Exercise 1 – Part 1

A. Listen to Part 1 of the interview. What does he think is the most important thing for someone who wants to become an illustrator?

B. Now listen again. Complete sentences 1-5.

1   Quentin Blake describes himself as…

2   When he was in his early 20s, he…

3   In 1960, he and John Yeoman…

4   He finds it touching when…

5   A lot of young people say they want to become illustrators because…



To learn how to draw and do a lot of drawing.


1   …both an artist and an illustrator.

2   …he was finding his own way of drawing and he wanted to illustrate his own book.

3   …had their first book published.

4   …young people ask him for advice.

5   …of him


I = Interviewer, Q = Quentin Blake

Interview with an illustrator – Part 1

 Would you describe yourself as an illustrator or as an artist?

Q   I think those are two overlapping categories. I’m an artist and an illustrator, in the way that one might be an artist and a ceramic artist, or an artist and a sculptor, or something like that, so it’s a department of being an artist.

I   When did you decide to become an illustrator?

Q   I don’t think I ever quite decided to become an illustrator, I knew I wanted to draw, and I think I knew I wanted to draw situations. Um, I think it was– First of all, I knew that I could do pictures in magazines, and it was, I suppose when I was about 20-something, 23, 24, when I was finding my own way of drawing, I also wanted to get a book to myself, so that I could have the– not only do the drawings, but tell the whole story and design the book that in the way, in the way that I wanted to.

I   And when did you realize that it was going to work out for you as a career?

Q   Um, when I was 20-something, a bit older than that, when I’d left university and art school, I thought – I managed to get a book published in 1960, and written by John Yeoman, who’s a friend, and he didn’t know how to write a book and I didn’t know how to illustrate it, but we got it published. And I thought, “Well, I’ll, I’ll try, keep– I’ll try and keep on with this until I’m 30, and if it’s not working out, then I’ll go back to teaching.” Um, and I got to 30, but I passed 30 and I didn’t notice!

I   If a young person who was interested in becoming an illustrator, age 18, say, asked you for any advice you could give them, what would you say?

Q   They, they do ask me, actually, it’s very, it’s very, it’s very touching they still come and say– Some of them say, “I’m doing it because of you,” and but also they, they ask that question. Um, and it’s, it’s – I mean, I really don’t know the answer, but it must be something about drawing and doing a lot of drawing and a lot of different kinds of drawing, because then you become completely familiar with the activity, and in a sense, that’s the most important thing.

Part 2

A. Now listen to Part 2. Mark the sentences T (true) or F (false).

 Quentin Blake says that authors and illustrators usually need to have a lot of conversations.

 The most important thing is the relationship between the illustrator and the words in the book.

 Quentin Blake never drew any of Roald Dahl’s characters without first talking to him about them.

 He thinks conversations with Dahl helped him to get into the mood of the books.

 Roald Dahl sometimes changed his text if an illustration wasn’t working.

 The BFG was originally described as wearing a leather apron.

 It was decided that the apron made the BFG look too old.

 The shoes the BFG wears were based on a pair of Quentin Blake’s own shoes.

B. Listen again. Say why the F sentences are false.


1   F (He says that the illustrator may want to talk to the author.)

2   T

3   F (He drew what he thought the characters looked like and then he would talk to Roald Dahl about it.)

4   F (He got into the mood of the books on his own.)

5   T

6   T

7   F (It got in the way / It was problematic.)

8   F (They were based on a pair of Roald Dahl’s shoes.)


Interview with an illustrator – Part 2

 How important is the relationship between author and illustrator?

Q   Well, in some respects it has to be terribly important, I think! But it’s, it’s– um, the thing about it is initially it’s, um, collaboration very often isn’t what people think it is. You don’t spend a lot of time talking much, “Shall we do this? Shall we do that?” and I, I never want to do that. Essentially, the collaboration, the relationship, is with the text to begin with, with the book to begin with, and you have to read that first and you have to keep collaborating with– those, those are the messages from the writer, that is the thing that you’re dealing with. You may want to talk to the writer as well, but if, if the– if you can establish the relationship with, with the words, that’s the important thing.

 Are there any authors to whom you did talk a lot?

Q   With Roald Dahl, I think our view of things, in many respects, is very, very different, and I think we, we did talk a lot and we needed to talk. Um, but it was on the basis of what he’d written, initially, so that I would– the way of going about it, which we established after a while, was that I would draw some pictures of what I thought the characters looked like, and the moments that I thought would be useful to draw and interesting to draw, then I would go and talk to him about it, and he would say, “Could you do this and could you do this? We need to see more tortoises,” you know, or something like that! But um, uh we talked quite a lot, again, some of it was about the technicalities of the book, getting it to work better, I think. Um, but I think to get into the mood of the book, which is a terribly important thing, it’s something you have to do on your own, really, I think. The author can’t tell you that.

I   I can imagine that an author might ask an illustrator to redraw something. Does it ever work the other way round, that the illustrator asks the author to change things?

Q   Uh, it can do, yes. Actually Roald volunteered to alter things, I didn’t ask him to, I mean, in the case of The BFG, which we spent a long time working on, um, the BFG had a different costume to begin with. Uh, he had a long leather apron and long boots and that sort of thing. Of course, if you say an apron, when the character is introduced you say he was wearing an apron and you don’t talk about it after that probably. But I had to draw it in every wretched drawing– picture, that there is in the book! So he– after a bit he said, “This apron’s getting in the way, isn’t it?” because the chap has– you know, the giant has to run and it has to leap in the air, and so on and so on. So we went back and talked about what he would wear, uh, that would keep his character the same, but, um, and that– also what came out of that, we couldn’t decide what to put on his feet. And I went home, and a day or two later, arrived this strange brown paper parcel, which is– was one of Roald’s own Norwegian sandals, and of course, that’s– it solved the problem as far as what he wears is concerned, but in a funny way it also told you how near he was to his creation.

Part 3

A. Now listen to Part 3. What does Quentin Blake say about…?

 his relationship with the characters he creates in an illustration

 his attitude toward children

 drawing from life

 digital drawing

 the advantage of quills, nibs, and reed pens

 Ronald Searle and André François

 his exhibition in Paris

B. Listen again. Can you add any more details?



 He has to be able to identify with them.

 He identifies with them as he is drawing a character.

 He never draws from life.

 He drew on a screen in a TV studio about 40 years ago, but he no longer draws digitally.

 He likes the way they feel on the paper.

 They influenced him when he started drawing.

 André François came to the exhibition.


1   Some are more interesting than others. He has to imagine that he is them as he draws them.

2   He isn’t illustrating children’s books because he loves children and he doesn’t have children. He just identifies with them.

 He invents everything he draws.

 He wouldn’t mind drawing digitally.

 It helps him to feel the scratch the quills, nibs, and reed pens make.

 Ronald Searle influenced him a lot in the 50s. André François is probably the artist who had the biggest effect on Quentin Blake. He died a few years ago.

7   The gallery owner invited André François to the exhibition.


Interview with an illustrator – Part 3

I   Do you like all the characters you create in an illustration, or are some more interesting to you than others?

Q   You have a sympathetic feeling for all of them, I think, but of course some are more interesting than others, I think! Um, that’s not a question I’ve ever thought about, I don’t think. Um, yes, I think some are more interesting, but I think the, the essence of that question, though I’m not sure I’ve got this right, is that you have to be able to, whether they’re nice or not, or interesting or not, you have to be able to identify with them, um, so that you imagine, in some sense, as you’re drawing, that you are them, and that’s much more important than whether you’re interested in them or like them.

I   So you’re not thinking of the children who are going to be reading the books?

Q   What I’m interested in about children is children and about children in books, but I, I’m not illustrating children’s books because I love children or because I have children, which I don’t, or because– anything of that kind. What you have to do while you’re illustrating that book is to identify with them for that moment, in the same way that that’s how I know what they’re doing, because I just become them for a moment, you know. In the same way that you become the elderly grandparent or you become the dog, or, or whatever the characters are!

I   Do you draw from life?

Q   I never draw from life, no, I make it all up. Um, and, um, I think I’m fortunate in that respect, I, I can imagine people. I do a rough drawing first to see how, you know, where the gestures are or what the, what the activity is, how the figures relate to each other, what the expressions on their faces are, so I get a rough drawing and then I, I work from that. But, um, I’ve mostly just invented.

I   Do you ever draw digitally?

Q   Digitally, curiously enough, I was probably one of the first people who did it, did it, because I did, um, like 40 years ago, start– did drawing on a television screen. I mean, in a television studio, so that you could draw on the screen, but I haven’t gone on with it. Um, I mean, I wouldn’t mind doing it, the disadvantage to it from my point of view is that I like the feeling of the implement on the paper, so that it’s– you get– you know, if you have a quill or a nib or a reed pen, you get a different kind of scratch, but if you’re inventing what is happening, the reed pen is actually doing it. It’s, it’s not copying something, it’s actually creating it as you’re going along, so it’s the fact that you can feel it on the paper is enormously helpful.

 Is there an artist or an illustrator that inspired you?

Q   I mean I was very influenced by a lot of, of, uh, people who were drawing when I started drawing in the 50s, um, I mean, Ronald Searle, for instance, who was, was – who you couldn’t avoid being influenced by to a considerable extent, but the person that I think most had an effect on me was a French artist, a contemporary and friend of Searle, André François. When I was a young man I got his address and went to see him. And, um, then I suppose – he died a few years ago, he was nearly 90, but, um, just two or three years before that, I had an exhibition in Paris and it was rather wonderful because he turned up. I mean, I didn’t invite him, the gallery owner invited him, um, so it was nice that he hadn’t forgotten who I was, exactly.

Exercise 2

A. Listen to five people talking about illustrations and art. Match the people (La, Mar, Lo, Mau, or A) with the books they mention.

___ The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

___ Garfield, Jim Davis

___ A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett

___ The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

___ The Happy Prince and Other Stories, Oscar Wilde

B. Listen again. Match the people (La, Mar, Lo, Mau, or A) to the artwork they have at home.

___ it’s a collage of photos

___ it’s from a place its owner visited as a child

___ it has two predominant colors

___ it shows an activity that its owner also does

___ it wasn’t originally owned by them



Laura   Garfield, Jim Davis

Marcus   The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien

Louise   The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Maura   Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Ally   A Little Princess, Francis Hodgson Burnett

Sean   Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak


Louise   it’s a collage of photos

Ally   it’s from a place that its owner visited as a child

Marcus   it has two predominant colors

Laura   it shows an activity which its owner also does

Maura   It wasn’t originally owned by them


I = Interviewer, L = Laura, M = Marcus, Lo = Louise, Ma = Maura, A = Ally


 Is there a book that you particularly like because of the illustrations?

L   Garfield, I love Garfield. They have wonderful illustrations. With the, this stupid human, and the stupid dog, and the clever cat. I love it. That would be it.

I   Do you have a favorite painting or poster in your house?

 I have a painting I bought in, uh, Buenos Aires once with two tango dancers which I’m very fond of. I dance tango myself and it it has a meaning to me.

 Can you describe it?

L   Mmm, not very strong colors. It’s sort of black and white and she’s wearing a, uh, a red dress, which is also very classical tango-like and he’s in black clothes and they’re like, like from above, uh, you see her leaning back. It’s nice.


I   Is there a book that you particularly liked or like because of the illustrations?

M   Um, uh, it’s difficult, but, uh, I guess a book that I would enjoy the most because of the illustrations would be, uh, actually, uh, Tolkien’s, uh, Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He did a lot of original illustrations himself and they’re, they’re quite whimsical in their, in their design. I really enjoy that sort of originality.

I   Do you have a favorite painting or poster in your house?

M   Uh, I have a really nice picture from Canada, by a, uh, a, a local artist and it’s, um, it’s, it’s inspired by the traditional Canadian styles. But it’s, it’s a black and red painting, very, very, uh, striking, and, um, sort of a tribal style and I really, I really like that one. It’s very vibrant and at the same time simple.


I   Can you remember a book you read when you were a child where you liked the illustrations?

Lo   Um, probably The Little Prince, because the author illustrated the book himself and he’s got watercolor illustrations and they’re just, they’re so unique and timeless.

I   Do you have a favorite painting or poster in your house?

Lo   Um, I have a calendar that my friend made. So it’s got pictures of all of us, which is really nice.


I   Is there a book that you particularly liked because of the illustrations?

Ma   There’s probably two books that I can think of that I liked because of the illustrations. One is Alice in Wonderland, um, by Lewis Carroll which had all the very famous line drawings, uh, in the book of Alice going down, uh, into Wonderland, following the White Rabbit, and I guess I really liked those because they kind of show you the characters and they help you to kind of fix the images of, uh, the people within the book, so I really liked that one. And another one that I liked, and I don’t know if they were the original illustrations that come with the book, were Oscar Wilde’s Short Stories, and I always remember there was a picture of the Selfish Giant crying in the garden and I think I read that as a child so it must have really stuck with me that I can still see this image and again I think it was just a black and white line drawing.

I   Do you have a favorite painting or poster in your house? Can you describe it?

Ma   OK, I do have a fav– a favorite painting in my house at the moment. I actually got it for Christmas. And it was actually in my friend’s bedroom and I saw it and I said, “oh, that’s really nice,” and she said, “Oh OK well, you can have it for your Christmas present.” And I have it hanging up in my house at the moment. And it’s two birds, in a garden about to, uh, eat a plant. And, uh, it’s very, it’s very cute, it’s not realistic, and I just really like it, it’s kind of a tree and underneath it it says something like “We found love,” which is probably sentimental, but anyway, it was quite sweet and I really liked it and it’s in my house at the moment.


 Can you remember a book you read when you were a child where you liked the illustrations?

A   When I was younger I had this copy of A Little Princess which had really beautiful illustrations and I really loved it.

I   Do you have a favorite painting or poster in your house? Can you describe it?

A   At my parents’ house, in my room, I have this poster that I got when we went to Pompeii when I was in fifth grade. It’s a recreation of this, um, Roman, um, mural and so it’s this lady with flowers and it’s beautiful.

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