Lines of Imagination

‘Lines of Imagination’ shows the illusive simplicity of Dick Bruna’s work, the man who’s illustrated books, filled with clear but soft lines, became a big success among children around the world.

Utrecht has been the home-town of two world famous artist, known for there bright colors and stylized figures: Gerrit Rietveld and Dick Bruna. Both created a house, open to the public: the Rietveld-Schröderhuis and since 2006 Utrechts Central Museum hosts a Dick Bruna House.


He was suppose to follow the footsteps of his father in a publishing company, but Dick Bruna dreamed of a career as an artist. In the early fifties he went to Paris, where he got inspired by the work of artists like Matisse, and by the world of the modern chanson and film. These would remain continuous sources of inspiration. From 1940 on he illustrated around two-thousand book covers. The most famous example is the Black Bear detective series (Zwarte Beertjesserie). The clear lines, extremely basic forms and the little bear formed the characteristics of the book cover. Bruna also designed posters to promote the pocketbooks, and reading in general: ‘Reading while laying down nice and lazy (with a little Black Bear).


In 1955, Miffy (Nijntje Pluis was the original Dutch name) was created, the little bunny with the cute face that would bring Bruna world fame. Since then, generations of kids grew up with the stories about Miffy, Boris, Bear and Betje Big. The series is incredibly popular, especially in Japan. The Dick Bruna House therefore also hosts a Japanese version of their website. The Miffy books are about events in the life of young children: a day to the beach or the zoo, a birthday party, a visit to Grandma and Grandpa, a new baby, to name a few. The most important book about an important event is ‘Dear Grandma Pluis’, in which the Grandma dies and they go to the funeral. Children can fantasize about Miffy from their books: how she talks and moves. This fantasy has come to life in a musical on Miffy, whit music of Joop Stokkermans.


Bruna describes his work as plain and simple, uncomplicated. He tries to keep his illustrations and stories as basic as possible. Bruna believes that an illustrator should not limit his audience’s imagination. Art should only describe a certain ambiance. Bruna finds it important to leave the reader space for imagination, especially in his books for young children. This stimulates their fantasy and creativity.


The profit from his work and the ‘merchandising’ around the books characters provide Bruna enough financial sources to stop working, but he still writes and illustrates on a daily basis. Besides children’s books, he does graphic design. Often for social institutions targeting children: he illustrated a book about pre-mature babies, designed postcards for the Ronald McDonaldhouse in Utrecht and designed childrenstamps (kinderpostzegels). With his clear, but yet soft, lines, Bruna contributed greatly to modern visual art and inspired children in numerous countries. Nevertheless, Dick Bruna doen’t call himself an artist. “I create children’s books”, he states.


In ‘Lines of Imagination’ we see Bruna illustrate, and read his books to children in England. Additionally, Bruna talks about paintings that inspired him and we sketch his development as an artist. In that, we contradict Bruna’s self image as ‘just a creator of children’s books.’

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