2021 Backstage

Now in its fifth consecutive year, the BCBF Visual Identity Workshop gives a young artist chosen from among those selected for the Illustrators Exhibition an opportunity to develop the visual universe for the next Bologna Children’s Book Fair in co-production with Chialab Design, the design practice entrusted with the trade show’s visual identity.

This is the story of how the Chialab working group guided Jean Mallard towards the creation of what was to be the Bologna Children’s Book Fair visual identity for 2021. 

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The BCBF Visual Identity Workshop develops the image that will represent each Bologna Children’s Book Fair. The workshop brings together an illustrator chosen from those selected for the Illustrators Exhibition, the trade show’s management team, and the design studio, Chialab.


The BCBF Visual Identity Workshop is an intense collaborative process in which team members share their cultural visions, technique skills and far-reaching trade show know-how. We’re now at the 58th edition: take a look on BCBF Galleries at last year’s visual image and here view previous editions..

Everything started between March and April 2020 during the Covid lockdown in Italy. Social distancing and the completely anomalous situation made group interaction particularly complex. But we were undeterred, even galvanized by the idea that the BCBF image should be the result of a vision shared by the very disparate “species”, professions and views that make up the book fair – a vision that would survive the confines of a “live” physical event. 

Distanced but hyper-connected, we examined the work of the selected illustrators looking for a style able to take on board the extraordinary situation and interpret the difficulties.

We found what we were looking for in the illustrations of Jean Mallard: attention to detail, an overall vision, an ability to create phantasmagoric worlds and intricate links between individuals and the environment.


Having all agreed on the choice of Jean, we invited him in June to Chialab for the BCBF Visual Identity Workshop. Keeping the requisite distances, the workshop got immediately underway with a surrealist exercise we called The Exquisite Cadaver where everyone drew just one portion of an imaginary body without showing it to the others until finally the sheet was unfolded and the whole figure revealed. Distances were immediately eliminated, people became themselves, and a truly collaborative workshop got underway. We repeated the game in many different ways, drawing during the breaks, at breakfast, lunch and dinner! The pile of fanfold Cadavers piled up...



From our Exquisite Cadavers we slipped effortlessly into the first visual identity proposals. We all drew alongside Jean on panels with the same background format. This provided a common denominator for comparison, allowing us to discuss and build up an illustration we all agreed on. We looked for a figure – an organism, landscape, machine, or map – whose highly individual parts fitted together to form a new, intensely striking, yet simple whole.

We worked on the idea of circularity, spending a lot of time on the Ouroboros serpent biting its tail, the cycle of water, post-human organisms, and environments intimately connected with the creatures that populate them. Many proposals were made, all of them rooted in the idea of symbiosis.


Symbiosis (Merriam-Webster definition)

the living together in more or less intimate association or close union of two dissimilar organisms (as in parasitism or commensalism) especiallyMUTUALISM

a cooperative relationship (as between two persons or groups)


Clouds and Modules

Jean returned to Paris full of ideas, all meticulously recorded in his notebook. Throughout the summer we bounced proposals off each other. Our mindset as systematic graphic artists pushed us in the direction of modular systems, connected forms and linked images. Jean replied with clouds, corals, venous systems and streams…


BCBF, the symbiotic network of children’s content

In September, the first fruits began to ripen: a multitude of very small figures that joined together formed very different, brightly coloured organisms. There were five main elements, each of which could be combined in infinite ways.

The BCBF that took shape shows a phantasmagorical ecosystem where a multitude of diverse, heterogeneous, even intangible, forms collaborate to build completely new environments and forms, which then weave together to complete the story.

The focus is relationships, bonds and exchange. We believe we have given concrete form to the challenge BCBF faces in the coming post-pandemic years. For an event willing to experiment and take on diverse forms will not lose sight of its goal of building solid relationships for all those involved.


Jean Mallard’s drawings showed us the way, allowing us to explore the whole question of building relationships. Here the forms, environments and organisms reach beyond the classical concepts of biology and geology, environment and the individual, foreground figures and backgrounds, internal and external…


Projects signify hope


Every project has to balance pragmatism with vision and hope. The element of hope in this project is that Jean’s illustrations will become enormous portals welcoming and guiding visitors into the physical spaces of the children’s book fair; that we will be able to embrace and be part of the exciting, extraordinary atmosphere unique to an event where the products of the publishing world come into direct contact with their protagonists.