Last Friday, I got down to London just in time to catch the penultimate day of a wonderful little exhibition on children’s illustration at the British Library. Picture This displayed 10 classic illustrated children’s books, with the emphasis on how different illustrators have interpreted the same stories over time. Although I’d have liked to have seen a few more illustrations on display, it was very interesting to watch the video clips of illustrators discussing their inspirations and methods. One of these was Michael Foreman, who illustrated the 1985 edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (before Quentin Blake became the iconic visual counterpart to Dahl’s opus). Foreman described how he had wanted to depict Willy Wonka as rather rotund from nibbling on all of his own chocolate, but that Roald Dahl insisted that Wonka should be slim. I guess that knowing when one must bend to the author’s will is part of the job that any illustrator must get used to!
Another video featured Lauren Child discussing her illustration of The Secret Garden, and how she was influenced by the TV adaptation she herself watched as a child. I love the delicate and playful style of Child’s collage work, and it is interesting to see how she straddles audience age groups.
All-in-all it was a very inspiring exhibition, which had me thinking about which children’s books I would most like to illustrate (Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, perhaps, or maybe A Necklace of Raindrops?), and which books I would have included in the exhibition if I had been its curator.
If anyone’s reading this, what is your favourite illustrated children’s book?