Profile: Quentin Blake

Sir Quentin Blake: "To me it's amazing"

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Illustrator Quentin Blake, who has been knighted in the New Year Honours list, is perhaps best known for the distinctive drawings that helped bring to life some of the most popular characters in children's literature.

Over many years, he worked with Roald Dahl on some of his most famous books and his sketches captured the very essence of Willy Wonka, Matilda and the BFH.

His own heavily illustrated and quirky books include Mister Magnolia, Zagazoo and Loveykins.

Born Quentin Saxby Blake, he was born in 1932 in Sidcup, which is now part of south east London, and studied English at Cambridge.

After National Service he did a postgraduate diploma at the University of London, going on to teach at the Royal College of Art, where he was the head of illustration between 1978-86.

He was first published at the age of 16 in the satirical magazine Punch - while he was still a pupil a Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar School.

A later cover featured his illustration of a weightlifter at full stretch being aped by a dog carrying a bone.

He said: "I can remember getting a letter from the art editor congratulating me on being the youngest contributor and I thought 'this is alright!'. I started drawing for print then."

From there, he went on to illustrate nearly 300 books with writers such as Joan Aiken, Michael Rosen and John Yeoman.

Blake also worked on more than 150 episodes of the BBC children's show Jackanory, providing the illustrations for the books narrated for the young audience.

'Big chap'

"I draw every day - unless I'm being interviewed," Blake told the BBC.

"What is nice is to have different kinds of things to do."

Quentin Blake Blake has produced more than 30 of his own children's books

Blake began working with Dahl after a meeting in 1975 set up by their publisher.

By that point, Dahl had already published some of his most famous works including James and The Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr Fox.

"Initially I was rather apprehensive because he was a big chap and very famous, but it was a relationship that worked," said Blake.

"Because I had established myself as an illustrator, I had something to bring to it."

Blake became the first ever Children's Laureate when the position was created in 1999, using his tenure to promote literature for the young.

Among his other accolades are the JM Barrie lifetime achievement award, which he received in 2008, the Hans Christian Andersen Award for illustration in 2002 and an honorary degree from the Anglia Ruskin university in Cambridge.

He was made an OBE in 1988, a CBE in 2004 and will receive his knighthood at Buckingham Palace during 2013, for his services to illustration.

The 80-year-old's most recent collaboration has been with comic actor and writer David Walliams.

They first worked together on Walliams' debut children's novel The Boy in the Dress, which was published in 2008.

He admitted he was initially apprehensive about working with the Little Britain co-creator.

"I was also worried it would have loads of projectile vomiting," he said, "but I wanted to do it as soon as I read it."

He added: "I had breakfast with David and I think we were on the same wavelength. It was very nice because he wanted me to do it and I got so involved in it that I did twice as many drawings as I was supposed to."

'Part of the culture'

The pair have now worked on five books together, including Walliams' latest book Mr Stink, about a girl who befriends a local tramp and hides him in her garden shed to stop him being driven out of town.

Walliams said of Blake: "His work kind of means children's books somehow, so even if you haven't studied it or don't pay attention to who illustrators are, you know his work.

Quentin Blake Blake loves decorating buildings

"It has been copied everywhere so many times that it is now part of the culture."

He added: "I think the magic of his work is that it doesn't tell you exactly what the person looks like, it allows you add your own imagination to it."

As well as illustrating books, Blake also does work with hospitals and mental health units, decorating buildings with his sketches.

"It's a different kind of brief, a different kind of audience. A lot of the pictures I do in hospitals are to cheer up gaunt surroundings," he said.

He was also the instigator of the House of Illustration project, which aims to open a museum dedicated to illustration in London by 2014.

However, even the most beloved of artists have their critics and one slight levelled at Blake is the consistently upbeat nature of his drawings.

"There are a lot of smiles about, it's true," he admitted. "People have come up and said 'thank you for your work' - and 'joy' is the word they've used, but I've also been reproached for it, for being too cheerful.

"But if you add a smile, it doesn't make it necessarily joyful."

Quentin Blake Blake's work decorates Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge

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