Quentin Blake’s illustrations are instantly recognisable. His interpretations of characters such as Roald Dahl’s The Twits, Matilda, and Danny the Champion of the World, and David Walliams’s The Boy In The Dress, not to mention the subjects of his own books, have made him one of the most famous children’s illustrators, with a career spanning six decades.
It’s fitting that National Museum Cardiff are currently honouring Blake with an exhibition about his creative process – because September 2016 marks a centenary since the birth here of Roald Dahl, with events taking place across the city in celebration.
As those of you who saw my Facebook Live post earlier today will know, Quentin Blake –Inside Stories opened this morning, with a celebration breakfast launch party which we were lucky enough to attend. It’s a touring exhibition, from House of Illustration, the UK agency for promoting and celebrating illustration, and will be in Cardiff until 20th November 2016.
Walking into the gallery, you are instantly hit by Blake’s fun and quirky illustrations, with life-size black and white sketches and colourful paintings adoring the walls.
Blake himself has chosen nine books he has illustrated to show his thinking process as an artist. Series of frames on the wall and glass display cabinets on the gallery floor bring to life different stages of his creative process, from first drafts and sketches, to final illustrations. Many of these have never been seen outside of Blake’s own studio.
A table at the back of the exhibition gives children the chance to draw their own Quentin Blake-inspired creation, with plenty of his most famous books on hand for reference. The pictures are then displayed on a wall painted with birds, so it looks as if the birds of carrying the children’s art work. My children loved becoming part of the exhibition themselves.
There’s a video installation which shows the artist at work. My eldest two children, Little Miss E, 6 ½, and Little Man O, my 4 ¾ year old son, loved seeing footage of Blake drawing and then painting The Twits, one of their favourite Dahl books. Toddler Boy I’s interest seemed to wane after about 20 minutes – but the eldest two found it fascinating.
With the exhibition opening just in time for the school summer holidays, there’s a full programme of free events for family. Highlights family workshops on Tuesday 26th-Thursday 28th July and Tuesday 2nd-Thursday 4th August at 11am, 1pm and 3pm; and The Imagination of Roald Dahl storytelling workshops for families (Tuesday 23rd-Thursday 16th August, 11am, 1pm, 3pm). Places are limited for both workshops and must be booked at the information desk on arrival. More information on events here.
One downside is that you’re not allowed to take photos in the gallery. We were given permission for this review, plus some press photos. Although I understand the copyright issues, it’s a real shame for the youngsters attending – because how often do you get up close and personal to the original artwork from some of the nation’s favourite children’s books?
That aside, this exhibition is a must not just for children but for adults too, whose own childhood reading was defined by Quentin Blake’s wonderful characterisations. It’s such a privilege to see the original illustrations up close and to gain an insight into the mind of one of our country’s most famous illustrators.
Quentin Blake: Inside Stories is at National Museum Cardiff from Saturday 16th July until Sunday 20th November 2016. Admission to the museum is free but please note, the museum is not open on Mondays.
While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the exhibition Wriggle: The Wonderful World of Worms. You can read our review here. Not to mention the rest of the museum too. Read about our day out here.
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