Quentin Blake’s unique visual language—those swift, scratchy lines and ink blots that magically capture personality in just a few strokes —will forever be associated with Roald Dahl’s stories and characters. When we think of Dahl’s Matilda, we inevitably think of Blake’s illustration of a long-haired little girl perched atop a pile of books; we see her directly through Blake’s eyes and imagination.
This warm and intimate study of Blake’s work looks well beyond his most famous commissions (not just Dahl, but illustrations for Joan Aiken, Dr Seuss and, most recently, a new edition of Beatrix Potter) to explore all of his work in depth, and it’s coloured throughout by the author’s unashamed admiration.
Arts curator and former National Gallery deputy head of education Ghislaine Kenyon puts close engagement with Blake’s art at the heart of her project. We learn about his studio, his process, how a character forms in his head and on the page. The book is richly populated with Blake’s joyous illustrations, both published work and private sketches. Blake read English at Cambridge and worked as a schoolteacher before going full-time with illustration, and accompanying Kenyon’s account of this period is a marvellously snooty pencil sketch of FR Leavis, one of Blake’s Cambridge supervisors.
In her analysis, Kenyon emphasises Blake’s remarkable ability to dramatise a text through his illustrations, likening him to a theatre director bringing a script to life. Far more than a biography, this is a fascinating journey through Blake’s extraordinary work. Charlotte Runcie