“I really wanted the book to represent what Hockney is about and so I tried to get into his head at the beginning of the project,” says illustrator Rose Blake on the activity book she’s created with Tate Publishing on David Hockney. “I did a shitload of research! I read lots of Hockney literature and interviews, listened to as many radio interviews as I could find, watched documentaries, and looked at a lot of his paintings.”
Meet the Artist: David Hockney is published to coincide with Hockney’s big retrospective at the gallery opening this month, and surprisingly it’s the first children’s book created about the artist. It was Rose’s “dream project” and within it’s colourful pages, the book is chock-full of of fun stuff to get stuck into like creating colourful Hockney-esque landscapes, photo collages and portrait drawing. The detail Rose has included in the book is brilliantly crafted and the nuanced drawings add depth to the book, which is testament to her thorough process.
The illustrator kept a notebook full of ideas, quotes and sketches relating to the project. This diary of sorts developed in tandem with digital folders of images of Hockney’s work and the artist himself, from which Rose could record her findings and draw inspiration from. “I was doing the book during the summer so I would go for an early swim at the lido and then sit by the pool reading David Hockney by David Hockney for half an hour before I went to work,” explains Rose. “I wanted everything to be as true to the artist as possible. For example the easel and painting tray in the spread that includes a portrait of his parents are the actual ones he uses.”
“One night I was at Rowans Bowling Alley in Finsbury Park and I got a text from him, saying how much he liked it.”
– Rose Blake
Rose’s understanding of Hockney’s work has allowed her own images to echo the spirit of the artist’s work, and a dialogue is created between the two. “For instance, in the opening spread, to illustrate the word ‘Daring’, I drew his dog Stanley squaring up to a Hockney drawing of a panther jumping at him and a Hockney snake hissing behind him,” she explains. Other ways his personality is infused into the book is in Rose’s favourite part of book, the self-portrait spread. It has lots of “little details pinned up that are related to Hockney’s personal life”, including a ticket to one of his favourite operas, a Walt Whitman poem called Song of Myself, and an End Bossiness Soon badge, which Hockney made when the smoking ban was introduced.
During the project Rose didn’t have direct contact with Hockney, but the spreads continually got approval from the artist and his team, often with no revisions. “Then Tate must have sent over a proof copy of the book to LA, and one night I was at Rowans Bowling Alley in Finsbury Park and I got a text from him, saying how much he liked it, which if you know Rowans was quite a bizarre juxtaposition of worlds,” says Rose.