Robert Ingpen's Magical Classics
Every month we blog about an illustrator that we love, giving you the opportunity to learn more about your favourite artists' backgrounds and influences, or to discover great picture books you may not have heard of. We've covered everyone from contemporary picture book makers like Chris Haughton, to best loved classic illustrators like Quentin Blake. This month, we’ve chosen Robert Ingpen, a much respected artist who has illustrated his own versions of many of children’s literature's most famous titles. Robert Ingpen’s work is beloved among other illustrators and authors, Michael Morpurgo called his drawings “utterly compelling”, and his versions of the children's classics feel like the definitive editions.
A life of learning
Ingpen was born in 1936, and grew up in the coastal city of Geelong in Australia. Like another of our favourite Australian illustrators, Shaun Tan, the landscape and Aboriginal history of this vast country have informed his work. Ingpen's childhood was full of stories and drawing. His neighbour, a portrait photographer, used to “read” to him from a large red book, but instead of reading what the text said, she would make the stories up as she went along! The young Ingpen found this magical, and he credits this neighbour with introducing him to the limitless possibilities of imagination. Ingpen studied design and illustration at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and while studying, made it his business to learn about everything that went into making a book, from paper making to the technical skills of illustration. He came to see the book as an art form that, instead of being kept for display in a gallery, is for everyone to interact with or own.
After college, Ingpen was recruited by a national scientific organisation in Australia, and tasked with communicating new scientific discoveries to farmers and fishermen so that they could implement the knowledge in their work. He began using local folklore and old tales to get the information across in an accessible and engaging way. Since his early career, a passion for conservation and heritage has been a running theme in his work. Ingpen’s art can be seen across the Australian state of Victoria in publicly commissioned murals, tapestries and sculpture. His work has even entered into daily life on postage stamps.
Ingpen creates his illustrations traditionally using paint and paper, often in watercolour or tempera (paint mixed with other liquid, usually egg). He imports the paper he paints on specially from Germany, and he’s used the same type exclusively for almost forty years. Before setting a brush to paper though, his designs are always carefully worked out in sketchbooks. Wonderlands: The Illustration of Robert Ingpen contains lots of information and references for Ingpen's work, with notes and sketches from the artist himself. You can buy it here.
Robert Ingpen has illustrated versions of some of the most loved children’s books ever written, his series of Children’s Classics are beautiful books that we’re now delighted to stock! In the introduction to Wonderlands, Elizabeth Hammill writes that when he illustrates the classics, Ingpen “journeys into the landscapes of their creators’ minds”. He carefully considers the nature of every story he illustrates in order to capture its essence, and this makes his editions of the classics feel like the most authoritative versions.
Robert Ingpen’s first attempt at illustrating Peter Pan came about at the tender age of seven! (His amazingly accomplished childhood illustration is featured in Wonderlands: The Illustration Art of Robert Ingpen). In 2004 he was asked to illustrate its centenary edition, and it was this book that launched his series of illustrated children’s classics.
J.M. Barrie's novel is still as magical today as when it was written, and Ingpen's illustrations make this edition the perfect one to read aloud with children of any age.
The Jungle Book
Robert Ingpen’s background in nature drawing served him well when it came to illustrating Rudyard Kipling’s classic, The Jungle Book.
His illustrations of Mowgli and his family of wolves, as well as the other animals the story collection, bring us to the heart of the Indian jungle.
Ingpen’s work for The Secret Garden is slightly darker than some other illustrators’ versions, (like this edition illustrated by Inga Moore). His illustrations emphasises the transformative effect that the garden has on the lonely children.
Each chapter of the book opens with a beautiful botanical illustration, with the Latin name of the plant written underneath. This draws readers into the true nature of the story, and lets children learn about plants and flowers just like the children in the book. This edition of Ingpen's version of the book, embossed with a plant motif on its green hard cover, is a beautiful way for children to discover this story.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of the great classics of children’s literature; since its original publication in 1865 it has never once been out of print! The book has countless editions, and many of the world’s most accomplished illustrators have taken on the project of illustrating it. Everyone from Tove Jansson to Helen Oxenbury have created their own take on Lewis Carroll’s surreal Wonderland.
Robert Ingpen’s version of Wonderland is a hazy dreamland; his characters are vivid, but his backgrounds swim out of focus. His Alice is red haired, and wears the same frock and apron as Sir John Tenniel’s original drawing in the book’s first edition. Her bemused expression in Ingpen’s illustrations is loyal to the sense of bewilderment and detachment that Alice experiences throughout the book; staying quite calm while all around her degenerates into nonsense!
In contrast to his illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where the story’s landscapes are insignificant, Ingpen clearly puts a lot of thought into the backgrounds in The Wind in the Willows.
The English countryside which the characters call home is rendered in luscious greens and oranges, and the interiors of the houses the story’s creatures live in are highly detailed. The interiors give a marvellous sense of each character.
Ingpen writes in Wonderlands:The Illustration Art of Robert Ingpen, “There are some stories that transcend the original inspiration of their authors and take on a life of their own. Treasure Island is, without a doubt, one of these stories."
It’s the artist’s passion for the texts he illustrates that makes Ingpen's work so perfectly suited to each individual story.
Whether you're looking to introduce a child to the stories you loved when you were young, or to revisit your favourite children's books through great art, you can't go wrong with one of Ingpen's classics.
Over the past few years children have become more and more involved in the environmental movement and now there are loads of fantastic eco-awareness books aimed at children. We've pulled together some of our favourite books which celebrate the natural world and will get children excited about taking care of the environment.