Quentin Blake: Inside StoriesQuentin Blake: Inside Stories

by Jennifer Harding


History of the Organisation and the New Gallery

House of Illustration_outside

The House of Illustration was set up as a charity in 2002 by a group of UK illustrators with the support of a board of trustees including Sir Quentin Blake, Lauren Child and Sir Christopher Frayling. It is an independent arts organisation that reaches a wide-ranging audience through touring exhibitions, international competitions and an education programme that uses illustration to support creative, literacy and communication skills in primary schools in London. Funding is via support from some of the UK’s trusts and foundations, individual donations and self-generated income.

On 2 July The House of Illustration opened a gallery at 2 Granary Square, King’s Cross, sharing the building with the Arts Fund. It is hidden round a corner in the square, the square being a very attractive space by Regents Canal with a stepped area of grass and plenty of benches, tables and chairs above the grass in the paved square for relaxation and picnicking. The nearest tube and mainline station is King’s Cross. A large arrow sign greets you as you step outside the station, and as you walk up to the gallery the hoardings advertise the gallery and also show well-known illustrations from children’s books.

Quentin Blake Exhibition

The exhibition aims to give an insight into the origins of some of Blake’s most characteristic and popular creations, from his illustrations to Roald Dahl’s The Twits and Danny the Champion of the World, David Walliams’ The Boy in The Dress and books by John Yeoman, Russell Hoban and Michael Rosen to his own books, including his very popular The Clown.

The exhibition demonstrates how Blake’s ideas evolve, often in close collaboration with the authors. It shows how he uses a wide range of techniques and media, including inks, watercolours and pastels, applied with a variety of touch, in response to the particular mood of a book and the nature of its characters, to create his distinctive illustrations.

I didn’t count the rooms – maybe four – but all airy and coolly decorated. Quite high on the walls are quotations from the artist. The walls show sketches, storyboards and discarded items as well as final sketches. The glass cases show these, often annotated by Blake and Quentin Blakeoften with humour, along with the original coloured illustrations as sent to the publisher for the final versions of the books. Absolutely stunning to see these original artworks after reading of their passage from original discussions with the author and/or publisher through the various stages. Each case is devoted to a single book. It is obvious that Blake has had a hand in every detail of the setting up of the exhibition.

I was disappointed not to see a glass case dedicated to Matilda as she is one of my favourite characters! But that is churlish of me. I have not read The Twits and the story of the illustrations for that book are fascinating and I shall be buying it so that I can gloat over them. A few of the final illustrations from the exhibition are reproduced below.

House of Illustration                        (C) Quentin Blake

There are Friday lunchtime tours of the exhibition at 1.15pm, free. The exhibition is open Tuesdays to Sundays (closed Mondays) until 2 November 2014.

The Future

I can’t see on the website any details of future exhibitions but I imagine they will be posted later in the year. The website contains details of past workshops and family events and I assume these will also be continuing. The future is seen by the organisation as a ‘place to see, learn about and enjoy illustration in all its forms; from picture books to political cartoons, advertisements to animation and scientific drawings to fashion design. It will be a major new arts space, with an accessible and exciting creative programme of exhibitions, talks and events’.

Acknowledgements: All illustrations © 2014 Quentin Blake and The House of Illustration.