Born in the Chinese Year of the Rabbit, perhaps it was fate that dictated that Dick Bruna should find inspiration from a sweet little white rabbit. Since her very first incarnation as a scribbled drawing for Bruna’s young son in 1955, Miffy – or Nijntje as she is called in her native Netherlands – has become a global publishing sensation. Her distinctive silhouette has appeared in over 20 Miffy books, her gentle tales translated into over 40 languages. In Holland, Miffy is nothing short of a national hero, read in every school in the land; there is even a bronze statue of Miffy adorning the town square of Bruna’s home town, Utrecht, which also houses a museum in Dick’s – and, of course, Miffy’s – honour. In Japan, the schoolgirls go crazy for the super-cute bunny with a kiss for lips, and all over the world toddlers snuggle up happily for another of her cosy, homely adventures.
No surprise, then, that the prestigious judges of the Junior Design Awards should bestow yet another accolade upon Miffy’s creator for Miffy At The Gallery, a stylish book that pays homage to the artists who most influenced and inspired him, namely Matisse, Léger, Mondrian and Alexander Calder. Bruna is also a great advocate for encouraging art appreciation from a young age. “There is nothing better than visiting art galleries as often as you can,” he says. “If this isn’t possible, then going to the library and looking through art books with your child is wonderful, too.”
Bruna is clearly a perfectionist and colour is extremely important to him. He has singled out a distinct palette of “Bruna colours” – specific shades of red, blue, green and yellow (but never purple) – that he uses. Clarity is key, too. “It is Miffy’s simplicity which seems to appeal to children and adults, and that has never changed over the years,” says Bruna. “I spend a long time making my drawings as simple as possible, throwing lots away, before I reach that moment of recognition. What matters is reducing everything to its essence. Every shape captures the imagination, and I leave plenty of space for children’s imagination to roam across the page. That is the strength of simplicity: the art of omission.”
Translated from the original Dutch text, there’s occasionally some slightly odd phrasing and a little artistic licence (for example, “Miffy” becomes “Miff” when the iambic pentameter requires brevity), but this all adds to the charm. However, the seeming simplicity of the books belies the amount of effort that goes into them. Bruna is determined to create a warm and secure world for his young readers, but he’s not afraid to tackle difficult subjects, like illness or death. “But I always try to be as honest and as positive as I can,” he says. Bruna has also worked, with the help of Miffy, for the Red Cross and Unicef, and published Miffy books in braille for the blind. His most recent work was a special drawing of Miffy crying, for the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan, signed simply: “My Best Wishes to Japan, Dick Bruna.”
After a career that has spanned nearly 60 years, Bruna’s little bunny girl is as popular as ever, and that is very gratifying – and humbling – for Bruna. “The best thing about creating Miffy is seeing how much children enjoy my books and that they really care about Miffy,” he says. “Every week, I get wonderful letters, drawings and handmade gifts from fans around the world – made with such love and attention to detail. I just know they feel huge affection for Miffy. I hope Miffy continues to be enjoyed by children and parents all over the world for many years to come”
Read Junior's exclusive interview with Dick Bruna