“I draw because it makes me feel better”: Quentin Blake on the importance of pictures

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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When it comes to career aspirations, becoming an illustrator sits pretty high on our list of dream jobs. We can just imagine ourselves taking a seat in our minimalist home office, a mug of warm coffee in hand, ready to settle down to a blissful day of nothing but sketching and colouring in.

But what is the life of an illustrator really like, and how can you build on a passion for drawing to develop it into your dream job?

If there is anyone who knows the answer to these questions it is surely Quentin Blake, an artist whose illustrations, such as those of Roald Dahl characters, defined our childhood.

Below, the beloved illustrator lets us inside his world of "scratchy" drawings and tells why putting pen (or quill) to paper can be so therapeutic. 

On the beginning of his career

"When I was starting out, I did tons of life drawing. You've got to do lots of drawing: you simply can't manage without it.

Over time, I've gotten to know my work better. When I was younger I spent all day doing drawings and thinking 'that won't do' before starting again the next day. Now my self-critical side is sharper, so I know sooner if it's not going to work. I still find it hard to make up my mind sometimes, and if it's wrong I'll tear it up.

All my drawings are personally researched and I draw everyday, even if only in my mind. "

On his drawing process

"I like to draw silently on my own, with nothing on the TV or radio. If someone comes into the room they’ll say, 'you know you’re making the drawing faces...'

I don’t know that I revisit my old drawings in my new ones, but I think that I probably do. I don’t mean to draw people I know, but bits of them get in anyway: there’s a character in Esio Trot who looks a bit like my father. Friends, and bits of my friends, get in too.

I’ve even been drawn in myself – people say to me, 'those are your elbows'. I always want to be the character I'm drawing at the moment. That's what it's all about.

I like the scratchiness of drawing so I haven't tried doing it on an iPad yet. I often draw with a primitive implement, like a quill, and then it's digitally enlarged. The combination of the two is fascinating. 

I never get drawer's block: that's just for writers."

On the importance of pictures

"When we're born we have two languages: visual and literary. A child needs to learn how to speak and write, but then the visual side generally gets neglected. Children read pictures better than adults who have unlearned how to read them. But pictures can bypass language and speak to you emotionally in a way that does not have to be defined.

I've drawn lots of pictures for hospitals over the past years and I've discovered how much they can speak directly to people. I've seen examples of people who have been profoundly depressed, but a drawing penetrates that and changes their view of things.

It can affect people that way. Sometimes I just draw because it makes me feel better."

Images: Rex Features/Getty