I’m sure I’m not the only one whose childhood bookshelves (and, um, present day ones for that matter) were absolutely stuffed with books published by Puffin. One of my best ever birthday presents was a box-set of Puffin Classics which I remember reading one after the other practically without stopping to eat or sleep; and I still recall the crushing disappointment of writing off to join the Puffin Club and discovering that it had stopped running in 1983 – coincidentally the year I was born.*
It’s probably no surprise, then, that my visit this week to Newcastle for the launch of a new exhibition celebrating 70 years of Puffin Books at the wonderful Seven Stories was something of a nostalgia trip. There’s Nuffin Like a Puffin isn’t merely an exhibition about books, but about old and wonderful friends – from The Children Who Lived in the Barn and The Borrowers through to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Worst Witch and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
I could happily have spent hours walking around, following the frieze of friendly and familiar Puffin book spines around the gallery, looking at all the fascinating material on display. Much of this comes from the Kaye Webb archive – Webb of course being the hugely influential chief editor of Puffin Books from 1961 to 1979, who was the first to publish authors and illustrators including Roald Dahl and Raymond Briggs. This archival material includes everything from editions of the Puffin Post newsletter through to annotated manuscripts, original illustrations, authors’ notes and personal correspondence right down to a little card from Tove Jansson to apologise for the delay in finishing her latest Moomin book, complete with a tiny drawing of Little My.
Judging by the big, beaming grins at all the other faces at the exhibition launch, I wasn’t the only one enjoying myself – and I don’t think it was just the pink cakes and ginger beer served at lunch that had everyone feeling so jolly. As Kate Edwards, Chief Executive of Seven Stories, aptly pointed out: “Anyone growing up in Britain will, at some time or another, have read, enjoyed or even fallen in love with a Puffin Book.” Perhaps for this reason, There’s Nuffin Like a Puffin feels like an incredibly personal exhibition, engaging everyone in a different way – for me it was the original black and white illustrations from Ballet Shoes (Pauline and Petrova in their white organdie dresses) that were especially moving, whilst for others it might well be Worzel Gummidge, or Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat.
However, as well as being a a wonderful and nostalgic experience for adults, this is also a hugely fun exhibition for children to enjoy – well, not even just for children really, but for all those who are up for doing things like watching sweet animations (see above), dressing up as a Puffin, crawling inside Stig of the Dump‘s cave, making magic spells in Meg and Mog‘s magical cauldron, or playing Mr Big‘s piano- and if you stand very, very still, you might even spot a Borrower or two!
Conclusions? Highly recommended – there truly is Nuffin Like a Puffin. What’s more, if you should go to see it, there’s also a lovely Lauren Child exhibition showing in the other gallery, as well as some of my favourite Brian Wildsmith in the Book Den. Hurrah for children’s books! Now hand me my ginger beer…
* Fortunately the Famous Five Club was still in operation, but that, as they say, is another story…
I came upon Sandra Dieckmann
‘s beautiful artwork recently via the excellent Culture Vulture
website. She recently designed them a new banner, and you can read their interview with her here
Sandra is a London-based illustrator, whose work deftly blends drawing, collage and photographic elements, which come together in quirky scenes often featuring slightly surreal animal characters. I especially love how she combines her colourful artwork with text and storytelling elements, which give her lively illustrations an extra dimension – Sandra herself says “my head is full of stories and creatures and conversations. I can’t be any other way.” It’s no surprise then that she’s also the creator of illustrated children’s stories, including her book ‘The Bumble Bear and the Grizzly Bee‘ (see above) which you can read more about on Pikaland here.
Sandra is also the originator of some lovely collaborative online illustration projects. Haus Stories invites artists and illustrators to make a contribution to an ever-expanding house in a kind of ongoing illustrator’s game of Jenga:
Meanwhile, If I Was You is described as “an illustrated story that connects in a linear way and at the same time manages to bring together different ways of working.” Beginning with Sandra herself, a series of artists take it in turns to respond to the previous persons work, by responding to the prompt ‘If I was you…’
Visit Sandra’s website to find out more about her work and projects here.
I’m interrupting my own self-imposed blog hiatus because I can’t resist the opportunity to write a little something about the exhibition I saw this week – Brian Wildsmith: Master of Colour.
I’ve been a huge fan of Brian Wildsmith‘s illustrations for years, so I was excited to see that the Illustration Cupboard, a tiny (in fact, cupboard-sized) gallery, just off Piccadilly, which specialises in children’s book illustrations, was hosting a special exhibition as part of the Wildsmith at 80 celebrations organised by Oxford University Press.
Interestingly, Wildsmith’s work isn’t hugely well-known in the UK (although he is very popular in Japan, where a whole museum is dedicated to his work) although he has certainly been an important influence on other illustrators and writers, from Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne through to younger illustrators like Catherine Rayner. I especially love this quote from Michael Rosen about his childhood memories of Wildsmith’s work “My childhood was full of books, but just as the Sixties burst into life, there seemed to be something similar happening in children’s books. Floors of colour exploding across the pages with a name to match: Wildsmith. He was a wild smith. I remember feeling really envious: why hadn’t I had books as lush and wild as these?”
“Lush and wild” sums it up perfectly, as I found when I went along to the private view on Tuesday night… Although the space was so crammed full of people that getting a really good look at any of the works was more or less impossible, this is an absolutely entrancing little exhibition, exploding with vivid colour. For me, some of Wildsmith’s older works, including these animal and bird illustrations, were an especial highlight:
Wildsmith himself was at the private view, as well as another one of my all-time favourite illustrators, Shirley Hughes (wearing an amazing green hat) and I have to admit to spending most of the evening staring at them in what I can only describe as a stalker-ish fashion.
All of the works in the exhibition are for sale; although sadly even the prints are far out of my price range, I did treat myself to a signed copy of one of my childhood favourites, newly reissued by Oxford University Press to celebrate Wildsmith’s 80th year – Animal Gallery.
There’s a nice piece about Wildsmith and his work in the Independent here.
I’ve been out of action all week with horrible sinusitis. I’ve missed out on lots of fun stuff I had planned; however, at least being at home, under my trusty blanket, has given me plenty of time for reading (so far, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt and Home by Julie Myerson, all excellent) and aimless web browsing.
I’m currently being cheered by the What I Wore Today flickr group started by the illustrator Gemma Correll as an alternative for camera-shy artists and illustrators to all those fashion-themed groups where people take photos of themselves posing around in fancy outfits.
Kate Bingaman-Burt is an artist and graphic designer based in Portland, Oregon, where she is an Assistant Professor at Portland State University. She makes work loosely themed around the idea of personal consumerism.
Her blog What Did You Buy Today? explores her love/hate relationship with shopping: each day, she records an item she has purchased, be it mouthwash or french fries, in a distinctively quirky black and white line drawing. She even draws her credit card statements, tickets and receipts, documenting the whole process of consumption.
To find out more about Kate’s work, visit Obsessive Consumption, or read a q & a on my love for you is a stampede of horses.