Wednesday 13 August 2014

The House Of Illustration, by Pippa Goodhart

After twelve years of planning and fund-raising and touring exhibitions, the permanent House Of Illustration is now open in Granary Square just behind Kings Cross and St Pancras Stations, and it’s a joy. 

The House of Illustration’s job is to celebrate and preserve and encourage illustration of all kinds, but with Quentin Blake as its leading light, children’s picture books and children’s fiction are of course going to feature strongly.  That is especially true just now as the opening exhibition – ‘Inside Stories’ - is specifically showcasing Qunentin Blake’s archive of work, together with explanations as to how each illustrating project worked. 

It’s fascinating from a children’s author’s point of view.  We see Quentin Blake’s own picture book writing in draft form.  Here’s just one example, taken from The Dancing Frog –

“Tell me another story about our family,” said Harriet.

The name ‘Harriet’ has then been replaced with ‘Jo’.  Read that line out loud with the alternative names, and it’s clear that Jo is the one that sets the rhythm right for reading out loud.
We see the email that Michael Rosen sent to his publisher, proposing his very particular and personal Sad book:
'hi c
today I wrote this: I thought you might be interested?'
... and then, in the text of the email, there is more or less the whole final text just written down, apparently in one day, simple and almost casual, but utterly, devastatingly, true about how he feels about the death of his son.  It's a reminder that children respond, as anyone should, to honesty and truth.

On display are developing artwork for Boy In A Dress, Danny, Champion Of The World, The BFG, The Wild Washerwomen, Captain Najork And His Hired Sportsmen, and wonderful Clown, all looking that bit brighter and more textured than they do in print.  I love the early sketches and scribbly storyboards.  Wonderful to see how design of a spread can animate the story action as, for example, poor Clown is flung from a series of throwing-sequence images on the left page, swooping up towards a window in a tall building on the righthand side page.  That story sweeps forward with a momentum and drama that keeps us turning pages, and there’s not a word of text in sight.  Of course picture books are primarily about pictures, and there’s a message for us authors in one of the comments from Quentin Blake in which he wants to  ‘…celebrate the way a writer who knows how to write picture books can give the artist good opportunities.’  He's referring to John Yeoman.

This particular exhibition runs until November 2nd.  But see the House Of Illustration website for up to date information –

The House of Illustration is small, but its ambitions and potential are large.  Do go and enjoy it. 


Paeony Lewis said...

I'll definitely visit next time I'm in London (sadly not until September). Thanks so much, Pippa. I wouldn't have known about it if you hadn't blogged.

Pippa Goodhart said...

I suspect I'm going to get into the habit of popping in to see the latest exhibitions whenever I'm on one of my fairly rare trips to London. It's such a handy five minute walk from Kings Cross and St Pancras!

Jonathan Emmett said...

On my must-see list too (along with the wonderful book benches) next time I'm in London.

We went to see an exhibition of Blake's work at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge last year and, while the illustrations they had were wonderful, we were disappointed that there was only one small room of them. It's great to see that his work will be getting a proper airing in a permanent home.

Jane Clarke said...

On my list too, now, thanks, Pippa


Very exciting - can't wait to visit!!

Pippa Goodhart said...

Yes, I saw the Fitzwilliam one too, and what the House of Illustration has that that exhibition didn't is the development of illustrative and story ideas, and that's what's exciting. It's dynamic.

Jon Burgess Design said...

I must check that out if I'm down in town again anytime soonish. I love seeing how other artists work. I missed the show at the Fitzwill. Quentin Blake is a national treasure ;-)

From the photo is seems to be right next to the new St Martins building I notice. Changed a bit since the grotty old place on the Charing Cross road that I knew when I 'studied' there ;-)

Moira Butterfield said...

This looks great, Pippa. I'm going!