Top tips for designing a Radio Times cover fit for a Queen

Illustrator Nina Cosford gives advice on how to win our competition to design a magazine cover for Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday

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It takes something special to make the cover of Radio Times – as illustrator Nina Cosford knows well. It took many hours of painstaking sketching for her to create the cover of last week’s magazine.

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“I’m pleased with it,” says the 27-year-old artist from Hastings, whose work is a huge hit in America. “But I’ll only know if it’s a success when I see it on the shelf. It’s a great, bold tradition that Radio Times has of putting illustrations on its cover. Not many magazines do it.

“I’ve painted Buckingham Palace a couple of times and it’s about getting the balance between making it architecturally accurate and ensuring it fits the style of the rest of the drawing. I used watercolour pencils for the palace and then strong pencils and markers for the crowd to give it vibrant colour.”

The idea behind Nina’s cover is to inspire budding artists to submit a design to our Radio Times Queen at 90 Competition. The winning entry will appear on our cover in June to mark Her Majesty’s official 90th birthday. Cosford’s illustration, in her characteristically bright, loosely sketched style, is the perfect example of what can be achieved with a blank piece of A4 and a handful of colouring pencils.

So what’s her main piece of advice for young artists unsure where to begin with their 90th birthday cover design? Keep it simple.

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“Start by listing what the words ‘Queen’ and ‘birthday’ mean to you,” she suggests. “Then draw lots of different ideas. Don’t worry about making them neat. I go through lots of different stages with my drawing but it all starts from not putting too much pressure on myself.”

The winning design, says Cosford, will be original and eye-catching but beyond that there is no set formula. “I used to find it hard to draw on a sheet of crisp, blank paper so I’d pull envelopes out of the bin – that allowed me to be less precious with my drawing. Don’t obsess over doing things ‘the right way’,” she says, brushing pencil sharpenings off the desk. “The secret is finding wGhat works for you.”

Growing up in Surrey, she was rarely without a sketchpad. “I always knew I could draw but I didn’t think I had a special talent. I’d copy things for hours. I actually used to draw Radio Times covers when I was about ten – I remember obsessing over getting Clint Eastwood completely accurate. We had a computer but couldn’t afford a printer so I always copied lettering, whereas most people printed stuff out.”

At 18, Cosford enrolled at art school, where she suffered a confidence crisis that almost saw her abandon illustration for good. 

“I’d lost faith in drawing and wasn’t having fun with it. Then halfway through my course I had a breakthrough. I realised that good art didn’t have to be completely representative of your subject matter. It’s OK to focus on capturing someone’s character rather than obsessing over every detail of their face. I decided to draw more intuitively.”

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It paid off. Within weeks of graduating Cosford had a contract with Walker Books to illustrate a series of pop-up books on European cities and landmarks. She has since co-created an illustrated series of biographies called Life Portraits, which recount the lives of influential women such as Frida Kahlo and Virginia Woolf.

The Radio Times cover is not, however, her first foray into the world of television. After becoming hooked on Girls, Lena Dunham’s dramedy about a quartet of complicated, largely directionless young women living in New York, Cosford began sketching key moments from the series, captioned with lines of Dunham’s dialogue. Dunham saw the illustrations on Cosford’s blog and was so impressed that she immediately got in touch asking her to produce official Girls artwork.

“That was a massive turning point for me. I’d always loved drawing buildings, but Girls made me realise that I also enjoy drawing the mundane moments of everyday life. I love work that captures the joy and humour of a moment.”


HOW TO ENTER:

You can simply use a blank sheet of A4 paper or download a template from our website radiotimes.com/ queencover. All we ask is that you leave room for the masthead (the Radio Times lettering at the top) and your design is in portrait format. When you’re happy with your design, send it to the address below, or email it to queencover@radiotimes.com

If you’re posting your entry, make sure you write your name, age, address and phone number on a piece of paper and attach it firmly to the back of your entry. If you’re under 16, you’ll need your parent or guardian to sign this piece of paper for us to accept your entry.

The address to post your entry to is: Radio Times Queen at 90 Competition, Immediate Media Company, Vineyard House, 44 Brook Green, London W6 7BT

Whether you post or email your entry, it must reach us by 11:59pm on Friday 6 May 2016.

TERMS AND CONDITIONS

• The Promoter is Immediate Media Company London Limited, Vineyard House, 44 Brook Green, Hammersmith, London, W6 7BT.

• You can enter if you live in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or the Channel Islands, except if you are closely related to an Immediate Media staff member or anyone involved in this competition.

• There are three age bandings: eight years old and younger; nine to 12 years old; and 13 to 18 years old. You must be within one of these three bandings as of 6 May 2016.

• Age and residency requirements must be met on the closing date for submissions. Immediate Media reserves the right to request proof of age for entrants as well as parent’s or guardian’s consent.

• You must only enter this competition once. We don’t allow bulk entries or entries made on your behalf.

• All entries will be judged on the following criteria: Creative — the design must be striking and original. Usable — the design must be appropriate for RT’s front cover. Relevant — the design celebrates the Queen’s 90th birthday.

• By entering this competition, you agree that you’ve read these rules and will follow them.

• The competition closes at 11.59pm on Friday 6 May 2016. If you win, you’ll receive the prize as described. Winners will be judged by an independent panel appointed by Radio Times.

• We can’t include entries that arrive late and we can’t accept responsibility if your entry is lost in the post. If your entry is damaged before it reaches us, we may not be able to include it in the competition.

• Winners will be notified within 14 days of the competition closing date, either by post, telephone or email. If a winner cannot be reached, or does not reply within seven days, we may have to offer the prize to a runner-up.

• There is no cash alternative and the prize is not transferable. We reserve the right to substitute the prize with one of the same or greater value.

• The name and county of residence of the winner(s) will be available by sending an SAE to: Competition Rules, Radio Times Reader Services, Immediate Media Company, Vineyard House , 44 Brook Green, Hammersmith, London W6 7BT within two months of the closing date of the promotion.

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• Artwork will not be returned. Should your entry be selected, you will own the copyright in your design but you grant us, and all of the companies in our group, a free and unlimited licence to use, edit and reproduce your entry in any of our publications and marketing materials, including but not limited to our magazines, digital magazines, websites and email newsletters.