28th July 2011

Robert Ingpen and the Children's Classics series

Robert Ingpen considers himself an illustrator rather than an artist, although his illustrations are meticulously painted. He uses pictures to enhance stories, to promote a desire to explore the texts, and in particular to encourage young readers to find relevance in words written often more than 100 years ago. Robert rejoices in the opportunity given by modern technology to illustrate and reproduce his highly detailed pictures, in which discoveries about the book are to be made in every part of the image. No word of text is altered, and the challenge for Robert is to visually interpret the text of great classic children's stories to draw in modern readers.

An ability to step out of himself and into the mind of the author is one of the main abilities that have made Robert so successful. He reads and rereads the books he is to illustrate and gains an intimate knowledge of the writers. After illustrating 'A Christmas Carol' he formed a strong affection for Charles Dickens, and regular pretended conversations with him still occur in Robert's imagination. He loves Dickens for his curiosity and caring, and is keen to work on a new book about the literary children created by Dickens to celebrate the great writers two hundredth birthday soon.

Kenneth Grahame is another kindred spirit, a writer of beautiful imaginative prose and a man who shares Robert's passion for the environment. 'The Wind in the Willows' reflects a belief in the care for our surroundings which has a resonance in the 21st century.

About ten years ago Robert was commissioned by Colin Webb of Palazzo Editions, Bath to illustrate for the Great Ormond Street Hospital a centenary edition of 'Peter Pan and Wendy'. This was a success and became the first of a series of ten (to date) illustrated children's classics that aims to make great stories accessible and relevant today. 'Peter Pan' has been followed by Robert L. Stevenson's 'Treasure Island', Kipling's 'The Jungle Book', Grahame's 'The Wind in the Willows', Dickens's 'A Christmas Carol', Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland', Twain's 'Tom Sawyer', Frances Burnett's 'The Secret Garden', Frank Baum's 'The Wizard of Oz', and Jules Verne's 'Around the World in Eighty Days.' Also published, but in a different format has been 'The Night Before Christmas'(2010) and in preparation is 'Edward Lear's Book of Nonsense' in time for Lear's 200th birthday soon.

Each book is carefully prepared initially in 'flat plan' or 'story board' where each page is layed out in small scale to position text and illustration. This assists the initial marketing of the book, as well as aiding costing and establishing continuity of reading. There are as many as a hundred illustrations to each book. All are drawn at slightly larger than printing size, and are drawn in pencil, then 'coloured in' with watercolour in his studio at home in Victoria, Australia.

Robert's career began as an illustrator of scientific research for the CSIRO, Australia. This offered a wonderful opportunity to develop drawing abilities, using pictures to tell stories. Scientific innovations were later explained with the help of legends and folktales, in his work for UN with fisheries scientists to Mexico and Peru. This ultimately led him to his best known fable for children and imaginative adults, 'The Voyage of The Poppykettle' in 1980. Since then he has been involved - as a writer or illustrator or both- with more than 130 published books.

He has also designed tapestries, painted murals, prepared bronze sculpture, designed postage stamps, pioneer settlements, environmental promotions, even a flag for the Northern Territory of Australia. He is the only Australian to win the Hans Christian Andersen Medal (1986) for his contribution to illustration of children's literature. And in 2007 was made a Member of the Order of Australia.' He and Angela who recently celebrated fifty years of marriage, now live in their new home at Barwon Heads, not far from where they we both born in Geelong, Victoria.


Recent news