From his iconic illustrations of The BFG and Matilda to Mr Stink with birds and beasts of all shapes and sizes along the way, Roald Dahl’s favourite illustrator Quentin Blake has been making us smile for more than half a century.
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The Art of Quentin Blake
Appearing everywhere from greetings cards to hospitals and the National Gallery, Blake’s characters have become part of the fabric of British life and are some of the most instantly recognisable images in the world.
Born in London in 1932, Blake’s career as an illustrator started earlier than most, with his first cartoons for Punch appearing when he was just sixteen. Whilst teaching art, both at the Royal College of Art and at the prestigious Lycées Francais de Londres, Blake began illustrating children’s books in 1960 with A Drink of Water.
Since then he has gone on to illustrate more than 300 children’s books, collaborating with many of the best-loved children’s storytellers including Joan Aiken for her Arabel and Mortimer series, Michael Rosen and more recently David Walliams, bringing his hilarious characters Mr Stink and Gangsta Granny to life.
The Face of Dahl
In a career rich with successes it is as Roald Dahl’s illustrator that Blake will be remembered. As Dahl’s preferred illustrator, Blake worked closely with the author throughout his career, illustrating 18 of Dahl’s works and creating iconic images for some of his most famous creations including Matilda, The BFG and The Enormous Crocodile.
There is a lightness, a playful vibrancy about Blake’s illustration that lends itself to children’s characters in particular, making figures like spritely Willy Wonka, the outlandish Mrs Armitage or feisty pet raven Mortimer appear to dance, whirl and squawk from the page. Blake’s innovative, seemingly spontaneous style is actually created through painstaking work using a light box to overlay a rough scene with repeated drafts until he is happy with the exact details of expression and interaction. He says "what I want to convey is movement and gesture and atmosphere."
Laureateship and Beyond
Not only is Blake an award-winning illustrator, he has also written and illustrated many of his own works, creating some larger-than-life characters including Mrs Armitage and Mister Magnolia as well as more contemplative works such as The Green Ship and The Story of the Dancing Frog.
His position at the heart of contemporary children’s literature made him ideally placed to take up the inaugural post of Children’s Laureate in 1999, a position he held until 2001. He is a champion of children’s literature, involved with many exciting contemporary projects including illustrating a never-before-seen Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Kitty in Boots, in 2016.
Like his art, Blake seems constantly in a state of readiness, expectant, looking to the future, he says: "The great thing is to keep on, thinking through the ideas, working on those drawings, trusting that 'something may happen'."