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Illustrating Edinburgh with Festival City Stories

As the world’s leading festival city, Edinburgh brings together talent from all over the world to its streets and stages with a range of major annual festivals. Renowned for international excellence in art, culture and science, the city’s bustling festival calendar attracts over 4.5 million visitors every year. 

Festivals Edinburgh, supporting and advocating for the city’s leading festivals, was established in 2007 with the mission to maintain and develop their collective values and Edinburgh’s esteemed position as a ‘Festival City’ locally and globally, driving the development and delivery of collaborative projects and initiatives all year round. 

To highlight some of the many stories from groups and individuals involved in festival projects throughout the year, Festivals Edinburgh teamed up with JACK ARTS Scotland to create Festival City Stories, a series of posters designed by newly graduated illustrators from Edinburgh College of Art. Pairing emerging illustrators with the city’s major festivals, we brought the words of the festival participants to life across the city’s streets. This page will be regularly updated as our ongoing partnership continues.



Cara Gates – Scottish International Storytelling Festival
Cat Gordon – Edinburgh Art Festival
Zhuojun Liu – Edinburgh Book Festival
Donger Liu – Edinburgh Science Festival
Daisy Whittle – Edinburgh International Children’s Festival

Scottish International Storytelling Festival – Cara Gates 

The Scottish International Storytelling Festival is the world’s largest celebration of storytelling, taking place every October. Anchored in and inspired by the Scottish ceilidh tradition, expert storytellers from all over the world are invited to weave tales of ‘life, love, magic and mystery’, with audience involvement and shared experience a key component of the two-week festival. 

The festival’s annual community and family programme The Big Scottish Story Ripple pairs local storytellers with schools and community groups throughout Scotland. Illustrator Cara Gates was inspired to create her work around a quote from participant feedback from a community event: 

‘Something magical was created that day. Sharing and hearing stories, igniting curiosity, and forming connections.’  

She said: 

“This poster project aims to highlight the Scottish International Storytelling Festival and celebrate the magic and importance of storytelling, reflecting on one of the many community events that took place in 2022 as part of The Big Scottish Ripple Project. The illustration depicts an older woman retelling her experience of planting trees with her child many years ago, her white hair flowing up to the top right of the poster to frame the image of her memory. Two children stand with her as she speaks, listening with wonder, while light green plants grow and wind upward in the background.” 

Edinburgh Art Festival and Lavender Menace – Cat Gordon 

Lavender Menace, Scotland’s first queer bookshop, created a safe space for the city’s LGBTQ+ community between 1987 and 1997 as well as selling and supporting queer authors and queer-led publishing houses. Founders Bob Orr and Sigrid Nielsen reopened Lavender Menace as a popup shop in 2019 with a mission to create a queer books archive; preserving copies of out-of-print books and setting up a database of queer publishing, recording readers’ views and stories about them. 

Collaborating with Edinburgh Art Festival the UK’s largest annual festival of visual art, as part of their work with artist Sean Burns this year, Lavender Menace hosted an event to reflect upon personal and political experiences of HIV in Edinburgh during the 80s and 90s.  

Illustrator Cat Gordon created their work around Lavender Menace founder Sigrid Nielsen’s quote: 

‘When you put the books together in the same room they start talking to each other.’  

She said: 

“For this project, I knew that I needed to tell the story of Lavender Menace Returns and showcase the different characters you could meet when you spend time at queer archives. The characters emerging from the books represent different parts of queer history, from lesbian bikers to non-binary icon, Joan of Arc, there is a wealth of experiences and stories to uncover. 

I wanted to create a dynamic scene in which the books come to life, each one part of an important narrative that links queer history together. I also wanted to use bright, joyful colours to create an eye-catching piece and show the joy that can be found within this community.”

Edinburgh International Book Festival – Zhuojun Liu 

Marking its 40th anniversary this year, Edinburgh International Book Festival is one of the world’s largest celebrations of the written (and spoken) word. The festival brings leading and emerging international, British and Scottish authors and thinkers together to inspire audiences as well as each other in an extensive programme of public events each August. 

Extending beyond its programme, Edinburgh International Book Festival works closely with local organisations throughout the year to create inspiring and empowering events for people of all ages and backgrounds.  

Illustrator Zhuojun Liu created their artwork around a quote from regular Book Festival attendee Mark McManus, who was interviewed for the festival’s ‘Four for 40’ fundraising campaign. Widely known among the festival team for his generosity and insightful contributions to events, McManus has been attending Edinburgh International Book Festival for 20 years: 

‘I call the Book Festival my holiday at home, the oxygen and the food for the year. It goes too quick for me!’ 

Interested in narrative and image-making, illustrator Liu loves reading and making picture books, and wanted to express the diversity and pastoral care Mark McManus mentions in his blog post when creating her illustration. 

Edinburgh Science Festival – Donger Liu 

Alongside the celebrated Edinburgh Science Festival, which takes place in venues across the city every April, Edinburgh Science Foundation is one of Scotland’s largest outreach charities and presents a year-round programme of learning and community activities for all ages.  

The programme includes projects such as Generation Science, which brings immersive shows and workshops to primary school classrooms all over Scotland, and Careers Hive at the National Museum of Scotland, a reimagined interactive careers event for 11–15 year olds that encourages young people to consider careers in science and technology.  

Illustrator Donger Liu created their artwork around a quote from an Edinburgh Science Festival participant that reflects the foundation’s mission to inspire, encourage and challenge people to explore and understand the world around them: 

‘Today I learned that atoms are really small but also really important.’ 

She said: 

“The concept is to present an atom, starting tiny, then zooming in to find out there is a world in the atom. I worked in a psychedelic style, with a swirling background to demonstrate the universe. I used bright contrast colours to highlight the burn of the atom, making the image fun and noticeable.”

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