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Influences: Honoré Daumier, Ronald Searle and Andrï François


Former students from the Royal College of Art and working methods
Quentin Blake Artist
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When I went to the college I still was… because I didn't know much about art schools, I just had a little bit of experience of Chelsea… but I suppose, from that and from… I mean from that inexperience and… and from received experience, I always assumed that… students were not successful, you know, artists were… were hungry and so on and so on. I mean, you know, you… you were sort of given that idea and this is why I… partly why I did a university education rather than starting off immediately to be some kind of an artist or illustrator. So, it took a little while to notice it but… what was nice about teaching at the… at the RCA was to see these people go off and get work and become names in the business and be successful, so to speak. I'm now totally confused about, you know, over 20 years, when anybody was there so I tend to refer to one student, ex-student, in… the presence of another and they have never met and don't know who I'm talking about. But… and they went off in all different directions. Dan Fern, who is… does a sort of… kind of illustration which is between that and fine art and graphics. It's a very interesting, sort of, almost abstract way of working. I mean, we worked together for a long time and he's both successful as a teacher and a professor at the RCA but also as… as a… as a designer and illustrator, and as a… now as a gallery artist as well. And… he was in that first year that I… where I… everybody… I knew everybody because I… I saw them in their entrance exams and so on. And… there...  there were other people in that year that I still know. Linda Kitson was in that year but she was the… she was the only woman amongst… ten blokes, I think… and… she went on to become… I mean she’s… you know, I… I've known her ever since, she's my best friend, as it were, but… and somebody I talk to about things all the time. It was… rather strange in a way that I mean she… they all went off to Wales one… in one summer I think… all that year. And they said, ‘Oh, we don't want any women but you can come, Linda’. And… she was so… so one woman with these ten men which was… which was an experience that sort of strangely repeated itself when she became commissioned by the… Imperial War Museum to go and draw in the Falklands. But I think she was one amongst about 3,000 soldiers there. And… I also… I mean I think I got on well with a lot of people but it was very… informal and I think we moved towards making it more informal. I don't think… I mean I don't think anybody nowadays calls their tutors mister and I think there was a little bit of it when I… when I arrived. But I mean it's… it’s very nice to go to a private view or an exhibition sometimes and see how all these… these people are getting on. I mean I… one person who was very interesting to me, Russell Mills, worked in a very precise and almost… and now in sometimes in… quite abstract way, very interested in music and installations and works a lot with Brian Eno and that kind of thing. And I'm always, I mean, we're always very pleased to see each other but… what is quite interesting is that there seems… we seem to have a great deal of affinity. It's hard to say why. I mean there was some kind of vein of humour in him… and also he's a terribly nice man. But he's one of these people who tends, pretends to be aggressive and difficult and rebellious and is a perfect gentleman actually, you know, kind of thing. But… but that was a sort of extreme point in which you… you can feel very much together with somebody and able to talk about things in a similar way, although their work is completely different. I mean there are some people whose work who… not like mine but worked in a similar area and Emma Chichester Clark was… was one. And some of them have gone on to be children's book illustrators. She didn't start off as that; she was a great book jacket artist for some years. But it’s… sometimes it's hard to remember what you did or what you talked about but I mean, I… I can remember… surprises me Emma saying to me much later on, ‘You told me I had to do roughs’. And… and that was really part of it. I mean, [sic] is there something that you have to explain to students because they're so taken up with the nature of the piece of work they've got in front of them, they tend to work terribly hard at one image. Whereas, in fact, if you're working in a book or any… any kind of sequence of pictures, it's the sequence that matters and so you have to organise that sequence and you can't really do a book without doing… working out what the… how it's going to flow through and how it's going to work and what the pictures are going to look like in relation to each other. It's… it’s often very hard for… someone who's not used to doing that to… get hold of the idea that sometimes, you know, not the maximum effort is better than the maximum effort, you know, I mean you can... you know, occasionally you can just sort of throw things away or you can make the rhythm of the thing work. And also, I think, I mean I… feel very sympathetic towards the student doing that because, even now, you know, sometimes when you… when you start off a book… perhaps they don't know how to do it because they're not very familiar with their own talent and way of working. But I mean I still feel like that sometimes, I mean, because every book has a kind of… no two books are the same, there's always a kind of slight change or a major change and until you… sometimes you… you just feel you can't… you can't cope with that… until you find your way through. You… you do a drawing or a bit of a drawing and… oh yes, perhaps I could do it like that, maybe that would work. And so… I very much sympathise with them in that situation; how do you deal with a book? Because I still sometimes now wonder, you know, should I have taken this on and I'm not quite sure. I'll see how I'm going to do it. Until you actually work out how it can be done.

Quentin Blake, well loved British writer and illustrator, is perhaps best known for bringing Roald Dahl's characters to life with his vibrant illustrations, and for becoming the first ever UK Children's Laureate. He has also written and illustrated his own books including Mr Magnolia which won the Kate Greenaway Medal.

Listeners: Ghislaine Kenyon

Ghislaine Kenyon is a freelance arts education consultant. She previously worked in gallery education including as Head of Learning at the Joint Education Department at Somerset House and Deputy Head of Education at the National Gallery’s Education Department. As well as directing the programme for schools there, she curated exhibitions such as the highly successful Tell Me a Picture with Quentin Blake, with whom she also co-curated an exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris in 2005. At the National Gallery she was responsible for many initiatives such as Take Art, a programme working with 14 London hospitals, and the national Take One Picture scheme with primary schools. She has also put on several series of exhibition-related concerts. Ghislaine writes, broadcasts and lectures on the arts, arts education and the movement for arts in health. She is also a Board Member of the Museum of Illustration, the Handel House Museum and the Britten-Pears Foundation.

Tags: Chelsea, the Royal College of Art, Wales, Imperial War Museum, Falkland Islands, Dan Fern, Linda Kitson, Brian Eno, Russell Mills, Emma Chichester Clark

Duration: 7 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008