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While working as a trainee in Paris, Dick Bruna began drawing cityscapes. Setting up his easel near a little bridge or narrow street, he would create a highly realistic drawing or painting of the scene. This changed after he encountered the work of Braque, Picasso, Matisse and Léger during his regular visits to the many museums of Paris. Impressed by their use of colour, their technique, the lack of perspective and the simplicity of their work, Dick Bruna began experimenting with the elimination of detail, the use of colour and various techniques. He soon began applying these new techniques in the book covers he created for A.W. Bruna & Zoon publishers where he was then employed. Dick always started out by reading the manuscript, to gain a sense of the atmosphere of the book, which is what he wanted to convey on the cover (rather than simply depicting the story’s main character, for example). He then set to work with coloured paper and other materials, tearing and cutting out shapes, placing them in a collage, moving them around until he found the ideal composition. The Black Bear imprint also published work by authors producing series, including Havank’s The Shadow novels, Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels, Jean Bruce’s O.S.S. 117 series, and The Saint novels by Leslie Charteris. For these series, Dick developed a distinctive character who appeared on the cover of each of the books, making the series more recognisable. During this time, he also designed posters for the Black Bear paperbacks. In all instances, Dick Bruna applied the same technique, doing his utmost to keep the design as simple as possible.
“I am the little boy looking at the Calder mobile. I suddenly saw it once it was finished.”
black bear pocket editions
Shortly after launching the Black Bear pocket editions, A.W. Bruna & Zoon publishers began setting up bookstalls at all train stations in the Netherlands. To stimulate sales, the book covers had to immediately draw the attention of passing travellers. Before then, book covers had not been particularly important, but this changed with the advent of the first paperback series in the 1950s. Dick Bruna’s clear, eye-catching, simple cover designs were entirely in keeping with this new development. They appealed to passers-by, inviting them to pick up the book and read the blurb, increasing the chance of making a sale.
“Whether he was designing postage stamps, stationery, logos, posters or prints, Dick Bruna always strove to keep his design as clear and simple as possible.”
Dick Bruna’s book cover designs also included the Maigret novels by Georges Simenon, who told Dick that he had shown one of his covers to Picasso, who remarked that it was so striking and effective that it looked like a poster. Dick Bruna still regards this as one of the greatest compliments he ever received. Similarly, he received a wonderful compliment from Gerrit Rietveld, whose work he greatly admired. At the time, the pioneer of the De Stijl movement frequently called at the publishing house, where they were compiling a book about him. Dick was then working on a book cover for one of the The Saint novels by Leslie Charteris. Rietveld stood behind him, pointed at the character Dick had created for The Saint, and remarked: “That’s a nice shape, lad.”
“That’s a nice shape, lad.”
Dick Bruna has gained international acclaim, particularly in Japan, where he is held in very high esteem - as an artist as well as a children’s book author. Dick Bruna has designed numerous posters, logos and house styles for charities and worthy causes, including Amnesty International, UNICEF and National Tree Planting Day in the Netherlands. He has received many awards for his striking poster designs, most of which were created for the Black Bear pocket editions published by his father’s company A.W. Bruna & Zoon. Dick Bruna created approximately 2,000 book covers for the Black Bear series. In the years prior to his retirement, Dick Bruna was was still regularly approached to contribute graphic designs.