Top Ten Children’s Illustrators

 Last week’s Top Ten Tuesday felt like a bit of a moan-athon so this week I decided to reach for a happy topic and so I came up with children’s illustrators.  There have been so many, many picture books that I have adored over years – a big reason why I am so excited that some of my friends have started having babies as this now gives me a legitimate excuse to buy them books.  I’ve tried to think not so much about individual books but rather about illustrators whose drawing style I admire – there are so many gifted artists in the world but it takes a very special person to be able to tell a story without using any words at all.

Raymond Briggs

Most people fell in love with Briggs’ work because of The Snowman but for me it was Father Christmas and then later The Man.  Briggs has an ability to conjure up the domestic and blend it with the everyday – his own blend of magical realism.  The Snowman can chill himself nicely by the refrigerator, Father Christmas enjoys his whiskey, the Man stumps about demands food.  I like his use of colours and the way that he still manages to stir in that shade of melancholy that really help his stories to linger in the mind.

Shirley Hughes

I once overheard a very dear and very bookish friend of the family dismiss Shirley Hughes as someone who constantly draws chubby-cheeked children and I felt almost personally insulted.  I have adored Shirley Hughes’ work since very early childhood reading the adventures of Lucy and Tom and Alfie and Annie Rose.  She gives her children such personality and humour and captures so much life in her drawings – these are not sickly-sweet cherubs but rather children busy about their lives.  Her drawings celebrate how a trip to the park can be an adventure, a rainy day an excitement and all of life’s everyday dramas.

Philippe Dupasquier

The House on the Hill was the one that clinches this one for me but I have also enjoyed his illustrations of some of Anne Fine’s work.  In some respects, his style reminds me of Nick Sharratt – but I do find Nick Sharratt’s cartoonish style rather over-rated and with Dupasuier, you could imagine stepping into the picture.  In fairness to Sharratt, he did keep me reading Jacqueline Wilson long after I had started to suspect just how shallow her stories were.  But Philippe Dupasuqier is in my view a distinct step up.

Jan Pienkowski

Jan Pienkowski is an amazing man – not only is he the fabulous brain behind Meg and Mog and several fairly frightening pop-up books, but he is also responsible for some of the most beautiful silhouette illustrations that I have ever seen.  The silhouetted form has become increasingly popular for cover-art but Pienkowski’s A Necklace of Raindrops and his spell-binding rendering of the Christmas story reveal him as one of the greatest illustrators of all time.

David McKee

I used my Elmer the Elephant key-ring for nearly ten years until the hook wore through and it fell off.  I loved Elmer.  But I also loved Not Now, Bernard and several of McKee’s other books – his use of colour and shape are wonderful and his drawings convey so much emotion through apparently simple images.

Janet Ahlberg

When I discovered that this lady had passed on, I felt a real jolt of grief.  I had a huge stock of Janet and Allan Ahlberg authored books as a child and even though I never owned Peepo, it remains one of my favourite childhood books.  Her drawings are so lively and incredibly detailed – from The Jolly Postman to the Happy Families series to Burglar Bill to Peepo and Each Peach Pear Plum – she is in my view the Jane Austen of illustrators, her images are fantastic yet it is easy to miss their greatness.  It is always worth looking twice at a Janet Ahlberg image, she usually sneaks in something for the eagle-eyed reader.  Still, what I love most about Ahlberg’s drawings is the warmth – her daughter now illustrates with Allan Ahlberg and there is a real feeling of a family business about the books.

Ali Mitgutsch

 

This one is a German illustrator, I was given one of his books when I was really tiny and I have gone back to it time and time again.  There are no words but there are so very many stories in his pictures – always so much happening and so much energy in whatever is going on.  Even now I still enjoy looking at Hier in den Bergen and imagining the scenes – he really draws you in.

Lauren Child

I have actually never read Charlie and Lola although I am aware that this is what Lauren Child is most famous for.  I do love the illustrations which she has provided for other books though and not just her pictures but what she does with text.  I had a copy of Pippi Longstocking which was sadly stolen from me last year but which was of great success in my previous incarnation as a primary school teacher – my seven year-olds used to have a rota over who was allowed to read it.  Strangely, we had another non-illustrated copy which lingered on the shelf unread.  It was Child’s drawings, which added a whole extra layer of high-spirits and verve to the story and this is what I have noticed in everything else I have seen of hers.  Child’s drawings always raise the story up a gear.

Arthur Rackham

This feels like sacrilege but I have always preferred Arthur Rackham’s illustrations of Alice in Wonderland over Tenniel’s.  Somehow or other I feel like he captures more of the sense of foreboding and dread that makes Wonderland such a frightening place.  Tenniel’s version are more cartoonish – they almost feel more posed.  With Rackham, you get the impression of the chaos going on in the story.  His illustrations have an ethereal and almost ghostly feel – very appropriate given so many of them feature the supernatural!
Quentin Blake

Ah Mr Blake – I think perhaps you are my favourite of all.  My Christmas cards this year were designed by you.  I have several of your drawings on my wall.  Quentin Blake had a long-running and highly effective partnership with Roald Dahl but he has had so much success outside of that – Our Village, Mr Magnolia, his collaborations with Joan Aiken, Michael Rosen etc, etc.  He uses colour exceptionally well and is able to convey so much of the characters’ personalities in the way in which he draws them.  His illustrations always seem as if they might just start moving – there is often so much fun and I just want to join in but he can also generate enormous pathos such as when he illustrated Michael Rosen’s Sad Book.  Basically, he’s amazing.
Edward Ardizzone

Having been familiar with the adventures of Little Tim and of course Ardizzone’s work with Stig of the Dump as well as several of Philippa Pearce’s books, I was surprised to discover while writing this list that Ardizzone was also an official War Artist during World War II.  His work is magnificent; he never over-dramatises but yet captures the atmosphere of a scene perfectly.  This is a man who can breathe life into a caveman, can conjure up a storm at sea but who can also the depict the darkest scenes of war.  Incredible.
E H Shephard

 

I almost forgot this one but really – how could I?  He illustrated Winnie the Pooh, The Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden and oh so many more.  There is such a delicacy and a gentleness to his illustrations, something about them just conjures up a world of lovely picnics and sunny afternoons.  Other artists would have made the anthropomorphised animals seem twee but from Shephard they just seem real. The Disney-ified versions have their place but there is such actual beauty to E H Shephard’s work.  I’m a very long-term fan.

So – these are the ones who have stuck in my mind, does anybody have any others which I have forgotten?

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9 thoughts on “Top Ten Children’s Illustrators

  1. You have some great artists here. You should read Ernest Shepard's memoir, Drawn from Memory — it's enchanting and beautifully illustrated. Another illustrator I loved was Trina Schart Hyman, with her gorgeous fairy tale pictures.

  2. Another brilliant list – I wouldn't argue with most of them, and the two I would is because I don't particularly like them much!

    I was never keen on Ardizonne or Blake, even as a child, their 'scratchy' style never appealed to me.

    Briggs, Hughes and Shephard are probably the top three in my view; though I would add two more you haven't mentioned in your list – Maurice Sendak, especially for Where The Wild Things Are, and Arthur Ransome. I know I am biased (as I'm sure you have guessed!) but he captured his own text perfectly, if you look up on-line other drawings done for Ransome's books you will see why.

    Now, one of your list has changed my view – Arthur Rackham. Most of his work that I've seen I haven't like much, but I'd never seen the Alice drawing before and is better than Tenniel's (not that I like his much either!)

    I agree with Lory's comment about Shephard and his memoir.

    Well done!

  3. Glad that the list gave you something to think about! I agree a large part of this one is due to personal preference – I do rather love Quentin Blake. In interviews he always seems like a very nice man too. I did consider Maurice Sendak very seriously but I don't know, Where The Wild Things Are was never one of my favourite books as a child. I was more for bears than monsters. Again, personal taste.

    I can see I really am going to have to look out for Shephard's memoir!

    Thank you for commenting 🙂

  4. What a wonderful topic. And see the brilliant Shirley Hughes on the importance of illustration (quoted here in the Mail, but I've seen her say similar things elsewhere: "you’re never too old for pictures. It’s not taught in school but looking is a skill. If you can learn to savour pictures, and see things going on in them that aren’t in the text… I think it’s ridiculous to have pictures removed just because you’ve learned to read".

    Have to disagree with Mike on the fabulous Edward Ardizzone… my older two sons (now 11 and 13) regard the Little Tim books as amongst the formative books of their childhood, and our family favourite is the wonderful "Sarah and Simon and No Red Paint", recently (happily) reprinted.

    Other candidates who would certainly be on my list: John Burningham, Benedict Blathwayt. And on my boys', if not mine? Richard Scarry, for sure – they may be annoying to the adult reader, especially on the 40th repetition, but there is so much going on in the fast and furious pictures that little people can't get enough of them. Just ask my 2-year-old.

  5. This is fascinating, because it's such a British list that I don't even recognize half of the titles. I love E.H. Shephard, of course, and Arthur Rackham. As a kid, I would automatically pick up anything illustrated by Garth Williams–Little House books, Cricket in Times Square, Charlotte's Web…he had all the good ones. Allen Say is a more contemporary illustrator whose work I love. Also Jan Brett, Robert McCloskey, Virginia Lee Burton. Okay, I'll stop now. Apparantly I need to make my own post!

  6. Oh I'm sorry – I only just spotted this! I hadn't heard that about Shirley Hughes but that's so true! Children really aren't good these days at looking beyond the literal. I loved Edward Ardizzone too (hence why I picked him) but it's good to find another Little Tim fan.
    I remember Richard Scarry with great affection – there is so much energy in his work – but I agree that there isn't the same beauty here that there is in so many of the others here. I think that Ali Mitgusch's work is similarly busy – definitely worth looking out for! Thank you for the comment! 🙂

  7. Thank you for commenting – glad to hear from another enthusiast! Thank you for mentioning Garth Williams – I had forgotten about him but you're right, the Little House books and Charlotte's Web were beautifully illustrated. I'm not familiar with the others on your list but they will definitely be worth looking out for. Let me know if you do come up with your own list 🙂 Hope you have a lovely week!

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