Quentin Blake's Golden Rules for Illustrators

Quentin Blake's Golden Rules for Illustrators

When advice comes from a master, the best that anyone can do is to listen. And listen well!! So, when one of the world’s best recognised and most well-loved illustrators, Quentin Blake, lists out the rules for illustrators, it is time for them to give heed.

Quentin Blake was known to work in close collaboration with the authors to bring their vision to life with his iconic illustrations. He used a wide range of artistic techniques, including pastels, inks and watercolors, depending on the mood of the narrative and the feel of its characters. His trademark sketches are unique and instantly recognised by young readers across the globe. Some of his most popular illustrations are for the books Matilda, Charlie and the chocolate factory, The Boy in the dress. Although he is most famous for his teamwork with Roald Dahl, he has worked with a host of other popular writers – David Walliams, Michael Rosen, John Yeoman and Russell Hoban.

Here is what Quentin Blake has to say about the art of illustration:


Everybody can draw something. Some people are embarrassed because they think they’re not very skilful, but what I say to them is: “Draw what you can see in front of you”. Everyone brings their own perspective to their drawing. It may not be what you thought you’d get, to begin with, but that degree of concentration is very good for the system. I’ve been doing it for 75 years and it’s continuously interesting.


If you’re creating the character yourself, keep thinking about that character and the situation you’ve invented. The illustration will start to take on the character and you sort of meet them by drawing them.


A good illustration is one that both complements and contrasts with the text. The author is the main character, though; as an illustrator, you have to play up to them. I had to do a lot of that with Roald Dahl’s books. There’s a point in Matilda where Trunchbull is so cross that she picks up a plate and smashes it over Bruce Bogtrotter’s head. I chose to draw the moment when she lifted up the plate, not the bit where she hits him with it, because that’s the writer’s moment. Your job is to work around that. 


…But do always appreciate its significance. This is an important aspect of good illustration and one of the most difficult things. You need to make the book look interesting and give a feeling of its atmosphere and flavour. You need to stimulate the reader’s appetite but without satisfying it.


I’m influenced by the landscape in France, where I live. I normally leave out backgrounds if I don’t need them, but in that book (Cockatoos) each spread is set in a different room of the house. I enjoyed drawing in all the French detail.


I didn’t know Roald Dahl very well for the first book or two. Somebody said he was a formidable personality but we established a very good collaboration: we talked about drawings and I was ready to change things. I’m not fussy like that – it’s part of the job, after all – but we wanted the drawings to do part of the work. We were very different, but a lot of the humour was the same.


You have to adapt yourself to a new book each time and the contrast is interesting. For example, The Twits is a very stringent caricature book, while Danny, the Champion of the World is almost lyrical.

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