Picture Book Funny Man: The Art of Fred Blunt
Fred Blunt puts the funny into children’s books, with his humour making both children and adults laugh. There’s something nostalgic about his style; animated, playful and with a warm palette, his pictures and characters tell the story, making his books an all inclusive experience. Here he talks about his journey, starting out as a working illustrator, covering a broad range of markets, to the present, where he works solely on picture books, much to the delight of his readers… LM
FB: “Before I joined Bright I had been involved in all manner of projects, ranging from cute card ranges for Paperchase, packaging design for supermarkets, animation design for the BBC, editorial caricatures for magazines and papers, logo design, and basically any area of commercial illustration that would earn me some income.
Around ten years ago I did my first children’s book for Usborne publishing, which was a retelling of the Kenneth Graham classic The Reluctant Dragon. After this I got very regular work with Usborne doing more early readers and activity books.
Working on these books was a bit like an apprenticeship — with me scratching my head, until I could work out how to tackle a complex spread with lots of characters, slipping little visual jokes in to amuse myself – which has continued into my present work.
While I was working on the early readers, I started writing my own stories – often as comic strips. This gave me the desire to write my own picture books, which led to me seeking an agent who could push me forward with my own ideas / vision for what I wanted to achieve. Hello Bright!
When I was at college (in the 90’s) Macs and photoshop was really in it’s infancy, and I was pretty against working on computers back then – preferring printmaking, particularly silkscreen.
It was only in the early naughties when I was working for the BBC, designing characters and backgrounds for a series of animations, that I needed to start working on a computer, so that I could mail over the art, quickly. Before that, blokes on motorbikes had picked up my work for newspapers and magazines!
So I had to teach myself photoshop from scratch, which was interesting! Over the years I’ve created a way of working, which is a bit like producing silkscreens on screen (monitor screen) where most mark making / line work is scanned in and coloured digitally, rather than using the software pens / brushes.
For me this keeps a more natural, hand made feel – and keeps my lines and mark making my own. I think if you use a computer solely to create art – you are in danger of your work looking like everyone else’s, which is fine – but I think the best illustration has it’s own distinctive personality.
I’m inspired by everything, and nothing really. I’m sure that sounds silly, but what I’m trying to say, is that although I greatly admire many of my contemporaries, and heroes of illustration – I’m effectively always trying to find the real me in my work. That might sound a bit new age!
Having said that, my favourite illustrators are pretty constant – a mix of great children’s book illustrators, cartoonists, and animators: Quentin Blake, David McKee, Tomi Ungerer, Sempé, Ronald Searle, André François, Saul Steinberg, Abner Graboff, Sergio Aragonés, William Steig, Charles M Schultz, Chuck Jones, Ed Benedict and many more… mostly masters of humour and line, with very individual styles:
An incredible collection of inspirational illustrators… Did you know that William Steig created the Shrek we all know and love from the Dreamworks films?!
… Oh – and of course Jim Henson… The Muppets were the first things I ever drew, and I still love them!
TV and films certainly remain as influences – and often I write a line that sounds suspiciously Python-esque… these things don’t really leave you, they just linger in the grey folds.
I think the biggest motivation with my work, is trying to be funny – apart from the obvious motivations of trying to pay the mortgage and feed the kids!
Where some children’s books try to touch your heart with sentiment and beauty… mine attempt to pin you down and tickle a laugh out of you!
I try to write for children, rather than the adult reading the story to the child. I think kids like funny stuff, and I think humour is an underrated area of children’s publishing… in fact, to be genuinely funny in a picture book is very difficult.
I always think of my characters as little actors on the page – and it’s really the acting that tells the story and hopefully gets a laugh.
That B in GCSE drama wasn’t a waste of time after all!
A career in illustration:
The reality of a career in illustration is basically, get a flexible job to pay the bills until you can afford to give it up, when your illustration work takes off sufficiently.
I worked in a pub for nine years, starting after Uni, until I had enough regular illustration work to give it up.
But if you want it badly enough, and you work hard – you should be able to make it — assuming you can draw!
I also used to do a little tutoring on the local foundation art course, which was fun… funnily I know some of my old students as fellow illustrators now, which is nice.
Your picture books:
With each book I do, I try to find a new approach or look, which hopefully compliments the story.
I think it is good to keep trying to move your work forward, rather than get complacent with a winning formula… or maybe I just haven’t hit on my winning formula yet?!?
No, but I think if your drawing has a strong enough identity, then you can mix up approaches to colour etc, and still retain the personality of your work.
Fred’s self-penned Captain Falsebeard picture books, published by Puffin (top) and collaborations with Michelle Robinson The Forgetful Knight with Penguin USA, Will Mabbitt’s This is NOT series, published by Puffin.
If you’d like to work with Fred, you can reach him via his agent, Arabella Stein here.
If you’d like to know more about Fred…
A Look Behind The Book, with Funny Man Fred Blunt…
“Fred Blunt has a wicked sense of humour. For anyone who grew up in the late 70s or early 80s, you will totally recognise where Fred is coming from in terms of style, comic timing and artistic influence. In time with the release of his sequel to the much loved tale of Captain Falsebeard: Captain Falsebeard in a Wild Goose Chase, I asked Fred where it all began… LM” Continue reading…
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