Quentin Blake - "Deceptively Slapdash" Posted on 28 Sep 11:40

Image from 'The Good Tiger', a story by Elizabeth Bowen, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Quentin Blake has been publishing his illustrations and books for over seventy years. He's a remarkable man who has enjoyed a remarkable career - creating memorable artwork that is instantly recognisable - and he has helped to shape the way we see some of the most popular authors of the last few decades. He has been a mainstay of our range for many years. 

As a precocious teenager he submitted humorous cartoons to Punch magazine, before pursuing a teaching career at the Royal College Of Art. Illustration work for books began to pick up in the early 1960's, across numerous publishing houses and for a bewildering array of authors, and across myriad genres.

In this Guardian interview from earlier in 2020, he describes his work as "deceptively slapdash". I love this description of his work so much that I have adopted it as a personal motto! I think that it's a really neat description of his method. It explains his innate talent for his craft, the skill and the experience he brings to his professional practice, but also the absolute command he has over the illustrations that he creates.

One of his longest standing collaborations has been with the poet and author Michael Rosen. Their relationship stretches back to the 1970's and encompasses the creative highs and devastating emotional lows of their professional and personal journeys. Rosen was once asked about their relationship and simply responded that “I give it to him and he does it.” I suspect that's also a "deceptively slapdash" description of the process, but it's also a testament to Blake's talent as a commercial illustrator who works to his brief. Something for all young illustrators to consider!

I think my own interest in the power of illustration was sparked at an early age through picture books and book covers. My first memory of Blake's work was The Puffin Joke Book, which was essential reading in my youth. I am not prepared to divulge the original publication date, but it predates the time when Quentin Blake began to work with Roald Dahl. The cover art for Dahl's works subsequently became synonymous with the characters for an entire generation of children, but they're all younger than I am...

A few years ago we did a big window display of his work, and I found myself down an internet rabbit hole, looking for a Quentin Blake illustration of a tiger. I was delighted and surprised to discover that he had published a book back in 1970 called The Good Tiger. The book was written by the celebrated Irish author Elizabeth Bowen. It was published shortly before her death, and is the tale of a tiger who had a penchant for cake. It *totally* struck a chord with me, and I now have a copy in my archive.

Image from 'The Good Tiger', a story by Elizabeth Bowen, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Here at (The Very Good) Paper Tiger, we have sold his work for many years. His talent for characterisation with minimal use of his pen is sublime. There is also a universality to his work that makes This is especially the case when the illustration has to convey sentiment and meaning within the relatively small parameters of a greetings card.

I can't remember the last time we didn't have his work on our shelves, and I can't imagine a future without him as part of our range.