‘I’m not an illustrator, more of a graphic artist,’ says Bruna. ‘I’m always thinking in shapes and trying to pare elements down.’ He offers this example: ‘If I have to draw an elephant, I go to the zoo and sketch an elephant, then I begin to strip away all the unnecessary stuff, to be left with the essence of elephant. It’s like an alphabet or graphic language, an international symbol of the subject.’ He adds, ‘Maybe that’s why I’m so popular in Japan.’
Whatever accounts for Bruna’s popularity, it doesn’t look like ending, which pleases him enormously. ‘Everything I’ve ever done has been to try and make people a little happier, whether it be a poster on a station platform, a book jacket, or a Miffy story,’ he says. On her 50th birthday and with a two-year touring exhibition opening this month in Newcastle, you suspect Miffy and Bruna will be spreading happiness for a long time to come.
Happy Birthday Miffy: a celebration of the work of Dick Bruna runs from 2 June to 5 September at the Discovery Museum, Newcastle NE1 4JA. Tel: 0191 232 6789