Monday Motivation: Quentin Blake, 10 Minutes of Illustration

I remember seeing this video a few years ago up on his website, but this footage of Quentin Blake working on Mrs. Armitage is always worth revisiting. It's almost absurd watching him ink—so refined and elegant, but still so damned sketchy and simple. This is part two of a three-part series, be sure to catch part one here and part three here


If you’ve ever learned to play an instrument, you have probably heard stories of average musicians going off to practice and coming back as the legends we all know today. One famous example has the great jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker retreating to a resort in the Ozarks for the summer after being laughed off stage during a particularly embarrassing solo. After months of intense study, he returned full of ideas and the chops to realize them. 

There’s actually a term for what Charlie Parker was doing—woodshedding. Woodshedding is the act of hiding away to hone your skills through focused and intense practice. It refers to the early days of American music, when blues and jazz musicians would go out back to the woodshed to practice in peace, without the fear of others overhearing their sometimes awful racket. 

Learning to play guitar as a teenager, I was always enthralled with the idea of woodshedding. Turns out I still am. 

I want to make picture books, but don’t have the benefit of an art school degree or years of writing experience and industry connections to help out. While I’ve sketched occasionally over the years, I haven’t spent every free minute making art and honing my style. 

So, I’m left with only one option. I need to woodshed. I need to learn as much as I can about picture books, illustration, children’s literature, and the publishing process. I need to practice my skills, both as a writer and illustrator. I need to go out back and chop the wood before I can light a fire, as the saying goes. 

So, that’s the plan. I figure the first year of pursuing my goal of publication will be almost entirely spent in the woodshed. The difference between me and all of the musicians that have come before is that I plan on sharing the experience. That’s mainly what this website is for—documenting everything I learn. 

What I write and share here won’t always be the best. Drawings over in the sketchbook will be full of half-realized ideas and different styles. Things will work in starts and fits. But it’s all in the service of progress. 

So keep that in mind when you’re poking around the site. I’m in woodshedding mode—things might get a bit messy—but I plan on having something that wows people when it’s all over.