Quentin Blake was born in Sidcup, Kent, on 16 December 1932, the son of a civil servant. He later recalled that his family was "nominally middle-class, with all the expectations and assumptions of the middle-class, but with as little money as it was possible to have and still be middle-class." As a child he was "silent, but drew a lot".
Blake was educated at Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar School, and while still a schoolboy began sending cartoons to Punch. In 1949 he had two accepted, being paid seven guineas each. Blake also drew for the school magazine and did some caricatures of the headmaster, recalling that he "heard about them and called me in to see him": "I took two or three of the least awful. He looked at the drawings for a long time, while I sweated. I thought I was for it. Finally he said, 'Yes, you've caught some of the energy of the man', and I was off the hook."
From 1951 to 1953 Blake did his National Service, noting later that "I joined the educational corps and taught enlisted boys at Aldershot": "I tried to teach them English, which in most cases meant punctuation and spelling. In some ways it was like Dotheboys Hall, and they used to run away. Towards the end of my two years, I illustrated what I suppose was my first book, a pamphlet called English on Parade." On leaving the army in 1953 Blake read English at Downing College, Cambridge, recalling that "I art-edited a few issues of Granta magazine, but I didn't really move in those very smart circles. I declined to draw for Varsity because Michael Winner was turning it into something like the Daily Mirror."
After graduating in 1956 Blake took a one-year teacher-training course at the Institute of Education, University of London. At Cambridge Blake had attended some life classes at Cambridge Art School, and he now attended life classes part-time at Chelsea School of Art and studied anatomical sculpture at Camberwell School of Art. In 1957 he became a freelance illustrator and teacher. In 1965 he acquired an agent in the United States, whose first instruction was "to sign your name so people can read it." Blake also taught English (part-time) at the Lycae Francais, London, and from 1965 to 1978 was Tutor in the Department of Illustration at the Royal College of Art, succeeding Brian Robb as Head from 1978 to 1986.
Particularly well-known for his illustrations and jackets for children's books, Blake has also designed covers for Punch, contributed to the Spectator (including covers) and Soldier, and drawn advertisements for Guinness and others. In 1979 he was joint winner of the Whitbread Award, and in 1981 won the Kate Greenaway Medal for Mr Magnolia. Described in 1965 as having "a tendency towards dark, intellectual shirts and, in conversation, the sudden, theatrical arm movements of a puppet", he became less formal over time. By 1998 it was noted that "small, elfin, balding with grey hair sticking out at a dozen angles, Blake looks as if he has just stepped out from one of his books." In 1999 Blake was appointed the first-ever "Children's Laureate".
"I'm not a cartoonist", Blake told one interviewer: "I hate doing cartoons." His scratchy style and zany humour have been strongly influenced by Andrc Francois, whom he greatly admires. He works most frequently with indian ink and watercolour on Arches or Canson paper. In 1998 he was described as being at work in the studio of his Earls Court flat by 9.30 each morning, warming up by slicing paper with his guillotine, then starting to draw, standing at a light box with his back to the window. "I never draw from life," he explained: "You can either draw someone carrying a suitcase from life or from sketchbooks, or, like me, you can imagine what it feels like...It's like acting and I get to play all the parts."
- Michael Bateman Funny Way to Earn a Living: A Book of Cartoons and Cartoonists (Leslie Frewin, London, 1966), pp.77-9.
- Patrick Skene Catling "Quentin Blake", Punch, 15 December 1965, p.881.
- Candida Crewe "Quentin Blake", The Times, 26 February 1994. '
- Sally Williams "The Daily Sketcher", Independent, 28 March 1998, p.9.
- Jonathan Sale "Passed/failed: Quentin Blake", Independent, 16 April 1998, p.E4.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), pp.28-29.