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The House of Illustration

Home > London > Galleries | Fun Things To Do | Exhibitions | Art
by Bryony Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published November 23rd 2014
Stories in Pictures
The House of Illustration
house of illustration


Founded by Quentin Blake, the House of Illustration opened in the newly regenerated King's Cross on the 2nd July 2014. Since its arrival. I told myself I would go sometime, but it was not until word of a Paddington exhibition that I actually took the effort to make the trip.

house of illustration, king's cross


Although hidden in the back streets, the House of Illustration is not hard to find, for as soon as you exit King's Cross station, you can't take ten paces without a sign letting you know you're heading in the right direction.

house of illustration, king's cross


A bit much? Not really. The signs are attractive and increased my anticipation. They also set my expectations a little too high. I expected a grand, colourful building with lots of permanent galleries and a few temporary exhibitions. But the building was so nondescript that had it not been for the signs, I would have waked past, not even noticing its existence. I was also disappointed to find that there were no permanent galleries, just small one-off exhibitions. Given the £7 admission fee, I thought I would get more. Despite this, I did enjoy my visit, although I would probably not bother going again.

house of illustration, king's cross, gift shop, cards


Before you enter the galleries, you buy your ticket in the gift shop, where I probably spent longer than any of the exhibitions themselves. Inside you can buy a selection good value greetings cards, featuring elaborate paintings, comic cartoons, famous book illustrations, etc.

house of illustration, king's cross, gift shop, quinten blake, prints


There were also postcards, which I thought were worth getting just for yourself, rather than sending off to people. Then again I live in London. A tourist, might very well like to send these off back home. On the slightly more indulgent side of gifts, were limited edition prints for £300, or more affordable smaller sized unframed copies.

house of illustration, king's cross, gift shop, paddington bear


There are numerous illustrated books for both children and adults. The books cover a range of artists, but the most highlighted are the those who are on display at the exhibitions. I bought myself two Paddington Bear books, including and cookery book, and Love Paddington, a new book by Michael Bond, in which you get to read the letters Paddington sent to his Aunt Lucy after his adventures with the Browns.

When I entered the gift shop only a few other people were there, but as the time got closer to one o'clock, a big crowd had amassed. The House of Illustration may only have a few exhibits, but it makes up for that by providing art workshops. On the day I went, a group were waiting to attend a four-hour class on animal illustration.

Paddington: Illustrated and Animated

house of illustration, king's cross, gift shop, paddington bear


I have participated in quite a few Paddington Bear activities recently, so I was not if the House of Illustration would offer anything new, but its slant on illustration definitely did provide that something extra. It may have only been one room, but it was informative non-the-less.

house of illustration, king's cross, paddington bear


In the centre of the room is a table filled with activity sheets for children (although I only saw adults doing them at the time), such as spot the difference, colouring in, and designing your own bear.

Travelling clockwise round the room, you could read a series of billboards that traced Paddington's timeline up to present day. It started with a letter written by Michael Bond to his agent, Harvey Unna, asking for help in publishing the book. Unna was positive about the book all except for the fact that bears do not exist in Africa, so Bond had to change it to Peru instead.

The first illustrator of Paddington Bear books was Peggy Fortnum, who did drawings for Bond between 1958 - 1979. After her death, Fortnum's old black and white illustrations continued to be used in new books, with her granddaughter, Caroline Nuttall-Smith, colouring them in.

house of illustration, king's cross, gift shop, paddington bear,


Fortnum's design of Paddington was based on studies of Malayan Sun bears at the zoo. Her depiction of a real bear, using economical designs is in contrast to that of Frank Banberry. In 1972, the illustrator was asked to illustrate Paddington picture books for under fives, and so he made more complex compositions with colour. Banberry was one of the illustrators I was less familiar with, so it was interesting to read and explore his drawings, which I do in fact quite like. Despite being for young children, I thought some of the scenes were quite sophisticated, especially the one where Paddington is at the supermarket.

All future book illustrators also portrayed Paddington as a cute and cuddly toy-like bear, aimed at younger children, including David Mckee, who's 1984 version was the first to show Paddington in Wellington Boots. There was also John Lobban from 1990, and the American illustrator, R.W. Alley, who started in 1997 and continues to illustrate Paddington books today.

house of illustration, king's cross, gift shop, paddington bear, postcards


I was not just the books that the exhibition looked at, but animation too. The first animation TV series was in 1975, and used pioneering stop motion technology to combine both 3D and 2D together. While Paddington was a 3D model, the other characters 2D cardboard cutouts drawn by Ivor Wood. Wood also illustrated Paddington comic strips for newspapers, and it showed an interesting display of Paddington learning ballet, and how the ink line drawings were separate from the unlined colour drawings, and one was place on top of the other to create the final result.

house of illustration, king's cross, gift shop, paddington bear, postcards


A French-Canadian TV series followed in 1997, called The Adventures of Paddington, with a hundred and seventeen episode.

And that of course takes us to present day, with the upcoming Paddington film. On display, you could a lifelike model of Paddington Bear's head, and a display board showing various sketches of Paddington in progress. For their final design, they used both the illustrations of Peggy Fortnum, photos of real bears, and picture of a bear's anatomy. I particularly liked seeing the drawings of Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo.

Paddington: Illustrated and Animated is open until the 4th January.


Rachel Lillie: Odyssey

house of illustration, king's cross,


In the next room there is an exhibition of work by Rachel Lillie, who is the House of Illustration's first resident artist. Odyssey is meant to represent the journey the House of Illustration went on for its completion. It includes a safari suit, wall clock in the shape of a hand, rope ladder, and various pieces of material, such as wood. You can also leaf through her sketch book and look at drawings that show each stage of development as the gallery was being built. The exhibit is on display until the 11th January.

Paula Rego/Honoré Daumier

house of illustration, king's cross, paula rego, honore daumier, scandal, gossips, and other stories


The most recently opened exhibition on at the moment is Paula Rego/Honoré Daumier: Scandal, Gossip and Other Stories, which is open until the 22nd March. Paula Rego is one of Britain's leading working artists today, and her drawings are narrative-based, depicting women in roles that defy convention. She greatly admires the work of the notorious nineteenth satirising caricaturist, Honoré Daumier, and has selected certain works of his to display alongside her own, so as to draw parallels.

house of illustration, king's cross, paula rego, honore daumier, scandal, gossips, and other stories, giftshop


Many of Rego's drawings are her own take on fairytales and nursery rhymes. In the gift shop there is a book of nursery rhymes which have been illustrated Rego. This book is aimed at adults, for while the imagery is not especially 'adult' in nature, they are sophisticated, and not really of interest to a child.

house of illustration, king's cross, paula rego, honore daumier, scandal, gossips, and other stories


Examples I remember seeing include The Grand Old Duke of York, Little Miss Muffet, Numpty Dumpty (1989) and two etchings from Peter Pan, called Tootles Shoots Wendy (1992) and Wendy and Hook (1992). In comparison, Daumier had a drawing of anthropomorphised animals, such as a frog and mouse, which reminded me a bit of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows.
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Why? Fun for art lovers
When: Tues-Sun: 10am - 6pm
Phone: 020 3696 2020
Where: King's Cross
Cost: £7 adult, £5 concession, £4 child
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