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Lauren Child: The Art of Illustration at the Holburne Museum

Author and illustrator Lauren Child has been capturing the imaginations of young readers and adults alike for almost two decades. Now a display of her colourful characters and intricate work is going on show at the Holburne Museum. Interview by Jessica Hope

Whether you (or your children) have followed the hilarious adventures of the endearing Clarice Bean, giggled at Charlie’s attempts at teaching his little sister Lola a thing or two, or marvelled at Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent’s endeavours at stopping his parents from throwing away the family fortune, you’ll know that author and illustrator Lauren Child has created some of the most loved characters in children’s literature over the past 20 years.

Through her entertaining and informative story lines, paired with incredibly detailed and imaginative illustrations, the award-winning Child has captured the hearts of young readers, parents and guardians across the world, selling three-million books worldwide in 19 languages. As well as this, the BBC’s animated television series of her books’ much loved sibling duo Charlie and Lola has been aired in more than 34 countries, and has picked up four BAFTAs.

Child’s inventive use of vibrant colour, collage and textiles has brought her line-drawn characters to life, and many consider her to be one of the most prominent illustrators in children’s books in recent decades. Now, in a new display opening at the Holburne Museum, visitors will be able to see her extraordinary work on show and explore her creative process.

A scene from the book The Princess and the Pea, which was photographed in Child’s dolls’ house by award-winning photographer Polly Borland.

Lauren Child: The Art of Illustration, which opens on 2 May, celebrates her use of illustration as an art form and features works from Child’s original stories and her re-workings of her favourite children’s classics and fairytales. As well as this, there will be a family trail around the museum,
its gardens and the city centre in Bath, so families will be able to go in search of the likes of Clarice Bean et al, plus some unusual objects and animals.

So why decide on developing an exhibition? “Seeing illustration in galleries wasn’t something that I grew up with,”
says Child, who is a trustee of the House of Illustration, founded by Sir Quentin Blake. “Hopefully visitors will see the thought process and how ideas link together.”

“As an illustrator, a lot of it is about observing the world around you. It’s about the way people move, how people look when they trip up by accident, it’s looking at your surroundings,” she says. “A good illustration is like visual poetry. You’re having to say a lot in a picture.”

Also displayed at the Holburne will be the dolls’ house Child built when she was 18, which she has continued to redecorate and rework over the years, and has been an important creative tool in fashioning scenes and characters in her books. The house was used as the set for forming the imagery featured in Child’s reimaginings of fairytales such as The Princess and the Pea.

“As I grew up, I found that making the interiors became more interesting to me even than playing with the house. Very soon I became interested by the arrangement of the rooms, how it is possible to set a scene and tell a story. It is almost like directing a film,” she says. Using cereal packets for floorboards, old doilies sprayed gold for a mirror frame, and bits of her own home’s wallpaper, Child built the miniature scenes from scratch before images were captured by award-winning photographer Polly Borland.

Child’s love for colour and pattern was influenced from a young age by French artists such as Édouard Vuillard (1868–1940). “My father regularly visited art galleries, and so as a child I always went along too. He would point out the way Vuillard uses pattern in his work; how he puts pattern next to pattern so figures and objects are often seeming to disappear into the pattern as they are posed in front of decorative wallpapers and curtains.” Fortuitously visitors to the Holburne will be able to see how Child’s work has been shaped by the likes of Vuillard as the most extensive UK exhibition of his works in more than 15 years – including many that are rarely publicly displayed – will also be on show from 24 May.

By exhibiting her work in museums and through her role as the Waterstones Children’s Laureate for 2017–2019, Child hopes to change people’s perceptions of illustration. “I hope to help elevate illustration as an art form, which is a bit of a poor relation compared to painting and sculpture. People don’t see it as quite as significant and yet it is the first art form that we engage with as children. It’s everywhere around us, so I’m trying to get people to look at it and see the purpose and the beauty in it.”

And changing the way illustration is used in children’s literature is something that Child has spearheaded with her revolutionary use of mixed media. Her eye for detail and texture has created a series of playful characters who continue to capture the imaginations of children and gain legions of fans across the world.

Lauren Child: The Art of Illustration is open from 2 May – 8 September at the Holburne Museum, Bath. Admission to the museum is £11 adults, £5.50 concessions, free for children; holburne.org

Featured image: author and illustrator Lauren Child with her dolls’ house which she uses to create imagery for her books.