‘100 Figures: The Unseen Art of Quentin Blake’

The House of Illustration’s exhibition, ‘100 Figures: The Unseen Art of Quentin Blake’ shows us the technical skill and practice behind one of the UK’s most famous illustrators. 

Best known for his delightfully effortless illustrations for author Roald Dahl’s children’s books, Quentin Blake has always been an accomplished artist. In this exhibition, the House of Illustration takes visitors for the first time ever through the unseen life drawings Quentin Blake created over 50 years. Never intended to be finished artworks, the expressive, sketch-like quality of many of Blake’s pieces in this exhibition capture the figurative form of the human body effortlessly. His more finished oil paintings show these same effortless motions through the brushstrokes that still allow Blake’s unique style to shine through. This lack of pressure to produce a resolved work of art really struck me throughout all the pieces – they were all created for the pure joy of practicing his art! No fancy, pretentious titles, no deep and meaningful descriptions, just deeply skilled studies of the human form (with a few imaginary taxidermy birds added in here and there – only making them even greater in my opinion!)

The curation of the exhibition had no pretense either. It was a refreshingly ‘to the point’ display with very little interpretative text. It was simple, informative and completely appropriate for the artworks. The carefully selected text that was available was well placed, insightful, easy to read and, well – memorable! I will always feel obliged to read interpretative labels available in an exhibition and this gave me a wonderful excuse to completely immerse myself in the works and to simply enjoy the artwork. You could argue that art speaking for itself is illustration, after all!

I couldn’t help but feel inspired to return to life drawing classes as I explored the gallery. Especially after discovering that for Blake’s later commercial illustration work, he never had to use a reference again. He had built up a sort of ‘library’ of images in his head, purely from his hours of practice. Naturally, this put him in a great position to produce work quickly and from memory; a quality that I continuously endeavour to achieve in my own illustration work. To be able to draw what I want, when inspiration strikes really is a vital part of my sketchbook work which is often what I use as reference for finished illustrations.

So often, I hear people disparage illustration for its simplicity. This exhibition gently proves these unsubstantiated opinions mute by showing the skill and dedication behind the artistic ability to create ‘simple’ illustrations. I found the movement and subtle, edgy nature of Blake’s life drawings to be incredibly emotive and in true Quentin Blake style, delightfully fun!

Thanks to the House of Illustration for the complimentary tickets to the exhibition for my entry to the “Drawing a Day” challenge back in September. ‘100 Figures: The Unseen Art of Quentin Blake’ runs until January 27th 2019 at the House of Illustration, London.

All photographs of artworks taken at the House of Illustration’s exhibition, ‘100 Figures: The Unseen Art of Quentin Blake’

‘D’ is for Dragons, Detail and Daily Drawings

Each day in September, I took part in the John Vernon Lord ‘Drawing a Day’ challenge organised by the House of Illustration, London.
The challenge in which hundreds of artists took part in via Instagram was based on the series of daily one-inch squared drawings by John Vernon Lord (for every day of 2016!) That’s 366 teeny tiny drawings! Each one is an incredibly detailed work of art in pen and ink.

 

“Every day of 2016 I would do a drawing of something that occurred to me on the spur of the moment. The exercise was done for the fun of drawing – the liberation of drawing ‘for the sake of it’ is always something of a relief compared to the exacting challenge of illustrating professionally.” – John Vernon Lord

 

 

Word of the challenge quickly spread throughout Instagram and as I follow @illustrationhq and always love catching up on their latest exhibitions when visiting family in London, I had to join in!

I actually love working on a small scale. It was one of my most common criticisms in art college! I just love the idea of putting lots of detail into a small space, that invites the viewer to come close and interact with the artwork instead of strolling past because the composition can be understood and enjoyed from afar.
When it comes to children’s books and illustration, of course, simplicity can be beautiful and emotive. But I also love books that are full of little hidden details. Graeme Base’s “Animalia” draws its reader into the world of alphabetical fantasy, potentially for hours! For children with lower literacy and reading ability, these books can be so engaging and enjoyable.

Book: ‘Animalia’ by Graeme Base / ‘Drawing a Day’ one-inch squared drawings

Each page takes a letter of the alphabet and every single object and detail drawn on each page begins with that letter. Magical! Some are obvious and some require some thought. I remember pouring over this book as a child, figuring out what each object represented was called. My favourite page was the one in the picture above, “Diabolical Dragons Daintily Devouring Delicious Delicacies”. Mainly because there is a very tiny ‘Dalek’ and accompanying ‘Doctor’ hidden amongst the Diabolical Dragons! On each page is also hidden  a character of Graeme as a boy in a stripey jumper. Much like the “Where’s Wally?” books, this adds another level to the art of detail that simply wouldn’t work in a book of minimalist illustrations – it would just be too easy!

“Animalia” was the book I thought of when viewing John Vernon Lord’s drawings with this challenge in mind, so I decided upon the theme of animals for the 30 daily drawings I would undertake. Apart from this, I didn’t have much of a plan but when I doodled and came up with the drawing of an elephant squeezed into the 1”x1” box I drew for day one, I decided upon the theme of #squishyanimals.

 

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I really loved taking part in this challenge, as well as seeing so many different takes on it from other artists on Instagram! I was delighted to be featured on the House of Illustration’s blog post, “25 Drawings for Day 25 of the House of Illustration Drawing a Day Challenge” which can be read here:

 

Thanks to the House of Illustration for  running this challenge and of course to John Vernon Lord for the fabulous work behind the challenge! I look forward to using my exhibition tickets when back in London at the end of the year.
To see some of the other participants of the ‘Drawing a Day’ challenge, check out the blog post below:

“A Jedd is in bed and the bed of a Jedd is the softest of beds in the world it is said.”

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Meet Jedd. It’s his ‘Gotcha Day’ today, otherwise known as his adoption day. It’s been 1 year since we brought this little furball into our lives and it has been 24/7 fun, mischief and fabulous bow ties ever since!

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As many people guess there is a literary background to his name too… 10/10 if you can guess the book from the image below!

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We chose to adopt Jedd from the Cat Haven in Perth who do an amazing job rehoming lonely kitties every day, sometimes dozens a day! They took great care of him before he found his furever home with us. Jedd is now a big, healthy grown up boy but this time last year he was just a scrawny little ball of fluff. See the difference between the day we took him home in the photos (below, left) and his first trip to the vet (below, right)! Yes, that is a bandana from the vet that he seems to be pulling off as some sort of cape.

Jedd quickly turned into my little shadow around the house and he’s always ready to lend a paw as a great Artist’s Assistant when I’m working!

Occasionally he gets the name #jeddthejedi partly because my husband (named Han) is a massive Star Wars fan and wasn’t too sure about a furry addition to the family that didn’t bark. It didn’t take long for them to become besties though…

Dr Seuss’s ‘Sleep Book’, first published in 1962, was one of my very favourite books when I was a child (and still is now). It begins with an infectious yawn that is sure to start you yawning along with the story. There’s a reason that the first page warns, “This book is to be read in bed”! My mum and I loved reading it together just before falling asleep along with all the other Seussian creatures. If you don’t know this book, it is a must have for any children’s library. Or adult’s library, in fact! 

My favourite page and character in the book was of course, the Jedd. 

“A Jedd is in bed, and the bed of a Jedd is the softest of beds in the world, it is said. He makes is from pom poms he grows on his head. And he’s sleeping right now on the softest of fluff, completely exhausted from growing the stuff.” – Dr Seuss

©️Dr Seuss (‘The Sleep Book’ pages)

“I only want to live in peace and plant potatoes and dream”

“I only want to live in peace and plant potatoes and dream” – Moomin (Tove Jansson)

A good children’s book has the power to sum up exactly how we’re feeling, or even who we are in just a few, simple words. This line from Tove Jansson’s Moomin books is my favourite ‘one liner’. I don’t actually dream of planting potatoes (if there is an opposite to having a green thumb, I have it. RIP Sally the succulent), but it’s the sentiment.

As a child, I loved Moomin’s grumpy outburst for the humour and the random charm that Tove Jansson always executed so well in her storytelling. Now, I empathise with Moomin’s familiar longing to live in peace, enjoy the simple things and dream, far away from the pressures of real life!

I plan to use this blog to share my love for illustration and children’s books, influenced by my profession in museum work. I am mainly looking at new ways of interpretation and communication within the museum sector and this is much the same as what I look for in a good children’s book. A good book is all about the successful interpretation of an idea and how well a story is communicated through both language and illustration.


I live in Perth, Western Australia where I work for a local museum, but I am originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland. I studied Fine Art at University which ultimately revealed to me that I wanted to spend my free time illustrating for fun, rather than depicting the great miseries of life through indecipherable paintings. I still have a love for Fine Art and am so grateful for the time I spent exploring art history and developing my own practice, but I keep my work mainly to myself these days. The beauty of working in museums is that I can be surrounded by fabulous works of art every day!

Moving to the other side of the world two years ago was certainly a big transition to go from de-icing the car each morning in the UK, to burning my hands on the steering wheel in Australia as it’s already 35°C at 8am!

When my husband and I first arrived in Perth after a few weeks of travelling on the way, we both had just one suitcase each from which to start our new lives. A year later upon moving house, that same suitcase was too small to transport all the children’s books I had acquired over just one year! It’s an obsession, but a healthy one as I’m sure anyone who would be interested enough to read this would certainly understand!

“She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.” – Louisa May Alcott.

Ouch, Louisa.


Children’s books have always brought me so much joy and I hope that some day I will finally get my act together and see my first book published! For now, I am happy with illustrating for the pure joy of it (as well as the odd job here and there).

I’ll be using this blog to post book reviews and discuss current topics in the children’s book world, and maybe even some exhibition reviews. If you are a parent, teacher, educator or someone who works with children or has an interest in children’s books, illustration or museums, I’d love for you to follow along.

Do you have a favourite children’s book ‘one liner’? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or on Instagram.

Moomin image: ©️Moomin