I think I timed my visit to see the latest exhibition at The Lightbox in Woking rather well, as it coincided with Quentin Blake’s 83rd birthday today!
‘Inside Stories’ is a landmark exhibition by Quentin Blake, one of the UK’s best-loved illustrators, that explores the method and process of his drawings with anecdotal details that narrate the story of his art.
The exhibition examines nine of his books over 140 different works, to show how he develops characters and mood, from their genesis as first roughs and storyboards to the finished piece. It demonstrates how Blake brings to bear a wide range of different techniques and media including inks, watercolours and pastels. It makes us ponder: how does an illustrator arrive at that definitive likeness of a well-known character and the mood of a book? The power of an image becomes the carrier for the story.
I always associate Quentin Blake with Roald Dahl’s colourful stories (and, of course, there are lots of these to see in the exhibition!), but his collaborations include books by writers Russell Hoban, John Yeoman, Michael Rosen as well as the eighteenth century writer Voltaire are also included.
I saw some incredible illustrations of Roald Dahl’s The Twits (1980). Mr and Mrs Twit are a horrible couple; they play beastly tricks on each other and they oppress a family of monkeys by making them stand on their heads. On his drawing method for the illustrations in the story, Quentin Blake said: ‘It’s enjoyable to draw dirty and disgusting people, because they have so many features. Most frequently I draw with a scratchy pen which I dip into a pot of Indian ink; this time I chose a harder and scratchier nib’.
In contrast, Quentin Blake’s ‘Clown’ (1995) is a story about a group of thrown-away toys, told solely through illustration. One of the toys, Clown, takes on independent life and goes in search of rescue. Quentin Blake explained his process: ‘I started to write the story until I realised it would be better as a form of mime […] telling a story by gesture and expressions. As there were no words I had to invent speech bubbles with pictures.’
Quentin Blake’s series of working drawings for The Wild Washerwomen by John Yeoman (1979) demonstrates the symbiotic relationship between author and illustrator. He said: ‘Among the pleasures for me were the characterisation of the washerwomen, all their activity and bad behaviour, and the way that the sequence of washing is repeated.’
Although the illustrations in the exhibition are not all depictions of happiness and humour; Michael Rosen’s ‘Sad Book’ tells the true story of the sudden death of Rosen’s son Eddie at the age of 18 and the range of his feelings and storm of emotions that followed. Quentin Blake stated: ‘The project started off with a picture of Michael Rosen saying: “This is me trying to look cheerful.” It was difficult to get just the right balance between feigned cheerfulness and real despair – I did many versions.
It’s such a terrific exhibition – on until 17th January, so definitely somewhere to visit over Christmas! Details on opening times at The Lightbox can be found on The Lightbox website.