BOOKS The work of Brian Wildsmith

As a new collectible edition of Brian Wildsmith’s best-loved illustrated books from the 60s has just come in to print, Paul Morton talks about the importance of this legendary artist’s work.


Brian Wildsmith was among the foremost children’s book illustrators of the 20th century. When he started working on picture books in the 1960s, the timing of his career was such that he rode on the breaking wave of new technology in colour printing. And boy did he take advantage of this.


His work rejoiced in the full spectrum of colours, bejewelling his images with a joyous celebration in his medium and subject matter. What I love about his work is that behind all the wondrous colour, pattern and texture there always lies the fundamental essence of whatever he’s depicting. The crisp fresh apple-ness of an apple, the solidity and almost smellable donkey-ness of his donkeys.


He captures and conveys his subject matter and then embellishes them with the perfect amount of decorative colour. A virtuoso at his craft, bold, inventive and revolutionary.

'Brilliant mosaic patterns and colours.' Spread from paws, claws, tails and roars
by Brian Wildmith (OUP)

Let me share with you some of the praises and reactions from leading reviewers and expert industry professionals, and you’ll soon realise what Brian Wildsmith is all about:— 


There’s almost no more to be said about the brilliance of his work or his importance to British illustration. And, as I hope, if all this has whetted your appetite for his books, then you’re in luck. Twenty-six of the 80+ books that Brian produced over his 45-year career are still in print. And this month sees a brand new publication. Three of Brian’s best loved books from the late 1960s,  Wild animals 1967, Birds 1967 and Fishes 1968 have been lovingly collected together and re-published in a magnificent, gilt-edged gift book: paws, claws, tails and roars, published by OUP.

Three of Brian Wildsmith’s best loved books from the 60s have been republished by OUP


It has a foreword by Michael Rosen and simple but evocative lines of poetry added by Deborah Sims. We can enjoy over 90 pages of some of Brian’s most striking spreads. A LEPE of Leopards, A WALK of Snipe, a STREAM of Minnows, for example.

'Timeless style and use of colours'. Spread from ABC
by Brian Wildmith (OUP)

As an art student at Barnsley Art school (the same college that Brian attended) I remember visiting the local children’s library and ‘discovering’ Brian’s ABC book that won him the Kate Greenaway medal in 1962. It really was a delicious shock to me when I realised how wonderfully expressive children’s picture books could be. Beguiling in their layout and use of sheer brilliant colour, yet still retaining at their core, the essence of whatever was being depicted. It stunned me and was instrumental in setting me on MY career path to children’s picture book illustration.


'Jewel-bright splintered fragments of colour.' Spread from paws, claws, tails and roars
by Brian Wildmith (OUP)


I am so pleased that Brian Wildsmith’s work is still being acknowledged and appreciated and this new title gifts all of his previous splendour as a legacy to the next generation of readers, to be amazed, mesmerised and maybe set on their own path to a creative future.


I previously wrote about Brian’s inspiration on my career in an earlier edition of Words & Pictures.


If you want to see more of Brian’s books or learn about his life and career the Wildsmith family have created a fantastic resource site at:

I heartily recommend you give this a visit too.


*All images © and reproduced by kind permission of the Brian Wildsmith estate 2023



Paul Morton is illustrator and author of two early readers, Bug Belly Babysitting Trouble and Bug Belly Froggy Rescue published by Five Quills. He is organiser of the annual SCBWI-BI Picture Book Retreat and works on SCBWI's illustration committee as well as organising the Christmas Advent illustration competition. He lives with his wife in Barnsley. No pets, but a garden full of wild frogs.
And he is currently seeking representation.
Twitter: @paulhotfrog 


Françoise Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact

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