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Painting (Part 1)

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Books for adults: working for the Folio Society (Part 2)
Quentin Blake Artist
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I'd done others before that… one I was most pleased with was that… was a book by Cyrano de Bergerac and I think most people only think of Cyrano in relation to that play by Rostand which gets made into films and operas and things of that kind. But… it… it… Cyrano himself wrote three books, or two and a half books, one… one about voyages to the moon, one about voyages to the sun and one about visiting the land of the birds. And… I'd read that in… in a French paperback and it's full of things… things to draw and I… I actually suggested that to… the Folio Society and… and I was very pleased that they… they took it on and they said… normally… I mean, there was… they had a tradition of… of having about ten pages of illustration in a book because it was really… they are intended as well produced reading copies, but, I said there were… I wanted to do it because there were a lot of drawings I wanted to do. And they said well, we will… we'll pay you, as it were, the maximum fee that we pay for a book but you can do as many drawings as you like. So in fact the drawings… the book has got about 100 drawings in and it… it probably treats Cyrano in a slightly, or very disrespectful way, but it's… but it's… it’s like… it’s like a precursor of Gulliver's Travels and so you get things, like, you know, there… there’s… whether it's the moon or the sun, I don't remember, they don't really exist, the moon or the sun; they are… they are countries that you go to, that he goes to by being fired off like a rocket and lands up there. And there are places where the people actually don't wear any clothes at all or they're a completely different scale to us, or where they think he's a monkey and put him with other monkeys in the hope that it will breed, and things like that. And it's full of… and… and he goes into the… he goes to the land of the birds where he's going to be tried for the crime of being a human being, of course therefore being beastly to birds most of the time. It's… it’s absolutely full of things to draw. So that was a… that was a… a treat for me and then I tried to say to them could I illustrate again, to… to do something rather different, to do a realistic, very… in a way a very realistic book, that Spanish book which is called Lazarillo de Tormes which is about the… the boy who is the servant to a tramp. And that was what it… it's quite a short book and I… I still think it might be interesting to do but they came back and said, ‘If we're going to do a Spanish book, we have to do the big Spanish book’. So I did do Don Quixote and I read all of Don Quixote for that. But again that's, to some extent, the problem of the images being spaced out between… in through a very long book. But it's… it’s a very interesting problem to treat it in two colours and to… find again those… those right significant moments. And of course in Don Quixote some of those moments choose themselves, you have to have tilting at windmills and you have to have, you know, one or two things like that. But… there are other moments which you can… which you can find for yourself, paced through the book. And… but of course it… it those… a 17th century book, or something like that is… is, in a sense, easier to illustrate because there isn't… what gets difficult later on is this, kind of, lot of contemporary writing or 20th century writing involves a kind of inward… monologue or personal monologue, or a lot of inward thoughts, which don't… which can’t… quite hard to relate to these images outside it. I was… I was very pleased to come… I… I don't [sic] find it again… but reading something of Henry James, the… the probably letters or something, I mean he did… he was on record as saying, ‘I do so hate to be illustrated’. Of course, when you see what happens to Henry James when it is illustrated, you can understand that that would be a… a point of view. There are… there are… you have to find ways of doing things. I don't know, I've never thought of illustrating Henry James but… I think it could 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: Folio Society, Gulliver's Travels, Lazarillo de Tormes, Don Quixote, 17th century, 20th century, Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand, Henry James

Duration: 4 minutes, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008