Sheri Gee, Art Director The Folio Society – Another ILW 55 Judge Interviewed by Show Chair Steve “Primary” Hughes:

Gee, Sheri folioLogo
Sheri Gee_photo at 72Sheri Gee is an award-winning Art Director with over eighteen years’ experience in book publishing and design. Graduating from The Kent Institute of Art and Design Maidstone, UK (now University for the Creative Arts) with a degree in Illustration, Sheri shortly afterwards became Production Assistant with The Folio Society, illustrating in her spare time. The Folio Society, based in London, is renowned for publishing carefully crafted editions of the world’s finest literature, rare in its field for illustrating adult fiction.

During the course of her 18 years with the company, Sheri has learnt about all aspects of fine book production and was made Art Director in 2010. Many of her Folio commissions and art direction have won awards in renowned illustration and design competitions.

The Call for Entries for Illustration West 55 Competition can be found at

stack at 72Steve: What are you looking for when matching artists with a particular book assignment?

Sheri: When commissioning for adult fiction, I always start with reading the book. During that reading I get a strong sense of what, but not necessarily who, I’d like to commission. I’m aiming to match the narrative style and genre with its visual counterpart. As I read, questions will answer themselves as to the key elements I need to respond to with my illustration choice – such as  whether characterisation is the most important element; is colour key to the narrative; is there any action: if the book is largely conversation based then the illustrator must be able make inactive scenes visually interesting, etc.
Steve: What makes you stop and take notice of a particular artist’s work and where do you locate your artists?
Sheri: I think I want to see it all really – good drawing, imaginative compositions/ideas and expertise in their chosen medium. When these three things come together something amazing happens and we all sit up. Added to this there needs to be a certain appropriateness of style to subject matter, which can come when passion for a subject or genre drives the portfolio. I’m looking to commission for quite a niche genre. I get the feeling that the illustrators who excel in illustrating for adult fiction have a passion for story and for capturing people, they’re visual storytellers.
open book at 72Over the years I’ve built up quite a database of talent that I use as a first port of call when looking to commission. We add to that from mail outs, competition shortlists, web trawls, agent’s sites etc. We do get a lot of cold call emails, some of which are brilliant but far too many are unresearched. I need to see how an illustrator responds to adult narrative fiction, which is quite different from editorial or fashion illustration, which are skills in themselves.
Steve: Take us behind the curtain, what kind of timelines, and approval stages do your illustrators and designers work with in the publication of a book?
Sheri: Our schedules can be quite diverse. It can depend on whether we need to get author, rights or estate approval before we can commission or if a book is out of copyright. The approval process can eat horribly into a schedule. Given everything is working correctly, we aim to give around 6 months for a cover art and around 7 full page colour illustrations. The schedule moves both ways, more or less time, more or fewer illustrations, but that’s what we aim for.
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Steve: Tell us what makes an art director crazy, and pull her hair out?
Sheri: I’d say one of the biggest factors for not getting recommissioned is failure to meet an agreed deadline and failure to communicate whilst doing so! That causes the most stress! We’re commissioning on the basis of an illustrator’s awesome portfolio and sometimes a trial illustration, so are assured of the quality of their work. Thereafter, it really just comes down to the schedule and communication during the commission. Because of our rigid publishing process (publishing by catalogue, where all books in each catalogue must be ready at the same time) we can’t let a book slip into a different month, therefore schedules have to be met. Many illustrators are incredibly self disciplined though, so it’s not endemic of the profession!
Steve: Do you have a favorite book, or one that you’d still love to produce?images on cover books
Sheri: Working here for close to 19 years, I’ve read many books that I might not have otherwise. Because of this, I have discovered authors and titles that have become favourites to me, so there aren’t terribly many that I could cite that we haven’t produced! East of Eden by John Steinbeck is one of my favourite books, that I’ve wanted to work on since first reading it. It would be a feast, if not also a feat, for any illustrator interested in narrative fiction. Hopefully one day I’ll get the chance!
Gee, Sheri
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