Quentin who? One illustrator’s late-in-life discovery of the great Quentin Blake

From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Can you imagine going through life and not knowing who Quentin Blake or Roald Dahl is? SCBWI BI member Heather Chapman recalls her discovery of illustrator Quentin Blake at the ripe age of 32 and shares what she’s learned from studying Blake’s work.

“Quentin Blake”
“Q-u-e-n-t-i-n B-l-a-k-e . . . He illustrates all of Roald Dahl’s books.”
“Who’s Roald Dahl?”

It was at that point the person I was speaking with rolled their eyes, walked over to their bookcase, and came back with Matilda.

“Oooooooh I love that film! I didn’t know it was a kid’s book.”

Shame on me, I know. I confess the horror of the situation.

How could an aspiring children’s illustrator not know the work, or even the name of Quentin Blake! It’s not that my mother deprived me of books growing up. She didn’t. Growing up in America, my room was littered with well-worn editions of Dr. Seuss, Babar the Elephant, The Berenstein Bears, Curious George and many more. It was a brilliant selection by anyone’s standards but, sadly, Dahl and Blake never made the cut.

Quentin Blake returned me to a child-like excitement - an “ecstasy of being”

I began flipping through Matilda and other works by Blake and I admit I was confused. Colours strayed outside the line, characters were scratchy ‘things’ thrown across the page and scenes resembled a nasty accident with several bottles of ink. How is this the work of such a great children’s illustrator? I can only blame the art student in me - trapped in anatomical proportions and sophisticated scenery.

Matilda written by Roald Dahl
Not to be overly dismissive, I took a closer look. And another, and another, and another…

Ah. I see.

Movement, action, expression, colour, voice, and style… the list was endless and I fell in love with the playful colours, individual characters and imaginative scenes. Quentin Blake returned me to a child-like excitement  - an “ecstasy of being”.

A scene from Patrick by Quentin Blake
 After this initial discovery of Quentin Blake’s illustrations I began to study his work as a student studies the work of masters, and to see him not as a god in the world of children’s books (which he is) but as an illustrator plain and simple. One who started illustrating for Punch magazine then spent the next 50+ years learning, adapting, succeeding, doubting, discovering. As we all do.

Words and Pictures ©2013 cover by Quentin Blake
Last week I purchased Blake’s Words and Pictures and of all the reference books I have lying about my house, this is the best. Filled with anecdotes, experiences and words of advice perfectly wrapped within a single cover, it describes perfectly how us illustrators should approach our work – heck, our life.

What have I learned from discovering Quentin Blake? Relax and be yourself - this is fun. I’ve changed my style by closing my eyes and taking a pen to the page. Honest. And it was some of the best work

I leave you with my favourite quotes of wisdom from Words and Pictures :

So that’s how it’s done: “…that mime element which is an important part of illustration, as I understand it – of telling the story by acting it.”

On illustrating for its own sake: “…curiously enough, if you are more relaxed you can concentrate better, you are able to focus your mind on exactly what is happening in front of you, the scene you are imagining in your mind and living through the pen you are holding in your hands.”

Figure drawing classes are good: “Extending my range made me all the more conscious of my lack of experience of life drawing – I just didn’t have the knowledge to draw the things I needed to draw.”

Painting in oil from the 1950’s (taken from Words and Pictures)
Even Quentin Blake self-doubts: “…nothing seems right [and] you wonder if you have finally lost whatever grasp you had of drawing ability.”

On selection of scene:
“…the accuracy and idiosyncrasy of gesture and posture… noting and savouring what is not said in the words.”
“…less a collection of verses to be illustrated than a collection of activities looking for words.”
“The writer and the artist are not always trying to do exactly the same thing.”

Finding your style is down to: “…who you are and how you see things.”

All images © Quentin Blake

Heather Chapman is an emerging illustrator and SCBWI member.
See her work at chapman-illustration.co.uk
Twitter: @HAC_illustrated


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. [Couldn't spell a key word! Sorry. What I meant to say was:] Wonderful post about a magical illustrator. Hadn't seen the picture from 'Patrick' before. Fabulous!

    2. When my kids were small we loved QB's illustrations for The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me, especially the bath etc being flung out of the old shop - when it is no longer FOR SAIL, but is SOLED. The illustrations of the tall building sit so well with the text on the page.

  2. That's a great perspective, Heather. I love 'ecstasy of being" but for me his illustrations are full of wonder, captured in that little wide eyed girl in Miss Honey's class - not sure if she's Mathilda.

  3. Love the quotes you picked out from that book which I also treasure and now will return to! Funny how top illustrators don't always travel - I think it is a cultural thing too. Quentin Blake seems to be less revered in the US although he is quite close to William Stieg and illustrated a book of his..Perhaps, like you suggest, it is the loose spontaneous line that takes some getting used to, especially if raised with more painterly work like that of the lovely US Golden Books? Conversely QBlake is as much if not more of a god in France than in the UK. Another lavish book about his work came out in France before his Words and Pictures book in the UK.

  4. There will be an exhibition of Quentin Blake's work at Mottisfont Abbey (near Romsey, Hampshire) from July 19th until mid-September. I can't wait!

  5. Forex dealing can be done on the internet. Take a look at the industry styles that are occurring now and use free money system that information to take advantage available on the industry.


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.