Illustration Week: Derek Brazell interviews illustrator Ronald Searle

Making Great Illustration

Today on Illustration Week: Derek Brazell interviews the late Ronald Searle for Making Great Illustration. You can purchase this book and more in our on-going Illustration Week sale.

Derek Brazell’s interview with Ronald Searle may have been the last before the illustrator’s death on December 30, 2011.

It’s a location that would be the envy of many – a medieval hilltop village with beautiful hazy blue views over Southern France. We’re driving up from the coast with photographer Andrea’s husband at the wheel, off the motorway onto the winding pine tracked roads up into Provence highlands. Ronald’s hand drawn map comes in handy.

Ethnic Cleansing for Le Monde

I’m amazed to have got here at all given the crack of dawn start from Nice interrupted by a French rail strike chucking me off in the middle of nowhere, followed by frantic phone calls to Andrea trying to tell her where I was.

Ou? Je ne sais pas! So much for French A level popping back into your head when you need it…

Nice. 6.30am. Where’s le train? Photo by Derek

Luckily we’re on time in the end. Ronald and his wife, Monica, meet us at a swanky local restaurant and generously treat us to a sophisticated meal which happily includes his famous ‘engine oil’, pink champagne (oh, go on, just one more glass then).

Ronald and I have a good chat about the Association of Illustrators, of which he is a patron, and Varoom magazine which he likes.

Ronald portait by Andrea Liggins

Back at the Searles’ multi-level house in the village we are shown around and see a book lined room where Ronald stores many of his reference books and videos, back down in the living room we do our interview.

He’s still taking on commissions, though there is not a lot of artwork around as he has bequeathed all his sketchbooks and artworks to the Wilhelm-Busch museum in Hanover, Germany.

Studio photograph by Andrea Liggins
Studio photograph by Andrea Liggins
Morocco sketchbook. Photo by Matt Jones
Morocco sketchbook. Photo by Matt Jones

Ronald is fascinating to talk to – he’s seen so much and lived through many changes, and this has given him a unique way of visually interpreting our world. Amazing drawing coupled with strong ideas and powerful and often humorous assessments of the human character.

Mr Harris Horse sale
Mr Harris Horse sale

We all take the many staircases up to the roof, via several small terraces, and Monica reveals that they don’t come up here much anymore as it’s too strenuous. She is a jewellery artist, and her studio is right at the top looking out over the hills.

Andrea, Ronald, Monica and Derek on the terrace
Andrea, Ronald, Monica and Derek on the terrace

It’s a beautiful afternoon, and I would have happily stayed longer sipping pink champagne and talking to one of my illustration heroes, but it’s a long drive back to the seaside, so we reluctantly take our leave. One of my most memorable days.

Derek Brazell is co-author of Understanding Illustration, Making Great Illustration and Becoming a Successful Illustrator, all with Jo Davies.

Jo and Derek are currently working on the second edition of Becoming a Successful Illustrator, which will publish in 2017.

Their website has more information on all the books including additional material and blog posts.