Brian Wildsmith (above) is the subject of a show for children at Seven Stories
Exhibition: Wild With Wildsmith, Seven Stories, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, until July 18 2010
Having written and illustrated more than 80 books in a career kickstarted when he won the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal in 1962, Brian Wildsmith has become one of the most popular children’s authors in the world.
In Japan, his status afforded the establishment of the Brian Wildsmith Art Museum in Izukogen in 1994, but his down-to-earth Yorkshire roots and ability to relate to young minds mean Wildsmith isn’t the type to match sales with ego.
"When they were young, my four children always gave me their opinions about my writing and artwork," he recalls.
"If they didn't say anything about a book or a painting, I knew I was in trouble. Most of the time when that happened, I just started over again."
Illustrations from ABC, the book which won Wildsmith the Kate Greenaway Medal in 1962. brianwildsmith.com
A painter at heart, Wildsmith's flamboyant use of colour makes him the perfect subject for this ambitious show, turning the Centre for Children’s Books into a tropical savannah of exotic creatures in a joint celebration of the author’s 80th birthday between the venue and Oxford University Press.
"I believe children appreciate details as well as colour," explains Wildsmith, whose path from teacher to inspirational illustrator is chronicled in the exhibition.
"When I paint animals, I imagine them as a child would. I want children to make personal connections to the animals in my books – I want to help young people wonder at the world and to become close observers of the beauty and harmony in nature. Beautiful picture books are vitally important in subconsciously forming a child’s visual appreciation, which will bear fruit in later life."
Wildsmith says he tries to imagine animals "as children would". brianwildsmith.com
These days he paints in "a lovely studio" in France, which is a far cry from the Yorkshire mining village he grew up in.
"Everything was grey. There wasn't any colour. It was all up to my imagination. I had to draw in my head," he says, allowing him to appreciate the importance of Seven Stories.
"I wish there were more places like this – not just in England, but throughout the world. I think it's an inspirational, wonderful place. I wish there had been places like this when I was a boy."
His retrospective still doesn't make it any easier for him to pick a favourite creation. "They're like my family,” he admits. "I don't love any of my children any more than the others, and I love all of my books equally.
"I work on an idea until I fall in love. If I don't fall in love, I chuck it away."