Monday, 23 April 2018

Ten Quite Interesting Things About Ten in the Bed

This month, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Ten in the Bed by Penny Dale, we are delighted to welcome Penny to the Illustrationcupboard blog to tell us ten quite interesting things you probably didn't know about this much-loved classic... 


Words by Penny Dale:

The idea for Ten in the Bed actually crept up on me while I was working on something else.

I had always wondered about the Ten in the Bed song when I sung it as a child. Who was the little one? Why were the others being systematically ejected from the bed? Who were they? It still perplexed me, and I thought it would be interesting to try to answer the questions.

When developing ideas I found I was thinking of it like a film, and as well as making a storyboard which I always do, I worked it out with my editor in terms of, scenes, continuity, character action and resulting positions…

Keeping track of ten characters was tricky. I wanted the point of view to change on every page zooming in and out, having high (elephant) and low (mouse) points of view. I wanted a dark indoors at dusk, low firelight atmosphere, and a lead character that behaved like real child, with a parental presence hinted at by details, but not visible in the room during the action.

So that was the starting point.

Although the following 10 things are mostly about the illustrations - the blog piece is for the Illustration Cupboard Gallery after all - there’s one thing that is central to the text, which is the use of onomatopoeia. The main subjects for most of the pictures were the surprise ‘landings’, and the comic sounds that accompanied them. Children love a pause, and then a sound to go with a sudden action. So that’s where the text is focused. Also running underneath, throughout I hope, is the feeling, despite the calamities, of belonging to a gang, a group… a family.

Here follows ten quite interesting facts about making the book:

Much of the inspiration for Ten in the Bed came from film and animation. The book starts a bit like a film.

Sets the scene.

Zooms in to look through one of the windows.

Zooms in again to show everyone in the bed, and the story begins…


An illustrator friend noticed the action flowing right to left on early roughs.

"Might be good to flip everything so flow goes left to right? the direction you turn page?"

Where would we be without observant friends?


I made a plan to work out positions in the rooms and an extruded a 3D wire drawing so I could work out POV.s of walls, windows, doors and furniture. 

This is because I can imagine a scene once, but struggle to place everything when viewing it from another direction.


The child was based on a combination of my toddler daughter and a friend’s son. People have said the child reminds them of their daughter, others their son, which is great, because I wanted the child to be identified with by whoever happened to be reading the book.


Colour was inspired by early 20th century animated films, where there are particular dark reds, blues and golds, and even darker colours within shadows. I masked light areas and used a toothbrush to flick and stipple watercolour into the shadows. 


The publisher, Sebastian Walker sometimes strolled about the office, to see what was going on.

He approached in his quiet way during a final editorial meeting, where we were checking through the finished artwork, and said, ”My dear, do be careful not to make it too dark.” Thankfully he was looking at the very darkest illustration, on the top of the pile, and probably didn’t know the rest were already finished! 


This illustration is an example of unwitting homage and borrowing of ideas.(13 ,14) I know I loved the illustrations by E.H. Shepard, for A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the Pooh as a child. I still do. Here is evidence.


The quilt on the bed featured on nearly every page. I tried many plain and patchwork variations. None worked.

so I decided to design one from scratch. Then painted it onto a handkerchief, so I could see how pattern folded etc.


The house was based on one featured in ‘The Coalminer’s Daughter’ (film 1980) Dir. Michael Apted) and drawn while watching the film on TV.


While in the early stages, we realised we would need more than the usual 12 spreads of a picture book, to get everyone out… and then back into bed. The red rectangles here, from the storyboard show the plotting of an extra 2 spreads. And getting in again!

Ten in the Bed has sold nearly 2 million copies and has been heralded as one of the most popular picture books of recent decades. To celebrate its 30th Anniversary, Illustrationcupboard are currently hosting an exhibition of the original artwork, including entire matching series of working drawings and other reference material. See an artwork preview and discover more about the exhibition on our website.


We have three signed copies of Ten in the Bed by Penny Dale available to give away! To enter, just answer this question...

In Ten in the Bed by Penny Dale, who gets a ride in the potty?

To enter, just email your name, address and answer to with 'Penny Dale Competition' in the subject line before 1st May 2018. Good luck!

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The Art of Enchantment

Welcome to our new regular blog feature where we go behind the scenes with our collectors and take a look at some of the the special pieces they've bought and discover why they chose them. This month we hear from Mei, whose enviable collection includes artwork by illustrators such as Angela Barrett, John Vernon Lord, Jane Ray and David McKee:

Beauty looks pensive clutching flowers in her hand, her dress and hair billowing in the wind. At her side looms the magical Beast as a dark green hedge. On the left a stone sculpture with a head of pink roses appears uncannily lifelike. Nothing is as it seems. The dreamy palette of greens evokes a landscape and atmosphere of quietude yet there is tension as if on the cusp of danger. It is a tale as old as time, and Angela Barrett’s rendering of Beauty and the Beast is enchanting. Ethereal. Her delicate brushstrokes of light and shade lend elegance and her pictures poignancy, to a story about love and loss. Richly allusive Beauty Runs Across the Garden is the front cover artwork of a classic fairy-tale retold by Max Eilenberg, whose moving prose touched my heart. I am thrilled it resides in my home.

At the top end of Bury Street in St James’s, lies Illustrationcupboard Gallery, an art gallery devoted to pictures of the most fantastic kind. Even before you step in you can sense something wonderful is about to happen. It is like walking into a storybook - a place full of colour and imagination. Nestled among private gentlemen clubs and posh clothiers, it is unlike the numerous haughty and hardened galleries found in this gentrified area of London. It is an intimate, inviting space. The glass exterior allows daylight to illuminate the tiers of storied artwork that glitter and glide effortlessly along the walls. Your eyes cannot help but dart from one picture to another, greedily absorbing the visual sensations contained within each golden frame. The pictures weave a sort of magic that engages both the heart and mind, and the welcoming staff ensures a pleasurable experience for every visitor.

My encounter with contemporary book illustrations began a year ago at this delightful emporium, a stone’s throw away from Christie’s where I work. With a passion for reading since childhood, combined with a love for beautiful things, this genre of art appealed to my sensibilities. Drawn from narrative, illustrations bring the written word to life. It is collaboration between text and image. They elucidate a story, enriching the reader’s experience giving rise to a wealth of meaning. And so began a love affair with Illustration Art, which, over the course of a year resulted in me collecting ten works by some of the most distinguished English artists.

As a jewellery specialist it was inevitable that the lapis blue in The Children Read by Jane Ray from the book of The Lost Happy Endings first caught my eye. It is a celestial colour. In the picture the nightscape is dotted with gold stars just as the lapis stone is found with gold flecks on its surface. That ultramarine blue reminds me so much of my time as a student in the History of Art. Nostalgia. It became my first purchase. The work is a compact composition of rooftops and houses lit under a night sky and bright moon, and in a contemplative moment I can almost hear the children by the windows.

Another jewel-like illustration I love is Playing Cards Painting Roses Red by John Vernon Lord for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It is a small image – a miniature, which makes it all the more exquisite. There is something about Lord’s accurate drawing which appeals to my methodical side. The roses delineated in black ink are like the sharp facets of a diamond. Their luscious Pigeon’s Blood hue and drops of ruby-red paint appear to spill over the picture’s threshold. There is a mathematical precision in the artist’s treatment of this subject, yet the world he depicts is a dizzy one. It is contradictory yet beguiling. Dimensions are warped and realities interchangeable. In Alice’s world the cards speak, the croquet balls are hedgehogs and I can walk Through the Looking Glass.

I was lucky to have met some of these award-winning illustrators. Among them David McKee, whose creation of Mr Benn stole my heart. Mr Benn is a well-dressed bowler-hat Englishman - a respectable old-fashioned character whom I find so endearing. Each day he ambles into a fancy dress shop and changes into a different costume to embark on marvellous adventures. The stories are simple and charming. But it is Mr Benn’s sense of morality which resonates having parents who instilled deep values in me from a young age. 007 Benn is Mr Benn dressed in a smart suit as the world’s best-loved spy - James Bond. He is seen in the changing room of the costume shop in all his bravado, holding a gun. I especially love the artist’s depiction of Mr Benn’s multiple reflections in the mirrors. They are like the innumerable prisms of an immense and exquisitely chiselled diamond. It is swagger, a type of cool only an artist like McKee can portray without coming across too cocksure.

John Vernon Lord, a giant in this field, tells us that the purpose of illustration, “... is to enlighten”. From my first picture to this personal reflection the journey has been one of wonder and discovery. If you know John Huddy, proprietor of Illustrationcupboard Gallery, then access to the gallery’s lower ground may be granted, where a rich reservoir of pictures is kept. I am privileged to have had the opportunity to view some of the most exquisite original illustration artwork in this secret chamber. John’s unerring instinct, aesthetic sense and free-flowing thoughts have guided me through this exciting area of collecting. But at the heart of his business is a deep appreciation and conviction for the art he handles. Illustrations illuminate. They offer clarity, allowing us to grasp their stories with heightened awareness and pleasure. Like Giotto’s biblical frescoes in the Arena Chapel it is the art of story-telling in pictures. They elevate our thoughts and fuel our dreams, for the most valuable things in life are those which you cannot see. In their stillness they capture that single moment for eternity. And that is enchanting.

-- Words by Mei Y Giam.

Monday, 21 August 2017

50 Years of Mr Benn by David McKee

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the iconic and much-loved Mr Benn books, featuring the bowler-hatted hero created by artist, writer and illustrator David McKee. 

The name ‘Mr Benn’ conjures strong memories of childhood adventures through the changing-room door of the fancy dress shop on Festive Rd. This month we are delighted to be celebrating 50 Years of Mr Benn with an exhibition of concept artwork, sketches, and published book illustrations. But the highlight of the show are the never-seen-before animation cels from the original Mr Benn films - hidden away in the film-makers studios for half a century, and only now released for the very first time.

We spoke with John Huddy, Managing Partner of Illustrationcupboard to find out why David McKee's Mr Benn artwork is not only a celebration of classic creativity, but is also a rare and valuable investment.

''David McKee's creation of Mr Benn was one of those rare moments of unique creativity, which has touched the heart and soul of so many over the 50 years since the books were published and then animated for BBC television. Classics roll on through the generations and are not subjects to fashion - such is Mr Benn. His quiet understated heroism provides a force for good, touching upon much ingrained in the British character and psyche, making this artistic creation so special to us here in the UK. 

Not only is the magic of Mr Benn an inspiration, but the value of this work has acquired a valid cultural, and now financial, value. With so much of the original artwork destroyed in the mid-1970's this collection of book illustration and film cels is special and rare. But it also has a further value representing a method of film-making that no longer exists. In a world of digital CGI, stop-frame animation with hand-painted scenes and acetate cels is a dinosaur, and as such these pieces are a historical record of the history of animated film-making, of which Britain has led the world for more than half a century.''

(John Huddy, Managing Partner of Illustrationcupboard gallery)

What people are saying...

"Cult cartoon star Mr Benn on brink of film stardom as he turns 50."
Read the full article here.

"Regularly voted one of the most beloved children’s programmes of all time."
Read the full article here

"As well as their whimsical charm, what characterises the series is a sense of morality."
Read the full article here.

"Never-before-seen animation cels go on display."
Read the full article here

"Children's TV favourite Mr Benn celebrates fifty years."
Watch the video here.

"The perennial favourite turns 50."
Read the full article here

"One of the most-loved children's TV series from the 1970's."
Listen to the full interview here (at 1:53)

Mr Benn at Turnbull and Asser - A new collection of pocket handkerchiefs!

Mr Benn fever is sweeping Bury St in St James's, London. Having met creator David here at the gallery, the art director of the classic english tailor has designed a 50 Year Anniversary set of 'Mr Benn pocket handkerchiefs' which are exclusive to Turnbull and Asser, our neighbours next door - so come down and see the sartorial elegance of Mr Benn at Turnbull and Asser whilst seeing all the original book and film work next door here at the Gallery! 

A New Street Name for Mr Benn
Mr Benn’s address, 52 Festive Road, was inspired by David McKee’s own house in Festing Road in Putney. In 2009 residents in the street paid tribute to David and Mr Benn by laying an engraved paving stone outside the house. McKee actually lived at 54 Festing Road; he put Mr Benn at No.52 because he had drawn himself looking from the window in the first book and thought it might be nice to have Mr Benn living next door! As part of the 50 years anniversary the residents petitioned for and gained approval to rename a pathway off Festing Road now called Festive Walk in his honour. Although Mr Benn is never referred to by his first name on screen, David McKee had always thought that ‘William’ would suit well. Mr Benn has secured his place in popular culture with mentions in songs by Oasis, The Divine Comedy, Half Man Half Biscuit and Bell XI.

50 Years of Mr Benn at the Illustrationcupboard Gallery runs from 16 August to 16 September, and in a special book-signing event there will be the opportunity to meet the creator, David McKee, on 23 August 2017 at the gallery from 4.00pm onwards. 

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Meet the Team!

Here at the Illustrationcupboard gallery we have a small but perfectly formed team working every day behind the scenes. You may have met some of us before at an exhibition or event, or perhaps spoken to us on the phone. Maybe you've even joined us for a cup of tea and a slice of cake on a Friday! Here we'd like to introduce you to our gallery family and tell you a little bit about why the Illustrationcupboard is such a special place to work!

Meet John
Managing Partner

"I started Illustrationcupboard in the spare bedroom of my sister’s flat in 1995 with only a desk and a telephone,  when there was little interest in collecting contemporary book illustration artwork. Over twenty years on I am pleased to regularly show the finest artwork in this field to a broad international collecting audience from our three floor art gallery in St James's, Mayfair. I often think how lucky I am to have the opportunity to see this original work when so many thousands of others see only the printed page."

Meet Jessica
Framing and Curation

What do you do at Illustrationcupboard?
I keep track of the artwork, mount, frame and hang all of the exhibitions. 

Which illustrator’s work would you love to own?
Neil Packer’s 'Look at your room Nausicaa!' published in The Odyssey

What do you love most about your job?
Getting to work so closely with such incredible artists.

Favourite Illustrationcupboard moment?
One of many – Babette Cole prancing round the gallery with bunny ears for James and the Giggleberries and Babette dressed up as Princess Smartypants for the celebration of 30 years of Princess Smartypants in September 2016.

What was your favourite book as a child?
Not Now Bernard’ by David McKee

Meet Daphne
Deputy Gallery Manager

What do you do at Illustrationcupboard?

Which illustrator’s work would you love to own?
Either something by John Vernon Lord or Angela Barrett.

What do you love most about your job?
I love getting to see all of the different artwork and having contact with so many artists. Everyone here is really friendly - even the postman!

Favourite Illustrationcupboard moment?
Having lunch with Jan Pienkowski at his house and looking through all his artwork - it was like an art museum! One of the great benefits of this job is occasionally getting to meet great artists in their studios and homes, it's not a chance most people would ever have so I really appreciate it.

What was your favourite book as a child?
Red Rose, White Rose illustrated by Gustav Tenggren.

Meet Molly

What do you do at Illustrationcupboard?
I help people to discover the gallery and spread the word about our upcoming exhibitions.

Which illustrator’s work would you love to own?
Definitely something by Shaun Tan. His work is completely breathtaking, it stops me in my tracks every time I walk past it. 

What do you love most about your job?
Getting to meet some of the most talented artists working today and seeing the original illustrations that I grew up with as a child.

Favourite Illustrationcupboard moment?
Having tea and biscuits with the amazing David McKee whilst looking through his original paintings of Elmer the elephant!

What was your favourite book as a child?
Would have to be either The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr or Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

Meet Anne
Sales and Events

What do you do at Illustrationcupboard?
I run the gallery on Saturdays and help out with private views.

Which illustrator’s work would you love to own?
I would love to own an original Brian Wildsmith, as I think his colours are just fantastic. I love the detail in his pictures that you can only see close-up in the flesh, which don't always come across when you see the images in his books.

What do you love most about your job?
I love that no two Saturdays are the same - sometimes it is quiet so I get on with updating our contact database, and then other times it can be very loud with lots of families getting excited about artwork that they have seen in books they read growing up.  

Favourite Illustrationcupboard moment?
This is a difficult one - there have been so many!  Getting to meet the artists is always a wonderful experience.  It was always a pleasure to host an event for Babette Cole, who was a ball of fun, and a huge personality.  Meeting Shaun Tan was also pretty fantastic, as he doesn't come over to the UK very often, but I love all of the artists that we get to work with; they are all so talented!

What was your favourite book as a child?
Each Peach Pear Plum, written by Allan Ahlberg and illustrated by Janet Ahlberg.  Apparently, when I was very small, my mother took me to the local library where they were having a book reading, and I stood up and recited the whole thing!  I even had a dolly called Baby Bunting.

Meet Jenny

What do you do at Illustrationcupboard?
I'm the admin assistant at the gallery.

Which illustrator’s work would you love to own?
I would love to own a Brian Wildsmith

What do you love most about your job?
I love working so closely with all this art – being able to have a wander round the gallery and have a good, long look whenever it’s quiet. I also love finding hidden gems down in the basement archives that we’d forgotten about!

Favourite Illustrationcupboard moment?
I really enjoy meeting the illustrators, they are always so lovely!

What was your favourite book as a child?
I was a big fan of Peace At Last by Jill Murphy.

Meet Stella

What do you do at Illustrationcupboard?
I make sure John stays in line! ... and I keep the books.

Which illustrator’s work would you love to own?
I'd love to own something by either John Vernon Lord or Shaun Tan.

What do you love most about your job?
Working with such nice people.

Favourite Illustrationcupboard moment?
Having dinner with Shaun Tan when he came over from Australia.

What was your favourite book as a child?
It's hard to pick a favourite from my childhood, but my favourite to read to my child now would have to be either Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak or Room on a Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.

We love nothing more than meeting visitors and chatting about the wonderful illustrators we work with, so please come and say hello next time you're in the gallery. If you have any questions about any of the artwork we're always happy to help. We look forward to seeing you soon! 

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