Brian Wildsmith Animals and ABC’s Part 1
Brian Wildsmith was born on 22 January 1930 in Penistone, a small market town in the West Riding, now in South Yorkshire, England. He was educated at the De La Salle College for Boys in Sheffield, but from the age of seventeen studied at the Barnsley School of Art (1946–1949). It was also while he was seventeen that he met Aurelie, daughter of the chef at Wentworth Woodhouse, whom he would later marry. From Barnsley he won a scholarship to the Slade School of Fine Art in London, where he studied for three years (1949–1952). His work is always about shape, texture and most importantly, explosion of colour !
From being raised in a small mining village in Yorkshire, England, where, he says, “Everything was grey. There wasn’t any colour. It was all up to my imagination. I had to draw in my head…”
On leaving the Slade School he did National Service in the British Army. In 1955 he married his wife Aurelie, and in the same year began teaching at Selhurst High School (1955–1957). At this time he began designing book jackets for the publisher John Murray and others, and line illustrations for children’s books published by Faber and Faber, Penguin Books, Oxford University Press and others. His work as a line draughtsman continued from 1957 to 1964. From 1960 to 1965 he also taught for one day a week at Maidstone College of Art (now part of Kent Institute of Art & Design).
Wildsmith’s first love was for painting and he was eager to illustrate books in colour. Mabel George of Oxford University Press, whom he first met in 1957, gave him his first opportunity when she commissioned from him, as an experiment, some illustrations for Arabian Nights (1961). When the experiment was a success, she commissioned ABC (1962), for which he won the Greenaway Medal. Since then he has worked with a succession of sympathetic editors, including Antony Kamm and Ron Heapy.
Wildsmith is considered as one of the greatest children’s illustrators. The British Library Association recognised his first book, the wordless alphabet book ABC (Oxford, 1962), with the Kate Greenaway Medal for the year’s best children’s book illustration by a British subject.
From 1971 Wildsmith has lived in France at Castellaras, a hill village near Cannes and Grasse, with his wife, Aurelie, and their four children, Clare, Rebecca, Anna and Simon. His son, Simon (b. 1965), is a printmaker, and lives near Cahors.
Such a rare talent and great to see a lifetimes work using artists materials and not digital media. Part 2 on friday.