While I was clearing some stuff out from my office today, I stumbled upon an old License Europe magazine. Aside from seeing how much the licensing industry has moved on since 2003, there was a lovely interview with the incredibly talented illustrator Dick Bruna from the Netherlands.
Some of you may already have heard of him but for those who haven’t, you will almost certainly know his work. Dick Bruna was the creator of the famous Miffy character. This wonderfully simplistic little bunny has stood the test of time in the competitive pre-school market. Miffy was created back in 1955 in the Dutch city of Utrecht where Dick Bruna lived before his death on 16th February 2017 at the age of 89. Surprisingly, given the huge success of Miffy, Dick never considered himself an illustrator but a graphic designer. The simplicity of the lines and limited colour palette make her instantly recognisable to the young children who adore her story books. This simplicity is possibly due to his graphic design background. The cute little bunny always looks out at you from the pages which instantly engages the reader. It’s easy to see why, after all these years, she’s as popular as ever.
There is an art to keeping things simple. That doesn’t mean there aren’t hundreds of drawings that don’t make the cut beforehand which makes it all the more ingenious to have come up with something so simple. Instead of drawing seven tears to show that Miffy is sad, Dick would draw only one tear. He said that tear was the saddest of all. Drawing meticulously and slowly onto tracing paper, his sharp pointed pencil would leave an indent on the soft paper underneath which would then be inked over to create the drawing. He would transfer the drawing onto transparent film using his printer under which he would then place different combinations of cut out coloured paper until he was happy with the final piece. He was heavily inspired by the work of Matisse who not only kept things simple and colourful but also used paper cuttings.
His characters speak a visual language regardless of the language his books are written in. He found that his drawings worked alongside any language which is quite a skill in itself. For those children who cannot yet read, his square books are often their first taste of literature. While the books may start off as being a toy, the moment the children start looking at them differently is the time that it opens up a whole new world. A world where everyone from pre-schoolers to teenagers and beyond are buying into the licensed merchandise of their favourite white bunny. What an achievement for a man who never classed himself as an illustrator.