Sir Quentin Blake


Quentin Blake was born in the suburbs of London in 1932 and has drawn ever since he can remember. His first drawings were published in Punch while he was 16 and still at school and he continued to draw for Punch, The Spectator and other magazines over many years.

He has always made his living as an illustrator, known for his distinctive freewheeling style, collaborations with writers, and the characters he has created. He also taught for over twenty years at the Royal College of Art, where he was head of the Illustration department. Since the 1990s Quentin Blake has had an additional career as exhibition curator, curating shows in, among other places, the National Gallery, the British Library and the Petit Palais in Paris.

In 2004 Quentin Blake was awarded the ‘Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres’ by the French Government for services to literature and in 2007 was made Officier in the same order. In 2014 he was admitted to the Légion d’honneur. He received a knighthood for ‘services to illustration’ in the New Year’s Honours for 2013, became an Honorary Freeman of the City of London in 2015, and was appointed ‘Companion of Honour’ in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2022. 

You must get asked to do collaborations very often – what caught your imagination about this project in particular? 

This project appealed to me in several ways. One is quite simply that I have worked with Lexi on previous occasions and I know that he is good at it and it will be a happy experience. The Macbeth aspect had its attraction too; I have a constant interest in Shakespeare and I know Macbeth pretty well. 

Where does your fascination with birds come from? And why did you envisage this cast of characters as birds? 

I am indeed fascinated by birds and I am not sure that I can really say why. I have been interested since childhood when I did birdwatching and took a note of the birds I saw, especially unusual ones like a golden eagle or an avocet. But the aspect which concerns us here is using birds instead of people. I think it is possible to do this because they have two legs like us and I can draw all kinds of human characters without drawing specific individuals. So that, here, the depiction of Macbeth doesn’t have to remind you of some particular production of the play. 

Did inspiration strike immediately or did it take time? 

The idea of drawing the characters of Macbeth as birds appealed to me immediately. I woke very early one morning (I do draw in bed a lot) and by 10am I was able to phone Lexi to say that I had done some pencil drawings. These were later redrawn with a scratchy Indian ink standing at my desk. 

An additional appeal, that reminds me, is that I’ve always thought of illustration as a kind of acting. I don’t observe the gestures so much as feel them.


Do you like whisky? If so what do you like drinking and when/where/with whom? 

I like single malt whisky. I don’t drink it every day but I drink it sometimes with friends before dinner and especially on days when I feel that I need a little bracing! It reminds me of an occasion when a friend and I were visiting Gallimard, my publisher in France and the head man at the time was taking us out for an aperitif. When he asked us what we might want we said, “perhaps some Vermouth?” And he replied briskly, “why don’t you drink whisky like everyone else?!” Indeed, the French are very enthusiastic about whisky and if I need to give French friends a present, I notice that a bottle of whisky is very much appreciated. 

Do you have any other stories you would still like to illustrate? 

Much of my professional life has been taken up with illustrating books and I have been fortunate that, for instance, I’ve been able to suggest books that interested me to the Folio Society with whom I have worked for many years. I noticed that many of the books and authors are French – Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Cyrano de Bergerac. But now more and more, I am happy to take only a very rare commission, such as this one and by contrast spend a lot of my time drawing for exhibition.