Friday, 1 August 2014

Quentin Blake

I have tremendous respect and admiration for several illustrators, but none more so than Quentin Blake (below).


My childhood in the 1970s and early 1980s was set against a backdrop painted by Blake. Largely of course through the writings of Roald Dahl.

In my pursuit for my own signature style I am looking to the works of author / illustrators in the same field. Blake is an obvious starting point since he is possibly one of the most well known children's illustrators. Certainly in the UK.

What I love about Blake's work is its energy. Its simplicity and juvenile style do well to disguise a real skill in crafting the perfect scene to visualise a piece of text.

His skill in adding character, expression and attitude with such few lines is remarkable. I love his choice of pen. Indeed his work is purely interesting because his lines are not clean and crisp. Unlike many illustrators who opt for clean, digital lines Blake masterfully creates texture and variation with a single sweep of the pen. The end result is an optimum amount of detail. Not too much and not too little.
A fair amount of Blake's work is available without colour. For me this is equally as effective. I love colour. Love it a lot. But simple line drawings where each stroke has such "character" also works.

I imagine that many people who assume they can draw look at children's illustration buoyed by what they see in Quentin Blake's work and then fall flat. Why? Because it's really not that easy. In order to draw the way he does you have to understand pose and composition. You have to understand the character and essentially exaggerate every feature for the maximum effect.

This is where I've learned most from Blake. It's not just that I want to draw a character. I want the character to be "real". I want the character to be alive.
Blake achieves this through the energy that he applies to each stroke but also by the way that he poses his characters. Rarely are characters simply standing rigid in any scenario. Even if the text describes it I imagine Blake would inject some energy somewhere. Not necessarily in the character stood firm but elsewhere. Your eye will be drawn in to the subject via a source of energy somewhere.
He really is a masterful illustrator.


In his own writing, notably Mr Magnolia (above), he continues to explore the maximum that you can stretch a character. A pose is a pose is a pose. But in Blake's hands a pose has energy. His ink work has energy.
Mr Magnolia is a wonderful book and a simple story.
Therein lies another lesson to be learned. Don't over-complicate the text. Certainly for a younger audience. Keep the story simple, the message clear and allow your illustrations to do the rest.

I love the way Roald Dahl created fascinating characters. Yes they were absurd, grotesque and often downright evil. But they were intriguing and you really wanted to "see" them. An illustrator's dream in every respect.
Quentin Blake worked his magic on each of Dahl's 17 children's books.

There are of course many other illustrator's of children's fiction that deserve a mention but it is Blake that I turn to for the most professional guidance.

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