Table of contents
his first book
Dick Bruna published his first picture book, "the apple", in 1953. This book was published in rectangular format, with an illustration and two lines of text on every page. The first book about Miffy, simply titled "miffy", was published two years later. The book "miffy at the zoo" was published later that same year. From 1959 onwards, the books were published in the distinctive square format (16 x 16 cm), with illustrations on the right-hand page and four lines of text on the left. Dick Bruna opted for this format to make the books more manageable for his readers' little hands. He also gave the books a sturdy cover, so that they could withstand the odd knock. "The apple" was the first book published in the new square format. It was followed by new versions of "miffy" and "miffy at the zoo". Dick Bruna produced new text and pictures for the square versions of the books. The 100th book by Dick Bruna, "miffy the ghost", was published in 2001. He went on to create more than 120 books, publishing his last in 2011.
“Because Dick Bruna thought it would be more interesting to draw little dresses rather than little pairs of trousers, he made Miffy a little girl bunny.”
from rectangular to square
Dick Bruna's earliest rectangular books, published before the square format was adopted in 1959, are now true collectors’ items! As a tribute to these first seven books (none of which will be reissued), the publishing company began numbering the square books at No. 8.
less is more
Dick Bruna's style is immediately recognisable because of its simplicity and universal appeal. The simplicity leaves plenty of room for children to use their own imagination. Dick Bruna’s work is characterised by thick black outlines drawn with a paintbrush (which show the ‘heartbeat’ of the artist) and vibrant colours. His confident lines convey a sense of warmth, combined with a subtle tenderness.
“I create a world that children fill with their own imagination.”
Dick Bruna devoted a great deal of attention to the way he drew tears, relying on the power of simplicity. Less is more, as he demonstrates in "miffy is crying" and "dear grandma bunny", where a single tear proves more effective than a face flooded with tears.
As was the case with his drawings, Dick Bruna also liked to keep his typography as simple as possible. That is why he always used a sans-serif typeface, ensuring that the letters don't have any unnecessary curls or extensions. You won't find any capital letters in his books and he kept punctuation to a minimum.
Dick Bruna used only a limted range of colours: red, yellow, blue, green and black. He occasionally used brown and grey, and used orange even more rarely. You are unlikely to find purple in his books, because Dick doesn’t like purple!
Dick Bruna’s books are printed in unique colours, mixed specially for him. Because Dick Bruna liked his red to be warmer than the standard red, for instance, he mixed in some orange. And he didn't want his yellow to be too cold, so he mixed in some red to make it warmer. You won’t see his colours in any other book. That’s why they are so recognisable!
Dick Bruna originally designed book covers for his father’s publishing company, A.W. Bruna & Zoon. He gained renown with his book cover designs for the Black Bear pocket editions, for which he also designed the logo and various posters. When he began creating picture books, he adopted the same graphic approach he used for his cover designs. He reduced the pictorial elements to the bare essentials. When drawing an elephant, for example, he first went to the zoo to draw a real elephant, producing a very detailed pencil sketch. Back in his studio, he would leave out more and more of the details, until he was left with whatever lines were essential to make his elephant recognisable as an elephant. That’s why his drawings often look like pictograms.
made with children in mind
When Dick Bruna's books were first published, many adults were not impressed. There was very little text in the books and his drawings were thought to be too basic, lacking in detail. Today, it's hard to imagine they prompted this response! But children loved the books right from the start. Dick Bruna's colours instantly appealed to them, and they immediately recognised all the shapes, because they were like pictograms on the little pages. The lack of detail offered plenty of scope for children to use their own imagination. Since those early days, many illustrators have been inspired by Dick Bruna's work and three generations of children have grown up with his books.
Dick Bruna’s wife, Irene, always played a key role in the creation of the books. His creative routine was always the same over the years. Dick would work on a new book in silence, never discussing the project while work was still underway. Once the book was finished, Dick would invite Irene over to the studio, where she was always the first person to see the book. She would give her opinion and only if the book met with her approval would it be sent on for publication. If Irene was very critical of a book, Dick Bruna would put it away in a drawer. Sometimes he would return to it later, making changes until it was ready for publication. But some of his books disappeared into a drawer, never to be published.
millions of books
More than 85 million copies of Dick Bruna's books have been printed over the years. The books have been translated into more than 50 languages and are read by children all over the world. In February 2011, his books appeared in Russian (50th languauge) for the first time. This was a wish come true for Dick Bruna.
never in profile
Whatever his characters are doing in the books, Dick Bruna always draws them looking straight at the reader. He tried drawing their faces in profile, but felt this looked strange. On rare occasions, characters are depicted from behind, but never in profile. The posters he designed for the Black Bear pocket editions sometimes show characters in profile, but even then there is always an eye looking straight at the viewer. The direct gaze of Dick Bruna’s characters increases their impact, and this goes for his children's books as well as his other designs.
Dick Bruna created books that he himself found aesthetically pleasing. He wanted to produce beautiful prints that stand alone as graphic designs. The fact that his books are loved by children worldwide is simply an added bonus. Dick always said he saw the world though the eyes of a four-year-old, which may explain the appeal of his books. Even when he was in his eighties, he found inspiration while cycling to work at his studio, when he saw children playing in the street, or when his grandchildren came to visit him.
Later in life, Dick Bruna was often inspired by his grandchildren. He created "miffy in the tent" after seeing his granddaughter playing with a little yellow tent in the garden. And "miffy the ghost" was inspired by his grandson, who had dressed up as a ghost for a sleepover.
Dick Bruna always started by coming up with an idea for a story in his head, trying to capture the story in twelve or thirteen drawings before he started working on paper. He sometimes produced hundreds of sketches before he felt he had the right twelve drawings to tell the story. He would then transfer the twelve drawings onto thick sheets of paper one by one, using a sharp pencil that made a small groove in the thick paper. After that, he would mark out the lines with black paint. The line illustrations would be transferred to a transparent sheet, and only then would he start deciding what colours he wanted to use. He did this by cutting the shapes out of coloured paper and placing them behind the transparent sheet with the line drawing. This made it very easy for him to see if he wanted Miffy wearing a red or a yellow dress, for example. In the early days, Dick Bruna would paint the outlines on paper and then fill in the colours with poster paint. But this meant he had to redo a drawing if the colour wasn't to his liking! His later method was far more convenient. Once he felt he had chosen exactly the right colours, he would paste the coloured shapes onto the back of the transparent line drawing. He would start working on the text when the drawings were almost completed. Once the text had been typed out on his typewriter, the book was ready to be sent to the printer. Creating simplicity can be hard work, because Dick Bruna sometimes spent months working on a single a book!
Most of Dick Bruna’s children’s books have four lines of text on every other page. The last word of the second line rhymes with the last word of the fourth line. The sentences have a pleasant cadence, which is immediately apparent when you read them out loud. This makes the text ideal for young children, because it is pleasant on the ear and the rhyme makes it easier for children to memorise the text. Some of Dick's books don't have any text at all. The pictures tell the story.
adventures in and around the house
Dick Bruna’s stories are always friendly and simple. They are never frightening. Most of them are about little adventures in and around the house. Sometimes the stories explain how to deal with a difficult situation, but they always have a happy ending. Examples include "miffy is crying", in which Miffy loses her teddy bear, and "miffy in the hospital", in which Miffy has to spend a night in the hospital. Some of his books are about things that everyone finds it difficult to talk about. "Lottie" is about a little girl in a wheelchair, and "dear grandma bunny" is about the death of Miffy’s grandma. Dick created the latter book because he felt that death is a part of life, but the story is told in such a wonderful way that many children and adults find comfort in this book. In 1997, Dick Bruna won the Silver Slate Award for the text in "dear grandma bunny", and rightly so.