Drawings even a Scrooge would love

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These expressive, humorous pictures by Quentin Blake are based on Charles Dickens's classic, "The Christmas Carol." They wonderfully capture the contrast of Scrooge's meanness with the open-hearted jollity of Dickens's ideal festive season. But they are not, strictly speaking, book illustrations. These pictures were designed for the British post office - five "Christmas Carol" stamps, issued in 1993.

Blake is unquestionably one of the 20th century's liveliest and funniest children's book illustrators. He is a juggler of spontaneous moments. His skipping line is like handwriting, peculiar to him. He catches episodes and characters in a way that can actually make one laugh aloud.

In the tradition of lighthearted illustrators of the past such as Thomas Rowlandson, Blake is no savage satirist. He has developed techniques for making carefully planned illustrations look as light and telling as if they jumped out of his head into the air.

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The stamps on this page make up one of many color plates in Blake's latest book, "Words and Pictures." It is written for adults, not kids. In it, Blake talks revealingly about techniques and procedures of book organization and illustration. He taught many years at London's Royal College of Art, and is clearly practiced at analyzing his craft and thought processes.

But it is no surprise that he cannot finally account for the most vital ingredients of his work: the source of his ideas and inspiration, and the nature of his brand of humor.

He does, however, suggest that inspiration, or ideas, appear after one has started work, rather than before. And he writes: "...humour isn't a separate ingredient which you put into the cooking or leave out of it. It has much more to do with who you are and how you see things .... I think ... humour ... is in some way a by-product; you produce it best almost by not thinking about it."

His illustrations, often drawn with pen and paintbrush, seem to come to him as naturally as telling stories. This ease is partly deceptive, though. "Words and Pictures" makes clear that scrupulously organizing the narrative and form of a book, whether it is pictures alone, or text and pictures, is essential and sometimes hard-won.

Blake is a magician. But any amount of openness about his techniques and methods will not really explain his secrets.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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