Friday, September 13, 2013

Sir Quentin Saxby Blake: illustrator extraordinaire

This Quentin Blake painting brings joy to those who pass through the reception center in the Hôpital Armand-Trousseau in Paris.
English cartoonist Sir Quentin Saxby Blake may be best known for illustrating books written by Roald Dahl (such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda), but he's lent his wispy, fluid style to scads of books by other authors as well. We currently have three Blake-illustrated titles (a pop-up book of Charlie, The Wild Washerwomen, and Daddy Lost His Head), and I've pulled together a little show of images from the last two. (We also have the critically acclaimed Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl.)
Love the anarchy! The Australian magazine Inside Story had a swell appreciation of the artist by Iain Topliss called "The innocence of Quentin Blake," from which I quote:
His long collaboration with Roald Dahl is a story in itself, beginning with the picture book The Enormous Crocodile (1978), but really taking off with Blake’s illustrations for The BFG (1982). The fusion of these two talents produced, as one critic has said, “a kind of alchemy.” It says everything about the pairing that when Penguin Books bought out the rights to Dahl’s work and wanted to reissue his novels for children in a uniform edition they asked Blake to redraw all the illustrations, not just for the six he had already done, but also for the six that had previously been illustrated by other artists. (The only Dahl book Penguin didn’t give to Blake was The Minpins, with drawings by Patrick Benson.) Then there are over thirty-five books by Blake himself, a list that includes Angelo (1970), Mister Magnolia (1980), Clown (1995), Angel Pavement (2005) and, most recently, Daddy Lost His Head (2009). Not to be forgotten are the many commissioned works that Blake drew for publishing houses, such as the series of drawings in the 1960s for the Penguin Classics edition (1962) of the novels of Evelyn Waugh. Journeyman work it might be, but for many readers the definitive image of Brideshead Revisited is Blake’s impromptu line drawing of Charles Ryder, Sebastian Flyte and Aloysius (Sebastian’s teddy bear), relaxing with cigarettes and a bottle of Château Peyraguey, as depicted on the cover of the Penguin edition – a drawing that wrought its magic long before anyone associated the scene with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews…. The line is scratchy, uninhibited and unpremeditated – improvised, ecstatic, free, anarchic, even manic. It owes much to André François, an indebtedness that Blake has freely acknowledged, saying how taken he was by the way François’s painterly, “not respectful” drawings seemed “improvised on the page.” One might think that such a line is sufficient, it is so alive, but when Blake applies colour – his characteristic vibrant, irregular, watery palette of pinks, blues, yellows, reds, greens, and grey washes, as he has done to the previously black-and-white George’s Marvellous Medicine – it is not merely an addition, but the opening up of a new expressive dimension.
This fascinating program shows Blake drawing all sorts of people and creatures for a delighted audience of children.


  1. Quentin Blake is certainly worth posting about, but the Puffin Virtually Live program you linked is not about him. He’s over here.

  2. Love this Quentin Blake post. He loves drawing side profiles. His illustrations for "The BFG" are my favorite

  3. Wait, wait..two young men and a teddy bear? Sounds familiar. Now where did we see that before?

    A caption contest!

  4. Love Quentin Blake. Wild Washerwomen, fabulous!