Page last updated at 15:17 GMT, Friday, 31 October 2008

Illustrator Blake's life on paper

By Alex Stanger
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Quentin Blake
Quentin Blake has been illustrating professionally since he was 16

Illustrator Quentin Blake works at a blink-and-you'll-miss-it rate. With a few sweeps of his pen he can knock up a character in under a minute.

Despite being made up of just a few lines and dots, his characters can convey all sorts of emotions.

It's no surprise then, that the accolades and demands for his work just keep on coming.

This week Blake, 75, received the prestigious JM Barrie lifetime achievement award for his work.

It is just one of the honours Blake has reaped during his long career, along with a CBE, the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration, and an honorary degree from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.

Blake's latest drawings can be seen in David Walliams first children's book The Boy in the Dress.

Blake admits he was "curious" to collaborate with the Little Britain star.

"I was also worried it would have loads of projectile vomiting," he says, "but I wanted to do it as soon as I read it.

"It's an unusual story about everything that happens in an everyday school - except with this fantasy dimension.

Roald [Dahl] would never tell me anything beforehand. It was his own creative process
Quentin Blake

"I had breakfast with David and I think we were on the same wavelength. It was very nice because he wanted me to do it and I got so involved in it that I did twice as many drawings as I was supposed to."

Blake's most famous and enduring partnership was with author Roald Dahl, collaborating on books like James and the Giant Peach, and The Witches.

The illustrator describes their first meeting - they were introduced by their publisher in 1975 - as an "arranged marriage".

"Initially I was rather apprehensive because he was a big chap and very famous, but fortunately it was a relationship that worked," he says.

"Because I had established myself as an illustrator, I had something to bring to it."

Their partnership lasted until Dahl's death in 1990 - 19 books later.

Roald Dahl
Blake enjoyed a long-standing collaboration with author Roald Dahl

"Roald would never tell me anything beforehand. It was his own creative process. All he would say is 'Oh you'll have some fun with this one', or he might say 'you'll have trouble with this one'.

"I used to do rough drawings of the moments which I thought the audience would want to see, so the first collaboration was with the story.

"Then I would go down to Gypsy House [Dahl's home] and we would talk about it - he'd give his comments then I'd get back and do the drawings.

"We didn't always see things the same way. We both liked things to happen so we had a great collaboration."

Illustration museum

But the Dahl books are just a section in Blake's extensive library of work. To date he has worked on 324 books.

His break into the industry came at 16 when one of his cartoons was printed in Punch.

Blake's work can also be seen on a building redevelopment at Kings Cross, in London
Blake's work can be seen on a building redevelopment at Kings Cross, London

"I can remember getting a letter from the art editor congratulating me on being the youngest contributor and I thought 'this is alright!'. I started drawing for print then."

During Blake's tenure as the Children's Laureate in 2002 he announced his plans for a House of Illustration - a museum honouring the art in books.

After years of fundraising he hopes the gallery will be up and running by 2011, at a site behind the British Library in London.

He is also the patron of the campaign for drawing which aims to encourage young artists.

"You start drawing straight away in some from or another before you can speak," says Blake.

"But then - and this is the thing that the campaign for drawing is particularly concerned about - you get to 11, 12 and you start to get inhibited because you are able to see art, drawings and photography by others.

"The thing is to start drawing but not to stop."

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