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Brian Wildsmith New Website Release

January 20, 2020

Brian Wildsmith. London, early 1960s.

Hello there, I have some very exciting news for everyone who is a fan of the wonderful illustrations of Brian Wildsmith. Or indeed anyone, who is lucky to be young enough, to not have already encountered his beautiful books and artworks in the past… you have them all to discover.

After reading my posts about Brian back in 2015, his daughter Clare contacted me and we’ve been chatting along with her brother Simon and sister Rebecca, via email, ever since.

The plan for his children was to create a brand new website to showcase their father’s work. They have not only done just that, but are coinciding the release date this week (on Wednesday the 22nd January 2020) with what would have been Brian’s 90th birthday !!

I sent over some questions which Simon kindly answered on behalf of the family. Also the illustrations used in this post, were hand-selected by Simon and are an exclusive to Fishink Blog in so far as they haven’t yet been seen by anyone outside of his family and his publishers prior to the website’s release this week.

What are your earliest memories of having a father who was an artist ?

My earliest memories of my father being artist would go back to the days when I was forced to fill in forms saying what he did as a profession. I guess I would have been six or seven at school in France in Cannes and at the beginning of every year in every different class children had to fill in forms about what their parents did, which, even then I found to be outrageous and most unfair for many of the kids. I believe the tradition has now been outlawed.

Illustration from The Prince of The Jungle by René Guillot 1958, from the 80 or so books he illustrated while working freelance in the 50s and early 60s

Were you and your siblings all encouraged to draw or paint too ? Did his work have an influence on you all growing up ?

I don’t believe we were encouraged any more than other children or at least of our friends to draw and paint. Later on in life when I felt that I had creative instinct, I think that having a father who was such a good draughtsman was problematic for me in drawing badly as, so inevitably any beginner would. How often in life does one hear people saying I cannot draw ? As if it was purely a God-given gift. Brian would have been the first to admit that, talent notwithstanding, it takes an awful lot of practice.

Did he read his books to you all at bedtime or use you as a pointer for which images worked well or were memorable ?

I can’t remember my father reading me his books when I was a child. Perhaps my mother did but I don’t have clear recollection of that either. They certainly did read us bedtime stories but I can’t remember which titles. Brian often remarked in interviews, talking about his children, and his artwork that, when they entered his studio to see his day’s work and were excited or lively, he knew he had made a good job of it. If, on the other hand, we were quiet he also understood the meaning of that.

Q – Queen, original illustration from the Kate Greenaway awarded ABC. His first book.

Do you remember watching your father at work, creating his animals and drawings or was that time considered work and therefore something that was carried out whilst you were at school or in his studio room in private ?

I can’t remember my father ever saying “I’m busy” or “I’ll see you later” or “we’ll talk about this later.” I always felt respectful, even from an early age, of his work time, but if there was ever an issue of any importance he would immediately stop what he was doing and attend to it. The door to his studio was as often open as it was closed and was very much like any other room in our home. He didn’t hold office hours, but he worked a tremendous amount including weekends if publication dates were close. And as work time for him also included many hours sitting on the terrace dreaming, there was also that time for interaction.

Did he used to tell you all stories about what he was drawing at any given time ?

Yes, of course, he told us what the stories were about that he was illustrating. I believe he gave much consideration to our opinions. Perhaps not to the extent though, that he would shred a piece of work if we didn’t like it.

Preliminary drawing for The Lion And The Rat, the La Fontaine fable published in 1963

Did you ever get to see him working, building up the images etc ? did he work from real life or imagination when drawing animals ?

In the biography we are writing about his life for the forthcoming Brian Wildsmith website, there is extensive comment about the sources and his very thorough documentation on the subjects he chose for his books. He could draw pretty much any animal you could care to imagine, most convincingly, from memory, but this only thanks to the fact that he had spent many hours studying his subjects from every angle as a younger artist.

Little Jack Horner from Mother Goose, (also the cover) 1964

Was it true that he felt unsupported by the UK establishment when it came to his work and recognition of his amazing achievement and worldwide sales ?

It is true to say that he felt unsupported by the UK establishment, and this is a fairly complex issue. How much had it to do with reality? How much had it to do with the social environment that he was met with when he first arrived in London from Yorkshire? Was it to do with book sales in the UK that only he saw? Or was it simply in contrast with the quite massive adulation he received in the United States and in Japan? Either way it softened and with age and we failed to fully comprehend it.

A stare of owls from Birds, 1967. Original illustration

I’ve read that he loved all of his books equally (like his children) but was there one book that you feel he may have had a fondness for over all others, and if so why ?

I think like all artists his latest work was his favourite. I couldn’t personally pinpoint one that he referred to as a favourite apart perhaps for the ABC. Not I don’t think because it won the Kate Greenaway medal, but simply because it was his first, full-on and autonomous creation.

An original from The Bible Story 1968

Did he have paintings of his work up in your home and if so what were the subject matter .. aimals again or other things ?

There were quite a few of his illustrations on the walls in our home, as well as some of his paintings. I don’t think he actually picked any out and took them to the framers. So far as the illustrations were concerned, they had probably been framed for other reasons or exhibitions.

Never before shown in public silk-screen print from 1976 (we love these, there are a few more on the site)

I imagine he must have worked incredibly hard to create all the illustratons for the many many books he drew. Do you remember him always busily working, do you get a sense that he loved his work and creating it even up until his passing in 2016 ?

He was quoted on a couple of occasions as saying that he felt quite unwell when he was not working.

Wounded ducks original from Hunter and his dog, 1979

Are there any plans to create a Wildsmith museum here in the UK… maybe Yorkshire ? or indeed a retrospective book with a host of illustrations from his many many books ?

We have many plans for exhibitions in the future. But I’m afraid at this stage they are still secretive. We are ambitious in our wish to expose his most incredible art to as many people as possible. As for retrospective book, that too shall have to remain a secret for now.

Oil painting. Mediterranean landscape and Castellaras, the village where our parents and we, as children lived. This painting hung in our home. It was a gift from Brian to our mother. 172X172cm. Oil and acrylic on sand/glue textured cement. c. 1985. One of approx 100 he painted and that have never been seen in Europe. This one never seen anywhere.

What prompted you to revisit and revamp the new website ?

I believe there are no greater fans of Brian’s work than his children. Despite us all being middle-aged, the internet plays a large part in our lives. It is undoubtably the most wonderful, and, potentially, most democratic platform for communication. What better way to share his work? Despite the images having less of the life they have in reality, it will allow some people, who cannot afford beautiful picture books to experience their beauty. And ultimately we wanted to pay homage to our father for the wonderful gift of culture and education that he and our mother gave us so generously and lovingly. Our love of art is without doubt thanks to them, and speaking quite personally I can say it has made my life a happier one.

Brian sketching in Sienna on the Piazza del Campo, Italy in 1990.

One of the equestrian sketches he drew as seen in previous photograph.

Last weekend I was given a secret password which allowed me access to peruse the Brian Wildsmith site prior to it’s release in two days time and boy can I say you are all in store for a HUGE treat.

What a fabulous reminder of the sumptuously textural and colourful work that he created. There are around 800 art images & 150 photos in the “Brian’s illustrated life story” alone ! His life is covered in chapters such as The Yorkshire Years, Early London Years, ABC and Moving to France, Paintings, Italy, Japan and the Fax Machine !

Alongside his books, there are images of his screen prints, his 3-D sculptural work (which I’d never seen before) and some of his sketchbooks and photographs from his travels around the world. As a point of interest, Brian illustrated 82 books, was translated into 30 languages, published in 45 countries with worldwide sales of over 20 million copies !! The site is beautifully written, enlightening, visually inspirational and with that touch of northern humour that Brian has passed down to his family over the years.

Such a talented artist and I am sure that this is just the start of the Brian Wildsmith site as it will grow and develop as time moves forward.

Hurry over on Wednesday 22nd and have a look for yourselves, leave me a comment here and you can directly pass your thoughts onto his family, who no doubt will be reading this post and your feedback thereafter.

Many thanks again to Clare, Rebecca and Simon for their initial contact and the lovely communication which has made the whole collaboration possible. Also I feel honoured to be mentioned under the “With Special Thanks’ section too. Congratulations for assembling and building such a beautiful site and tribute to Brian’s amazing work, I know your dad would have been so proud of what you have achieved.

Happy Birthday to Brian (also to Simon on Sunday), and great to see his illustrations together in all their glory once again. You can also follow

From Wednesday you can view the website here.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Mia James permalink
    January 20, 2020 9:31 am

    Excellent article, loved reading this and seeing the artwork.. He’s my favourite artist, looking forward to the new website. Thanks, Mia

    • January 20, 2020 9:46 am

      Thanks Mia, it’s well worth the wait too : )

    • Esther Wildsmith permalink
      January 20, 2020 12:43 pm

      I am so looking forward to seeing the website. My name is through marriage, I am originally Barnham and my parents are artists. We had Brian’s books in our house when I was a child, and my father, a well established artist and teacher, described Brian as a clever b@##$r…. a true compliment from a fellow painter. I have always been confused as to why every household in the UK did not have his wonderful books in their homes, or at least know about his work. We are very lucky to have many of his books, including the gorgeous pop up books, and we treasure them. I am waiting patiently for the 22nd! Really well done Clare, Rebecca and Simon! X

      • January 20, 2020 1:50 pm

        Thank you Esther for your great comments, at least two days isn’t too long to wait now… : )

  2. January 20, 2020 9:36 am

    Craig, good morning and deep thanks for your beautifully written and composed review about Brian and those behind his revival project. It reads as sincere as all the intentions we put into it. Clare Wildsmith

    • January 20, 2020 9:48 am

      Hi Clare, quick off the mark as ever lol. I was saying to your brother on Saturday what a remarkable job you’ve all done. Such a joy to read, I know his many, many, fans will find it a welcome addition to their book collections.

  3. Deirdre O'Sullivan from Australia permalink
    January 20, 2020 11:57 am

    I love Wildsmith’s use of crayon and collage – it really is true, that the more confident an artist is, the looser and more spontaneous his illustrations will be. The slapdashery of splattering flying blobs of paint gives his work a real vitality. Thanks ever so for this celebration of his superb talent.

    • January 20, 2020 1:56 pm

      Thanks Deidre, your thoughts are spot on the mark as ever

  4. Didi Hawkins permalink
    January 21, 2020 1:01 am

    OMG I’m so excited about this website. I was meant to discover it because I came across it completely by accident as I was actually reading your blog post about Mary Fadden because a friend of mine has just moved into her old studio in Hammersmith. Anyway, I was explaining Brian’s illustrations to a friend of mine as I couldn’t believe she did not know them on Saturday night and thinking of digging out some books – such a big part of my childhood and a huge influence – his painting are always in my head. Well done and hurry up tomorrow and come. I feel like it’s Christmas eve! Thank you all involved

    • January 21, 2020 1:33 pm

      Thanks Didi for your lovely comments. I really enjoy it when people find my blog through some random means, you were indeed meant to discover this now. Fab that your friend is now in Mary Fadden’s studio too, exciting days hey ! Great to have you onboard 😊

  5. Sarah Anderson permalink
    January 22, 2020 8:09 am

    What a wonderful feast for the eyes – so much colour and texture. I love Brian Wildsmith’s work do to see more if it is such a treat – to see it in real life, in a museum up here in the north or England would be amazing. I’d also love to be able to buy prints of his work.
    Thanks so much for sharing Craig

  6. January 22, 2020 8:33 am

    Thanks Sarah, a museum would be fantastic and prints of his work is a brilliant idea too. I’m sure that his family will be bearing all of these great suggestions in mind for the future.

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