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100 years of Roald Dahl – Sir Quentin Blake (Hon 2006)

7 April 2016
© Quentin Blake 1997
© Quentin Blake 1997
© Quentin Blake 1997

Sir Quentin Blake, illustrator of Roald Dahl books, reveals how he brought the works of the great storyteller to life.

There are one or two things to say about illustrating Roald Dahl: you start with reading. You have to bathe yourself, to soak yourself in the text.

It actually guides you through what you have to do. When trying to capture the evil nature of the crocodile in The Enormous Crocodile, I did a lot of experimental drawings. However, I realised that this was someone you loved to hate – he reminded me of the crocodile in Punch and Judy shows. So his teeth are nothing like crocodile’s real teeth. They are teeth for eating children with.

Equally, I think the moments you choose to illustrate vary. With a short text, like Esio Trot, you are showing practically everything that happens.

One of the great things of working with Roald was that he wanted you to show it happening. However, with longer texts it is a question of picking the right moments.

In Matilda, Bruce Bogtrotter eats a piece of chocolate cake when he is not supposed to. He undergoes the punishment of having to eat a whole chocolate cake in front of the whole school, and of course he is supposed to conk out half way through. But the little blighter finishes it, and that awful head teacher, the Trunchbull, lifts the plate and crashes it over his head (although by then he is anaesthetized with chocolate cake, he is beyond pain really).

I thought, you have to hold back – that wonderful end belongs to the author. It is Roald’s end of chapter, and so I got as close as I could to it. That way, if you were just leafing through the book, that would raise your expectations. But it wouldn’t tell you everything.