William Stobbs A Children’s Illustrator
William Stobbs was born in South Shields in 1914, and raised near the same North Sea that later figured in many of his drawings, Stobbs graduated from the Durham School of Art in 1938. A year later he signed on as a draughtsman in the Rolls-Royce firm, where he was involved in the development of Merlin engines. After the war he worked briefly for Alvis before becoming head of the design department at the London School of Printing and Graphic Art. This was followed in 1958 by a twenty-one year stint as Principal of Maidstone College of Art. I like the lofty expression on his cats and particularly the hard stare of his sleek and silvery Siamese.
His first experience as an illustrator was on Hakluyt’s Sea Stories(1948), a child-friendly version prepared by Ronald Syme. Very soon Stobbs’ fascination with detail and his capacity for meticulous research made him a favourite with other children’s historical novelists, at a time when such novels were still expected to maintain consistently high standards of accuracy in text and pictures. Six years later, he illustrated Ronald Welch’s Knight Crusader, winner of the Library Association’s 1955 Carnegie Medal for the outstanding book of the year. Few doubted that this decision was also influenced by the brilliance of this now forgotten novel’s accompanying pictures.
In 1959 Stobbs won the Kate Greenaway Medal, this time for his colour illustrations for Chekhov’s Kashtanka, a translation of one of the author’s dog stories, and for his drawings in Ruth Manning-Sanders’ compilation A Bundle of Ballads. The same compiler later co-operated with Stobbs on Damian and the Dragon; Folk and Fairy Tales from Greece (1965). His drawings of maidens and their suitors appear somewhat wooden, as if they were inanimate objects rather than living characters. The sense of detail though is as always superb, with what initially look like thick black lines gradually revealing an intricacy of texture and decoration. Only some of the larger illustrations fail to work, with too many swirling shapes making for a sense of confusion. As an illustrator of black and white vignettes however, he remained by now the clear leader of the field.
William Stobbs illustrated over a hundred books for children, (some listed here), all witness to his own distinctive standard of artistic integrity. His sensitivity to the subject matter in hand made him much in demand from publishers, whether illustrating nursery rhymes, fairy tale anthologies or historical fiction. Stocky and broad shouldered, as befitted an ex-student boxer, he actually possessed a sly sense of humour never far away from his work for younger children. Sadly William passed away in 2000, leaving behind a wealth of amazing illustration.
Many thanks to N Tucker for the description of the life of William Stobbs, that made this blogpost possible.