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Brian Wildsmith Animals and ABC’s Part 1

March 16, 2015

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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 !

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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…”

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Such a rare talent and great to see a lifetimes work using artists materials and not digital media. Part 2 on friday.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2015 9:21 am

    I love Brian Wildsmith’s work. Thank you for this reminder!

    • March 16, 2015 10:01 am

      My absolute pleasure Rachel.. more Friday, spread the word : )

  2. March 16, 2015 9:30 am

    I really enjoyed looking at this. Love the vibrant colours and the lovely loose style

    • March 16, 2015 10:03 am

      Thanks Jane. I’ve liked his work for years, and sadly he’s not been praised in the UK enough… he’s a god in terms of Children’s illustration ! : ) In my mind anyway

  3. March 16, 2015 10:52 am

    Thank you for reviewing Brian Wildsmith as I was always so glad when the boys chose one of his books for bedtime reading. I love his use of colour !!

    • March 16, 2015 3:15 pm

      Thanks Sarah, he’s got explosive colour elements in his books.. they should come with a happiness warning lol

  4. March 16, 2015 2:43 pm

    Technicolor, candy-colored nature! Delicious!

  5. March 16, 2015 6:56 pm

    Superb – thank you for showing so much lovely work.

    • March 16, 2015 7:13 pm

      Cheers Brian, more to come on friday, drop back then : )

  6. March 18, 2015 1:07 pm

    Wow, what beautifully colourful images! I love the spoonful of coloured letters and the house at the beginning! Gorgeous!

    • March 18, 2015 3:42 pm

      Thanks young Lizbert, his work is rather more-ish isn’t it : )

  7. Nicki permalink
    March 20, 2015 3:45 pm

    Really great to see. Your posts are always great to read. Thank you so much

  8. Maxine Schuman permalink
    July 8, 2017 12:50 pm

    I lived next door to Brian and his family for a few years when he lived at 45 Atkins Rd. He was not only a brilliantly talented artist but also a wonderful father and always very kind to me. I was a few years older than Clare. He was a rare man who never let success go to his head.

    • July 8, 2017 5:09 pm

      Thank you Maxine for that small glimpse into Brian’s character. It’s great to hear from someone who knew him. How lovely to have had such a fabulous artist living next door!

      • maxine schuman permalink
        July 9, 2017 11:54 am

        My mother met the Wildsmiths in Streatham again after they had already moved to the south of France. They came to lunch with us with their two youngest children, Simon and Anna who were more French than British.
        Although Ril suffered from a very bad back Brian wanted a son after three girls. He got the boy….finally.
        Brian said that Rebecca, the second oldest was a better artist than him.
        I believe she studied in the UK while the others lived in France.
        Sadly I was never able to get back into contact with the family because the number Brian gave me was not the right one. I read that Anna died a few months after her father two years ago. Do you know if Ril is still alive? I have written to Simon on FB with my condolences but he has not replied.
        Perhaps he does not remember coming to lunch with us when he was 12.
        Best regards
        BTW when the Alphabet book came out I remember children complaining that one of the animals did not have full length legs, it might have been the unicorn. My sister has the ABC book which Brian gave us all those years ago.

      • July 13, 2017 6:17 am

        Sorry Maxine , I don’t have any other info on the family other than what
        I’ve written. I hope you get to catch up with them at some point. Thanks again

      • maxine schuman permalink
        July 21, 2017 12:26 pm

        Thank you. I hope so too.

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