Who was the main character? Or were there several main ones? Perhaps the city was the protagonist? These are some of the questions that floated into my head at the time. Funnily enough, driving back home from the university one day it was raining a lot and something was added to the equation: water! What if the city gets flooded?! I remember recording an audio on my phone with some notes so that I wouldn’t forget the idea when I got home.
I started sketching some of the animals swimming underwater, wearing neoprene wetsuits, goggles, etc, and imagining those animals at the Oxford Circus platform going to work under water. At the beginning it was just a fun story about animals living underwater, but whilst working on those sketches more ideas and questions came to mind. How did the city become flooded? How are the animals living in the city reacting? Was everyone happy with this new way of living? Perhaps not, perhaps some animals were struggling with this new situation and maybe some animals will profit from the situation. Little by little the story started to take shape.
I am not a writer, or I guess I feel a bit pretentious saying that I am one, so usually my ideas come from my drawings. Just by sketching all these questions the answers started to resolve and in turn, more ideas would arise.
At some point it was almost a script for a movie. There were too many characters and too many storylines. I guess at that point during the creation of a book you can go many ways as
there are endless possibilities, so eventually I had to decide which characters and situations would remain in the story.
I found this part quite difficult as often being too close to your own work, it is hard to know what you should keep and what (sometimes sadly) to let go.
There was a page which I repeated endless times in different media, which I was convinced was key in the book. There was a tiger and a panda bear walking on a platform blaming the politicians for what was happening. In the end this double spread didn’t fit in the story and I had to let it go. Thankfully there is a small vignette in the final book where two animals are chatting at work, blaming the politicians too, as a reminiscence of the page I had to let go.
It wasn’t my initial idea to create a book about climate change, however during the process this happened organically, as a metaphor about the problem we all face and also as a critique of society and to the way in which we sometimes respond. I am quite pleased that it’s helping to raise awareness and open conversation on such an important topic, and I guess one of the things I am most proud of is that it´s not so obvious, and the book can be read in different ways, for a variety of ages.
With this project I had two aims: to write my own story and find a new visual language. I think I was trying to achieve too many things in a short period of time. However when I have something in mind I just go for it! When I think of how Flooded took shape I think of two things: hard work and iteration. I worked endless hours until I (almost) found what I was looking for.
At the time I started my Masters I had around 12 years’ experience as an illustrator working as a freelancer. Working for others I adapted to client briefs and expectations, and I think I got comfortable doing what I knew, so finding a new visual language and pushing myself was one of my biggest goals during my Masters, and I think one of the most important things I learnt during the process of creating Flooded was to experiment, to take risks and be prepared to fail.
Flooded by Mariajo Illustrajo is published by Frances Lincoln and is available now.
Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation.