From the Quentin Blake Archive: Clown

As a new animated version of Clown comes to Channel 4, our Artistic Director takes a look at the original designs.

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  • Olivia Ahmad, Artistic Director
  • Events

Among the hundreds of characters that Quentin Blake has created, the star of his book Clown is one of his favourites.

It’s easy to see why. The little hightop-wearing pierrot may face a series of hardships, but he does so with an unstoppable positive energy.

Quentin’s earliest development drawings show that he first imagined Clown as a classic picture book, with text and images working together to tell a story.

The draft of his unused opening page shows a woman bundling Clown, along with an unhappy crew of unwanted teddy bears and rabbits, into a dustbin with the words “Toys really only come to life when they have children to talk to them and make a fuss of them”.

Once he had written the story, Quentin asked himself whether words were really needed to explain this “situation of rejection”. He eventually abandoned the text, and decided to use only pictures to tell the story of Clown’s escape from the rubbish heap and his search for a new home.

Quentin describes being an illustrator as like directing a play, and Clown as a “miniature mime artist”. Without speech, we have to learn everything about Clown from his facial expressions and gestures, and this meant that Quentin needed to draw lots of pictures of him and his environment for readers to be able to follow his journey.

A traditional picture book has only 32 pages, so Quentin created a layout for the book that mixed full-page illustrations with sequences of smaller vignettes.

His rough layouts show how he plans the flow of the pages before starting work on the illustrations that will eventually be published.

The final illustrations for Clown are preserved in Quentin’s archive. They are drawn in black ink with coloured washes applied over the top to create different atmospheres, like a street scene at dusk or cosy light spilling from a flat into a dark stairwell.

By looking closely at Quentin’s original artwork, you can see alterations that he has made to his pictures. For example,  the face of the horrified woman throwing Clown out of a window has been changed – a piece of paper with a new portrait was pasted on top of the initial drawing.

On 25 December, Clown will be seen on screens across the UK in a new animated version directed by Luigi Berio and produced by Massimo Fenati.

Adapting Quentin’s book using traditional hand-drawn animation techniques has involved a long collaboration between skilled artists from all over Europe.

Quentin is very happy with the result. “It’s wonderful now to see Clown off the page and running about on his own,” he says, and you can see him for yourself at 7.40pm on Christmas Day on Channel 4.

Watch the trailer below: