(Quentin Blake: my sketch of the great man, himself)
The visit to the Quentin Blake exhibition at the end of last year was a genuine immersion into the art that I loved when I was younger. Stepping into the gallery, I found myself surrounded by a small but amazing collection of imagination and ink. Learning about Blake's creative process, from the initial sketches to the final strokes, added a layer of appreciation to each whimsical creation. Standing in the presence of the original illustrations felt like discovering the heartbeat of the stories – the characters I grew up with and the worlds they inhabited came to life in each stroke of the pen.
Growing up, Blake got into the habit of sending his cartoons to places like Punch, a routine that stuck around into the late 1940s. At Cambridge, he just naturally found himself mixed up with Granta, the student magazine. Not just drawing cartoons, but every now and then, playing the part of an art editor too.
A short stint at the French Lycée in London made him realise teaching might not be his thing. So, he took a turn into illustration. Recognizing his lack of formal training, he joined life drawing classes at Chelsea School of Art, led by the admired painter and illustrator Brian Robb. Their collaboration extended to the Royal College of Art.
Punch kept the commissions flowing, and Blake became a regular cover artist, joining the ranks of his graphic inspirations like Searle and André François.
(Stay!: An ink sketch I've done in the style of Quentin Blake)
These moments opened the door for him to dabble in different painterly techniques, all the while keeping his one-of-a-kind line that also found its way into the Spectator magazine. But it wasn't until 1960 that Blake took his very first step into the world of illustrating books.
Among his numerous creative collaborations, the one with Roald Dahl stands out as the most celebrated, kicking off with "The Enormous Crocodile" in 1978 and flourishing throughout the 1980s. Iconic works like "The BFG" and "Matilda" exemplify a perfect harmony between the writer and artist, marking tremendous success.
"In all of Roald's books there are a lot of directions about what people look like and how they carry themselves. There's a lot in the book about how Willy Wonka is quite nervous and twitchy like a squirrel - I drew him a lot until I got him just right."Quentin Blake
Blake's unique visual language, both playful and animated, effortlessly lends itself to the whimsical and the poignant. This versatility shines through in his own creations like "The Green Ship" and "The Sad Book," a poignant collaboration with Michael Rosen.
When quizzed about the dynamic movement in his characters, Blake often finds himself physically acting out their twists and turns. Beginning with a rough sketch, Blake strategically maps out the page layout and character positions. Placing this initial draft on a lightbox beneath watercolor paper, he proceeds to craft the next drawing in ink. Despite adhering to the planned layout, his inkwork exudes the vibrant spontaneity typically found in drawings created on the spur of the moment.
(Hungry Bear: An ink sketch I've done in the style of Quentin Blake)
His childlike delight in the anarchy and chaos that grace the pages of his books continues to captivate and bring joy to generations of children.
Growing up under the influence of Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl's storytelling magic was like navigating a world where the monstrous Granny from "George's Marvellous Medicine" and the brilliance of "Fantastic Mr Fox" almost became real. Their tales unfolded like watercolor dreams on the canvas of my childhood, leaving an enduring mark. Drawing in ink, my favorite medium, became more than just lines on paper; Blake's drawings are always my inspiration, the dance of spontaneous energy, echoing the spirited strokes seen in his creations, without doubt a massive influence. In the quiet moments of sketching, I find the joy that permeates the chaos and anarchy on the pages of those beloved books, a testament to the timeless brilliance of Blake and Dahl's collaboration.