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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. 

JACK ARTS Scotland teamed up with Edinburgh’s internationally celebrated festivals to create Festival City Stories, a series of posters designed by graduate illustrators from Edinburgh College of Art.

Our accompanying film, ‘Backdrop to the Festival City,’ captures Edinburgh’s ever vibrant streets, following a day to night in August – filmed and edited by Tao-Anas Le Thanh accompanied by Edinburgh Makar Hannah Lavery’s poem ‘Dawn Chorus’ , with a soundtrack by Sarya Wu.



We brought the festivals, illustrators and participants together at the end of January 2024 for a special celebration, sharing their stories from across the project at Scottish Storytelling Centre, and showcasing the full series of posters within the space and at our unique Market Street site. We invited hosts the Scottish International Storytelling Festival to speak about the work that inspired their poster quote ‘Something magical was created that day.’, as well as Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive, who spoke about their incredible history and collaboration with Edinburgh Art Festival to collect Edinburgh’s queer histories, and illustrator Zoë Brown, who shared her experience of working with Edinburgh International Festival to create a poster about their important work with the London Symphony Orchestra in Edinburgh’s hospitals.

Scroll down to find out more about the project and individual poster designs.

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
Sara Hassan – Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival
Zoë Brown – Edinburgh International Festival


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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.”

Edinburgh International Children’s Festival – Daisy Whittle 

An annual celebration of exceptional theatre and dance for young audiences, the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival is attended by over 15,000 children, teachers and families from all over the world each year. 

The festival is produced by Imaginate a national organisation in Scotland with a mission to improve and enrich the lives of children and young people all across the country through the power of theatre and dance. Running alongside the festival, Imaginate’s three-year Immerse project (running from 2019 to 2022) worked with six local primary schools to bring creative and immersive arts experiences to children who need it most. 

Using a blend of analogue and digital media, illustrator Daisy Whittle created their artwork around a quote from a teacher involved in Immerse: 

The residency really helped my pupils show how special they are – even from another universe they shine.

She said:  

“With this project, I wanted to highlight the importance of arts-based learning and the ways in which creative programmes have such a huge impact on increasing children’s confidence and creativity. The poster depicts an energetic classroom scene where a group of children cheer on their performing classmates, to convey the togetherness and support that arts-based learning tends to foster. It was really important to me to emphasise fantastical elements here, to reflect the magic, wonder and power of children’s imagination. As the performers tell their story, the imaginary star-filled world they are building only grows and immerses the class further. The scene celebrates the joy of encouraging children to develop their sense of self-expression and voice: even from another universe, they shine.” 

Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival – Sara Hassan 

One of the largest festivals of its kind in Europe, the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival brings world-class international musicians to the city every July as well as championing local talent. The festival team also produces the free Edinburgh Festival Carnival which takes place in Princes Street Gardens and brings together local and international artists in an awe-inspiring display of costumes, dance and music – presenting the world in one city. 

Illustrator Sara Hassan created their artwork around a quote from first-time carnival visitor Helen, who was taken along to Princes Street by her neighbour Farida in 2022 and captivated by the live performances she saw there: 

‘I feel alive… The world is here today.’ 

She said: 

“I was inspired by the vibrant costumes of the Edinbugh Carnival. Pairing that with the imagery from the Jazz & Blues Festival, I aimed to capture the energic atmosphere of both events through my poster design. I used gouache to create texture and movement, combining this with hand-lettering for the quote to add to the dynamic quality. I also felt that hand-lettering would allude to the personal nature of the experience the quote describes.” 

Edinburgh International Festival – Zoë Brown

Founded in 1947, the Edinburgh International Festival was the brainchild of cultural pioneer and refugee of the Nazi regime Rudolf Bing. He joined together with civic and artistic leaders to create a cultural event for the city that would transcend political boundaries through a global celebration of performing arts. The International Festival welcomes the world to Edinburgh each year with a hand-picked programme of the finest in dance, opera, music and theatre. 

As part of the London Symphony Orchestra’s residency at the 2023 edition of the festival, players were invited to perform in four hospitals in the region, for over 1,000 patients, NHS staff and visitors. The project was the festival’s Learning and Engagement team’s most ambitious work with hospitals to date and designed to reflect the festival’s mission of creating the deepest level of experience through the highest quality of art, for the broadest possible audience.

Illustrator and printmaker Zoë Brown was inspired to create her poster design whilst reading audience feedback from the LSO performances, one read: 

‘I was moved to tears by the first song.’ 

She said: 

“I wanted to highlight the positive impact of the Festival’s project with the London Symphony Orchestra in hospitals. I was inspired by the incredibly enthusiastic feedback from the first concerts; the power the performances had in providing respite and distraction, as well as making both patients and staff feel valued, really spoke to me. I chose a minimal blue palette, both to represent the NHS and to evoke the calming atmosphere created by the LSO musicians. The interlocking and gestural images reflect the healing connections that can be made through the experience of live music.” 

We were delighted to have another opportunity to share the posters and their stories by working with Edinburgh Science Festival during their 2024 edition to present the full series at City Art Centre, their flagship venue in the heart of Edinburgh.

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