ONE of the country’s foremost illustrators is providing his own unique introduction to the Jerwood Gallery’s permanent exhibition.

Sir Quentin Blake, who has a second home in the town, has created a series of seaside portraits of ten artists featured in the Jerwood’s permanent collection, including Stanley Spencer, Edward Burra, LS Lowry and Maggi Hambling.

“It’s like an informal introduction to the collection,” he says from his London studio.

“A lot of them are painters from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s whose work I knew from when I was a student. It’s like revisiting early enthusiasms. “ This new Hastings display runs alongside Jerwood’s Drawn Together: Artist As Selector exhibition, featuring drawings by Michael Craig-Martin, Cornelia Parker and Rachel Whiteread. It’s part of the gallery’s summer Drawing Festival to mark the 20th anniversary of the Jerwood Trust’s annual open drawing prize for UK-based artists.

For ten years Blake was involved in the Campaign For Drawing, which encouraged people of all ages to take up their sketchpads.

“A lot of people want to draw, but they feel embarrassed about it,” he says.

“When you’re very small you have two languages – speech and drawing. All children draw, but they give it up when they discover there are difficult standards to keep up with.

“Illustrations encourage children to read – they see pictures and want to know what the words are connected to them. It’s a strong motivating factor.”

Having illustrated more than 300 books over his long career, Blake puts his connection between pictures and the spoken word down to his own love of reading.

“My degree was in English literature,” he says. “I realised with hindsight that I liked relating to and working with text.

“The first thing with any new project is to do a lot of reading, so you can go to an author with ideas. You are in a double act with the writer – you make sure you don’t upstage them.

“It’s an interpretation of the work – like playing somebody else’s music. You give a flavour but respect the original.”

Perhaps his most famous collaboration was the ten years he spent working with Roald Dahl.

The pair first teamed up in 1978 on the picture book The Enormous Crocodile.

Blake went on to illustrate all of Dahl’s subsequent children’s books aside from the posthumously released The Minpins. Following Dahl’s death in 1990 he revisited works penned before their first collaboration, including James And The Giant Peach, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and Danny The Champion Of The World.

“With Dahl it was fascinating,” he says. “You never knew what would happen next. There was a great variety amongst his books. It wasn’t like doing a series.”

A pair of his Dahl creations form the inaugural exhibition at London’s House Of Illustration, in Granary Square, King’s Cross.

Inside Stories, which opened earlier this month, focuses on nine different Blake-illustrated books including The Twits, Danny The Champion Of The World, his self-penned Clown and David Walliams’s The Boy In The Dress.

“They’ve been chosen to contrast with each other,” says Blake, who has supplied roughs and storyboards to go alongside the finished artworks.

“It’s showing different ways of setting out to do a book. In The Twits you have the extreme caricature, while Danny The Champion Of The World is more realistic.”

He is looking forward to his first Jerwood exhibition – not least because the gallery is only at the bottom of his road.

“Hastings is my second home,” he says. “It’s a very nice town. There have always been artists there – they’re just there, not saying very much about it.

“For this exhibition I made some drawings in a little notebook on the beach. Mostly I make things up and try to remember things. I took about 50 photographs of the beach and fishing boats and worked with some of those.

“These are very impromptu drawings. Like the book illustrations they are meant to be about feelings.”

He has developed a catalogue for the gallery to go alongside the exhibition.

“It’s to tell visitors to look more closely at the paintings,” he says. “It might even encourage them to draw, which is why I called it Artists On The Beach – you could be doing it as well!”

QUENTIN BLAKE: ARTISTS ON THE BEACH Jerwood Gallery, Rock-a-Nore Road, Hastings, Saturday, July 19, to Wednesday, October 15.

Open Tues to Fri 11am to 5pm, Sat/Sun 11am to 6pm, summer holidays daily 11am to 6pm, tickets £8/£3 local residents, £3.50/£1.50 child, free entry first Tuesday of the month 4pm to 8pm. Call 01424 728377.