Quentin Blake Fascinating Facts

As one of South London's best-loved illustrators enters his 90th year, Rebecca Magill looks back on the long career of Quentin Blake with some fun facts about his life and work.
Born in Sidcup, Kent, Blake attended Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar School and got his big break aged just 16 when one of his drawings was published by Punch Magazine.
Although best known for his work with Roald Dahl (for whom he illustrated 18 books), over the course of his career he has created everything from logos to stained glass windows, as well as illustrating over 400 books.

Blake first started working with Dahl in 1978 by illustrating the book Enormous Crocodile and continued until his death in 1990.
Blake’s favourite Dahl book is the BFG, but the famous giant could have looked very different.
Originally, he was going to wear an apron and boots, but Dahl posted his own sandals through the post to Blake, saying that this is what he should have on his feet.

As part of a recent exhibition called ‘We Live In Worrying Times’ at the Hastings Contemporary Art Gallery, Blake painted a huge 30 foot by five-foot mural called The Taxi Driver.
Painted in a single day on location, it was inspired by a London taxi driver who lamented “We Live In Worrying Times” and encouraged Blake to recreate Picasso’s Guernica (one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history).
Feeling inspired, Blake was keen to get the driver’s name so he could keep him updated, but the driver told him it wasn’t necessary – he kept his eye on everything anyway.
Image of We Live In Worrying Times by Quentin Blake

One of Blake’s most unusual commissions was by a residential unit caring for young people with eating disorders.
Featuring subjects like a woman feeding birds on a windowsill and someone tending their vegetable plot, the relaxed and imperfect images were based on discussions with people from the unit and were for people who “needed to be reminded of everyday life”.
Food is present, but not the main focus of the images.
Image of the illustration 'Ordinary Life' by Quentin Blake

The hardest commission Blake ever received was Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, about the death of his son Eddie from meningitis at age 18.
The first page has an illustration of Rosen’s open smiling face with the text “This is me being sad. Maybe you think I’m being happy in this picture. Really I’m sad but pretending I’m being happy.”
Normally Blake draws his pictures once or twice, but this drawing he redrew 14 times as he wanted to make sure he got it right.
Illustration of Michael Rosen looking happy and sad at the same time

Normally Blake takes twice daily trips to his office, based across the London square where he lives.
But finding himself in isolation, he picked up whatever pen or medium was to hand and started prolifically drawing.
An edited selection of the 3,000 works he produced from March 2020 to February 2021, some drawn in bed at 6am, ended up forming the book Quentin Blake: A Year of Drawings.

This autumn sees the opening of the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, the UK’s only gallery and education space dedicated to the art form.
The £8m redevelopment of the historic New River Head in Islington will become a home for Blake’s archive, consisting of 40,000 items and a changing permanent display.
For more information visit www.houseofillustration.org.uk.
All images copyright Quentin Blake.