• Making a Great Exhibition

Q&A with Rose Blake, illustrator of Making a Great Exhibition

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself

I love to swim—I try to go to the pool once a day. I read a lot, too. My favourite writers are Ali Smith, Deborah Levy, Annie Ernaux, Helen Garner, and Alice Munro. I found the lockdown incredibly challenging. I’ve just painted my staircase bright yellow. One of my favourite songs is “Feel the Need in Me” by the Detroit Emeralds. I sing alto in my local community choir. I like pasta and crisps. I go to bed really early. I have a small collection of toad-related things.

2. Do your parents work in the art field? Are they also artists?

My dad is an artist. He was heavily involved in the Pop art movement in London in the 1960s. He makes paintings, collages, sculptures, and drawings—he never stops!
My mum went to art school, too. She made beautiful still life paintings. She used to work for a studio called Shirtsleeves, making props for TV and commercials. She is still incredibly creative, especially in her exquisite knitting!

3. What sparked your interest in illustration? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and exciting career?

I think it was the cover of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole; it was a drawing of a Noddy toothbrush and toothpaste in a glass, next to a shaver and shaving brush. I just remember thinking it was really good and wanting to read the book because of the cover. I also loved the black-and-white spot illustrations by Nick Sharratt in Jaqueline Wilson’s books.

I did the art foundation course at Kingston and then was fed on to the illustration degree there. Then I studied communication art and design at the Royal College of Art in London for two years.

4. How did you wind up working on this wonderful new book?

Doro got in contact with me, saying that she’d seen the illustrations I’d made for A History of Pictures and that she had been wanting to publish a book for children with David Zwirner Books. I’ve always loved the shows at David Zwirner London, so I was really excited to work with them. When I went to meet Doro, we instantly got on really well, so I knew the project would be good and that there would be a lot of creative freedom.

5. How closely did you and the author, Doro Globus work together in creating the illustrations?

Doro gave me a lot of trust and freedom in creating the illustrations. We storyboarded the book together, and then she just let me get on with it, which is my favourite way of working. I was also really excited to be able to work with the book design team, A Practise for Everyday Life, who I have admired for years.

6. Have you illustrated other books?

Yes. I’m just about to start work on my thirteenth! I suppose the book I’m most known for is A History of Pictures for Children, which was written by David Hockney and Martin Gayford, and published by Thames and Hudson. The next book I illustrated in the series, A History of Music for Children, is publishing this autumn, too.

7. Who or what has been a major influence on your illustrating style?

Bruno Munari, Sister Corita, Ellsworth Kelly, Lech Majewski, Pierre Le-Tan, Anatol Kovarsky, Nathalie du Pasquier, George Hardie, David Hockney, Milton Glaser, Ali Smith, Wendy Cope, Barney Bubbles, John James Audubon, Peter Mcdonald… the list goes on!

8. What are some of your favorite places to see art (indoors and out)?

I’ve seen some good shows at Camden Art Centre over the last couple of years. I like going to the Serpentine Galleries, Whitechapel Gallery, Hayward Gallery. Also you can’t beat the National Gallery permanent collection. For smaller shows I like Campoli Presti, David Zwirner, Kate MacGarry.

9. If not an illustrator, what would you have been?

Probably a graphic designer :-)

10. What do you hope this book will achieve?

Even though I was brought up by two artists, I didn’t realise that I wanted to be an illustrator until I was in my late teens. When I was a child, I preferred roller blading, reading, and riding my bike! Now that I have a job in the arts, I feel very lucky that I had the privilege to pursue it. Some days I still can’t believe I get to draw pictures for a living. I really hope that this book inspires children to do the same, and helps them to realise that there are lots of important jobs within the arts. Art is such a huge part of life, and I hope this book helps children learn how fun it can be, too… and, most importantly, that they should never stop drawing!

11. Which children’s book most inspired you as a child or in recent years?

As a child I loved Lulu and the Chocolate Wedding by Posy Simmonds. As an adult I love the Frog and Toad collection by Arnold Lobel.

12. What are some of the projects you are working on now?

I’m just finishing a book project with my friend Maisie Paradise Shearring, who is also an illustrator. We have been working collaboratively on the illustrations, which has been a revelation! It’s about our cats, Bob and Bunk. I’m about to start work on book three of the A History of… series. It’s A History of Words, so it should be very satisfying to illustrate.