Sir Quentin Blake, CBE RDI HRWS (Born 1932) The first Children’s Laureate, Quentin Blake is undoubtedly the most popular of contemporary illustrators, a favourite with adults and children alike, with an instantly recognisable line and a back catalogue that includes some of the great children’s books of the last 50 years. Born in Sidcup, Kent on 16 December 1932, Quentin Blake was first educated at the local Church of England primary school. While a pupil of Chiselhurst & Sidcup Grammar School, he published his first drawings in Punch, aged just 16. During two years of National Service he taught English in the Royal Army Educational Corps at Aldershot and illustrated a book for teaching illiterate soldiers to read. He read English at Downing College, Cambridge, studying under F R Leavis. This was a discipline that developed his sympathy for literature and helped him to understand that his own artistic talents were ideally suited to illustration.
Leaving Cambridge in 1956, Quentin was awarded a Postgraduate Certificate in Education by the Institute of Education in 1957.
In the following year, he began attending life classes as a part-time student at Chelsea College of Art, while beginning to illustrate for The Spectator. It was suggested that he work on a children’s book, and he asked John Yeoman to provide the text; the result was A Drink of Water and Other Stories (1960), which instigated a collaboration lasting many years.
Quentin became a tutor in illustration at the Royal College of Art in 1965, at the invitation of the painter and illustrator, Brian Robb, whom he had known at Chelsea. Three years later, he published Patrick, the first book of which he was author and illustrator. Then, following Robb’s retirement in 1978, Quentin became head of the department. The same year, he collaborated with Roald Dahl for the first time, on The Enormous Crocodile. He continued in the post at the RCA until 1986, when he gradually abandoned teaching to spend more time on illustration. His inimitable style, founded upon a rapid ink line and watercolour washes, has enlivened the work of many authors, including Joan Aiken, Russell Hoban and – as well as Dahl, his most famous collaborator.
Quentin’s work has been displayed at countless galleries and museums, and other venues, including the National Theatre, which mounted a retrospective of his work in 1984. He has also curated exhibitions of the work of others. For example, between 1991-92, he curated ‘The Box of Delights. Twenty-One British Illustrators’ for the Association of Illustrators at the Newport Museum and Art Gallery.
In 1993, Chris Beetles Gallery mounted its first exhibition of Quentin’s illustrations, two years before the exhibition ‘Le Petit Theatre de Quentin Blake’, toured France.
Quentin has received many honours. In 1981, he was elected Royal Designer to Industry and, in 1988, he was appointed an OBE and made a visiting professor and senior fellow of the RCA. Since his appointment as the first Children’s Laureate in 1999, for a period of two years, he has gone from strength to strength. He has been appointed Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2002 and Officier de l’Ordre des Artes et des Lettres in 2007, and CBE in 2005. In 2013, Quentin was knighted for his services to illustration.
In addition, Quentin has been awarded numerous honorary doctorates and fellowships. He is an Honorary Doctor of Cambridge University; the Royal College of Art; University of the Arts London; London University Institute of Education; Loughborough University; Anglia Ruskin University; the Open University; University of Northumbria; a Senior Fellow of the Royal College of Art and an Honorary Fellow of Downing College, Cambridge; the University of Brighton; the University of Cardiff and the Royal Academy of Arts.
Prizes for books include the Kate Greenaway Medal (for Mr Magnolia in 1980), the Kurt Maschler Award (for All Join In in 1990) and the international Bologna Ragazzi Prize (for Clown in 1996).
In 2002, Quentin became a founding trustee of a charity to establish the House of Illustration, a centre for illustrators and an exhibition space for past and present illustration from around the world. The House of Illustration was opened by Quentin in October 2014, and was launched with an exhibition of his work for Michael Rosen’s Sad Book by Michael Rosen.
Alternating his time between London, Hastings and South West France, Quentin continues to produce illustrations, both for his own stories and for the work of other authors. The most recent books include Fifty Fables of La Fontaine for the Folio Society, and two collaborations with John Yeoman; The Fabulous Foskett Family Circus and Three Little Owls.
November 2012 saw the publication of Beyond the Page, Quentin’s personal account of his works and projects since 2000 and October 2013 saw the paperback reissue of Words and Pictures, in which he covered his career up until 2000. In 2014, his latest biography Quentin Blake, was published by Tate.
Quentin has increasingly worked on a range of projects, including murals for hospitals, and other public spaces. Recently, he has produced drawings for the opening animated sequence of the new musical version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in June 2013. He also continues to work closely with the House of Illustration.
His work is represented in the collections of House of Illustration and the V&A.
Further reading: Douglas Martin, The Telling Line, London: Julia MacRae Books, 1989, pages 243-263; Joanna Carey, Quentin Blake, London: Tate Publishing, 2014
Chris Beetles Gallery represents Quentin Blake, always keeping his artwork in stock and for sale, and frequently featuring it in exhibitions.