LONDON: Despite creating tens of thousands of drawings in a career spanning nearly 70 years, British illustrator Quentin Blake is still surprised at his success, even after he opened his latest exhibition on Valentine’s Day.
Most well-known for his work with children’s author Roald Dahl, Blake has illustrated more than 250 books by
different authors and turned his attention to large-scale works.
“I draw every day, yes, if I possibly can,” he told Agence France-Presse on the sidelines of an auction of literary classics with illustrated covers.
Dressed in white trainers and with bushy eyebrows and a mischievous look, Blake resembles one of his famous characters.
Matilda, the BFG and the Twits are just some of Dahl’s creations brought to life by the illustrator.
Ahead of Blake’s new exhibition of his rarely seen nudes at London’s House of Illustration, he said he still could not pinpoint the secret of his success.
“It is hard for me to say. It always comes (as) a little bit of a surprise to me,” he added.
‘Carefully planned’ drawings
Born in Sidcup, southeast of London, Blake first began drawing at about the age of six.
After a childhood interrupted by World War II saw him evacuated to the English countryside, he returned home in 1943 and soon had his drawings published in his school magazine.
The budding young artist earned his first fee at 16, when his cartoon was published by Punch magazine, and he continued to draw while studying literature at Cambridge.
In the following decades, Blake taught at London’s Royal College of Art and curated exhibitions at institutions that include the National Gallery, while continuing to inspire children with his drawings.
“They seem to like them,” he said modestly, although noting that people are often unaware of the level of preparation that goes into his work.
“In fact, they are very carefully planned. The whole book is organized, but they appear to be spontaneous and so, in a sense, they have very sort of direct reactions,” he added.
Blake, who has visited schools across England and France, advised children to “start drawing and draw a lot.”
“Inspiration is a funny thing… You find your imagination working, but you can’t turn it on. You just have to start drawing,” he said.
Loved by generations
Blake’s vast collection of original illustrations—35,000 works in all—are kept at the House of Illustration, which he founded in 2014.
His drawings are filled with a sense of humanity, humor and enthusiasm for life, according to Colin McKenzie, the center’s director.
“I think he is a wonderful illustrator. There is a fluidity to his work that is just unique,” he told AFP.
Blake describes illustration as an art form that is often overlooked, despite there being a “great tradition” in his home country and across the English Channel.
His enthusiasm for French culture has seen the illustrator included in the South Ken Kids Festival, organized by the French Institute in London.
“He has a love of French culture. He’s a true francophile,” festival director Lucie Campos said.
“He’s a person loved by generations of readers,” she added.