Kate extends ARU's winning run at V&A awards

Published: 26 July 2022 at 12:38

Image from Navigating Dyslexia by Kate Rolfe

MA course celebrates its sixth successive Student Illustrator of the Year title

Kate Rolfe has been named as the V&A Student Illustrator of the Year, continuing Anglia Ruskin University’s remarkable run of success at the prestigious awards.

Kate’s success in the V&A competition, which marked its 50th anniversary this year, means that ARU students have now won the last six Student Illustrator of the Year titles, with all six winners coming from ARU’s world-leading MA in Children’s Book Illustration course.

She follows in the footsteps of Sally Dunne (2020), Sophie Burrows (2019), Joseph Namara Hollis (2018), Beatriz Lostale Seijo (2017) and Kate Milner (2016). Last year’s competition was cancelled due to Covid-19.

Kate impressed the judges with the innovative printmaking artwork displayed in Navigating Dyslexia, a picture book she created as part of her MA course at ARU’s Cambridge School of Art. She received her award, and £3,000 prize, during a ceremony at the famous V&A design museum in London.

Fellow MA Children’s Book Illustration graduate Jessica Ciccolone (Five Puffins in Antarctica) and current BA Hons Illustration student Klara Bianka Gryglicka (My Summer | Visual Diary) both received Highly Commended prizes.

ARU’s MA Children’s Book Illustration course was also represented through Amy Hunter (Sea Fever), who was shortlisted for the student award, while 2020 graduate Sally Dunne made the shortlist of the V&A Book Cover Design award thanks to her cover of a new edition of Agatha Christie’s Crooked House, published by the Folio Society.

This year’s awards were judged by illustrators Dapo Adeola, Ann Kiernan, Axel Scheffler and Posy Simmonds, with the judging panel chaired by Tristram Hunt, the Director of the V&A.

Kate, who lives in Framlingham in Suffolk, said:

“I am so utterly thrilled to win the V&A Student Illustrator of the Year award. What an absolute honour! It was a wonderful evening, and I am really grateful to everyone who helped make it happen. It has been a really encouraging start to my illustration career and I am very excited about the future ahead.

“The images that were selected by the V&A came from a picture book I am developing about my own experiences of growing up with dyslexia. I used letterpress and cyanotype printmaking techniques to create the illustrations in a graphic and playful manner. Since this work has been on display, I have received a lot of messages and communication from people who either face similar struggles themselves or know a child who does. 

“I can’t tell you how much it means to me when they tell me that I have made tangible an experience that they have never been able to explain to others. I have found it a hugely connecting experience to meet so many people who have greeted the book with resounding cries of ‘ME TOO!’”


Kate, who has also featured in this year’s Batsford, Macmillan and Walker prizes, added:

“I have enjoyed a really fabulous three years at ARU, and the whole Children’s Book Illustration team are truly remarkable. 

“The MA provides a very supportive atmosphere to experiment creatively and in particular, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Shelley Jackson, Pam Smy, and John Williams, who all really encouraged this project from the very beginning, and guided me through the challenges it presented. It wouldn’t be the project it is today without their gentle nurturing.

“I have signed with an agent, Neil Dunnicliffe at Spring Literary, and we are receiving offers from publishers who are interested in the three picture books I created during the Masters. It will be fabulous to develop these further, and eventually see them in bookshops, and more importantly, in the hands of young readers.”


Shelley Jackson, Associate Professor and Course Leader for the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at ARU, said:

“We are so proud of Kate, and all of our nominated students. Kate has worked very hard over the past three years to find her voice in illustration. Through it, she’s tapped into personal experiences and struggles, and experimented with ways of communicating these challenging subjects to a young audience. 

“It’s wonderful to see how her work resonates with the publishing community through these awards. I know we’ll be seeing Kate’s books on the shelves very soon, where children will also benefit from her artwork and storytelling.”


The V&A is hosting an exhibition of artwork from this year’s Illustration Awards, featuring Kate’s work, alongside Klara and Jessica’s Highly Commented entries, at their South Kensington galleries until 9 October. More information is available at https://www.vam.ac.uk/info/va-illustration-awards