Eilidh Muldoon: 'Illustration is a great form of communication'

Eilidh Muldoon: 'Illustration is a great form of communication'

We catch up with this year's Illustrator-in-Residence at the Edinburgh International Book Festival for a lowdown on filling some pretty big boots

Eilidh Muldoon once spent her summers working in Edinburgh International Book Festival's Children Tent, watching the Illustrators-in-Residence with awe. This year, it's her turn to inspire eager art students and young visitors alike. 'It's not quite sunk in yet,' Eilidh says. 'It's an honour and it's really exciting … but it's quite intimidating. I feel like I have some quite big boots to fill.'

Eilidh studied illustration at Edinburgh College of Art and her intricate, signature designs can be found in a variety of charming colouring, activity and children's books. During her time at the Book Festival she'll be taking inspiration for her own work while also shining a spotlight on illustrators from around the world.

'My first meeting at the festival, they [the organisers] sat me down and said "what do you want to do," which I wasn't really expecting.'

One event she is particularly looking forward to chairing is Illustration in Translation, a panel discussion between fellow illustrators Gulnar Hajo from Syria, Fifi Kuo from Tawian, and Kasia Matyjaszek from Poland.
Eilidh expects the event to be a fascinating one, as 'it's such a rich area of discussion. Illustration is a great form of communication, giving us a visual interpretation of life in a different country.

'There is an aesthetic resonance from books from a certain place. It's possible to identify differences between the work of the artist. Some of those might be down to individual stylistic approach but I think there is also an element of cultural influences. Gulnar's books are incredibly stack and bold – one is almost entirely monochrome. But her message at the core is to encourage creativity, which is also the core message at the heart of Fifi's book. Her book is bursting with colour, it's like a riot. They are polar opposites but we can all relate to the messages.'

Storytelling and sharing universal messages through the medium of illustration is something Eilidh is very passionate about. She believs that picture books potentially have the power to help us raise an empathetic next generation.

'For a lot of us,' she explains, 'it's really difficult to imagine what it's like living in radically different environments and picture books find common ground. We all feel loneliness at some point and we all have friendships that are hard. If you can communicate that message through images you can establish familiar ground, draw the reader in. As long as a child can recognise themselves in character in some way, they will relate to the story no matter whether it's culturally unfamiliar.'

The best picture books have an ability to communicate across boundaries, regardless of language or cultural differences. This appears to be something of an under-utilised resource, however.

Eilidh says, 'the more I research this, [the more] I'm realising the publishing industry in the UK on the whole is closed off. I think it's getting better, but if you see how much more open other countries can be, we're still quite limited in the UK.'

A real shame in a world that's growing ever smaller and yet more divided with every passing year. Perhaps more picture books with powerful, amusing or moving messages could help our youngest readers grow up with a greater capacity for open mindedness. In the meantime, be sure to catch Illustrators in Translation and discover a few of the treasures already out there.

Edinburgh International Book Festival, various venues until 26 Aug, edbookfest.co.uk.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

The world’s largest public celebration of the written word takes place in the first UNESCO City of Literature in the beautiful Charlotte Square Gardens. As well as leading Scottish and international authors, the varied programme always manages to cover poets, politicians, historians, journalists and children's authors…

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