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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

A Insight into Pop Up Projects: Pathways Into Children's Publishing

By Tasneem Hafiz

Are you excited and interested in becoming a children's illustrator? Pop Up Projects, a non-profit social enterprise, are accepting applications, up until Friday 29 July at 5 p.m. BST, onto their programme Pathways Into Children's Publishing. The two-year illustration course is specifically designed to engage emerging artists, aged twenty-one and above that are under-represented in children's publishing. Applications are open for those with and without any formal training in illustration.

The programme is presented by Pop Up Projects whose mission is to transform lives through literature and publishing, especially working with those in challenging situations. The course will be delivered by 100+ children’s illustrators, editors, art directors, course leaders and lecturers from twenty-five affiliated publishers and universities.

Still wondering whether to apply? We had the opportunity to speak with one of the programme mentors this year, James Mayhew who is an author and illustrator of books including Katie’s Picture Show and Gaspard the Fox, and 2021’s pathways mentee, Ria Dastidar who illustrated the gorgeous Magnificent!.

James, can you tell us about yourself? What got you interested in becoming an illustrator? Were you self-taught or had formal training?

Photo Credit: Respira Fotografia

I’m a children’s author and illustrator based on the Suffolk/Norfolk border. I always wanted to be an artist of some kind, but it took me a while to find the right specialisation for me. I did a Foundation Course at Lowestoft College to begin with, and from there decided I wanted to be a great painter! But I was persuaded to think of something more narrative, as my work was always figurative and better suited to something illustrative. I did consider theatre design for a while, but in the end illustration was the right choice. After Lowestoft I went to Kent to study at Maidstone College of Art, and I graduated with a BA with First Class honours in Illustration.

Why is representation important? Why is it essential to open doors for more diverse illustrators in children’s publishing?

What I love about Pathways is the support and encouragement of diverse creators. Diversity can mean many things to different people, but can include race, gender, sexuality, disability and economic circumstances. When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s I never saw myself, as a young gay kid, represented at all. Not once. That sense of not belonging, not being valid or valued, is deeply damaging. It stays with you all your life. Those experiences we have in our formative years are incredibly important and run very deep. This is why children’s books are so powerful and important, and it’s why creators have a responsibility to be inclusive and representative of all people. The best way to achieve this, I believe, is to encourage those under-represented people into the industry so their authentic voices can be given an opportunity to be heard.

How do you work alongside the mentees on the 2-year programme?

This is always a fascinating process, getting to know the mentees, discovering their talents, their interests, their hopes and dreams, and then guiding them in a way that teachers them the nuts and bolts of book creation, but which also encourages them to find their own true voice, and to create projects that are meaningful to them, and best show off their skills and abilities. It can be an emotional process, and through regular zoom calls and the sharing of ideas and experiences, I aim to gently encourage them to try new things, to experiment and explore just what they are capable of. It’s a great joy to see their work develop and watch them grow as artists and as people. I feel very privileged, always, to be a small part of their journey.

Ria, can you tell us about yourself? What got you interested in becoming an illustrator? Were you self-taught or had formal training?

Photo Credit: David Wren

I’m an illustrator and designer from North London. I always loved to draw as a kid, and spent my formative years watching the Muppets, cartoons, reading anything and making lots of silly things! So it all progressed from there. I completed an MA in Character Animation later on in life. The course enabled me to learn about visual storytelling, and creating engaging characters. This helped me in the future when tackling publishing briefs on Pathways.

What advice can you give to artists who want to make an application but are nervous?

Don’t be nervous at all. It’s a great course to be involved with and you don’t need any formal training at all. Just bring your imagination, enthusiasm, ability to try new things and learn!

Lastly, congratulations on getting your first illustrated children’s book Magnificent published last year! What was the most important thing that the programme taught you?

Making children’s books is not easy! You have to be passionate, love problem solving, take on feedback and follow through to deliver challenging projects. All through this process Pathways encouraged and supported me. Without the course I would not have been commissioned to illustrate Magnificent. It has helped me move forward in the industry. I never anticipated this when I first applied in the summer of 2019.


The course begins in December 2022 and concludes in December 2024. Application forms can be found on the Pop Up website here. The website also includes a digital prospectus and a portfolio of last year’s cohort for further inspiration.

You can follow James (@mrjamesmayhew) and Ria (@ria_dastidar) on Twitter and Instagram, respectively. You can also keep up to date with @PopUpFestival and @PathwaysInto on Twitter.



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