How would do explain Miffy’s enduring appeal? I think it is Miffy’s simplicity which seems to appeal to children and adults – and that has never changed over all the years I have been publishing books about Miffy. 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.
How has the character changed over her career? In the beginning, Miffy was quite like a real rabbit – as she was based on a little bunny that used to hop about the garden of our holiday house – I drew pictures and made up bedtime stories about that bunny for my son, and that’s how Miffy was born. But very quickly, Miffy became less like a rabbit, and more like a little girl, with different dresses (they are more interesting to draw than trousers!). In the 70s, Miffy’s ears were very long and pointy, and her face was an oval. But gradually over the years since then, she became rounder all over – a bit more cuddly – like a toddler in a way.
How did you come up with the idea for Miffy At The Gallery? I often think of ideas for my books as I’m cycling to my studio in Utrecht each morning. But art galleries have always been important to me – my first visit to the big art galleries in Paris when I was 18 was completely life changing – so I always knew I would do a story about the first time Miffy went to a gallery. In Miffy At The Gallery, I wanted to include visual references to the artists who have influenced me so much over my career – namely Matisse, Léger, Mondriaan and Alexander Calder. Hopefully this little book shows my debt to these great masters.
How can we encourage children to appreciate art? I think there is nothing better than visiting art galleries as often as you can, or if this isn’t possible, then getting books out of the library and looking at art with your child is wonderful. I remember when I was a boy, my family went into hiding during the Second World War – we lived in a house near a remote lake in North Holland, and we had to hide whenever German search parties came. During that time, I had just one book – about Van Gogh – which I looked at literally thousands of times. Then, eventually after the war, when I visited Paris, I was able to go and see those Van Gogh paintings for real. It was a wonderful moment.
Which artists do you admire? Henri Matisse I admire and love the most. When I saw his huge paper-cut outs – which he made at the end of his career, by creating the simplest of shapes yet with such form – I knew immediately that I wanted to try and do the same: to work in two-dimensional art with very simple shapes and colours. I have tried to do that throughout my career. Gerrit Rietveld is also someone I admire – he was from the city of Utrecht too. He once saw one of my early pictures and said “That’s a nice shape you have made”. Needless to say, I went round with my head in the clouds for about a week afterwards!
What’s the best thing about being the creator of Miffy? I think seeing how much children enjoy my books and that they really care about Miffy. Every week I get wonderful letters, drawings and hand-made objects from fans around the world – with such love and attention to detail… I just know they feel huge affection for Miffy.
What’s the best reaction you’ve had? When I was just starting out and had produced my very first picture books, I set up a stall to try and sell them at a book fair near where I lived in Holland. Parents came and looked at the books, and dismissed them as too simple. But little children picked them up and immediately loved them – they kept asking me questions about the characters and begged their parents to buy them. I knew then that I should continue to make books for children.
Apart from books, what other projects is Miffy involved in? (I know you’ve done stuff for Unicef and the Red Cross before). Miffy is involved with charities all over the world. Recently a one-off book was produced for Holland, South Africa and the UK, and the money raised has funded the building of several libraries for children in Africa. I have also just done a very special picture of Miffy for the people of Japan.
Tell us a bit about the Dick Bruna Museum? It is based in my home town of Utrecht, and this year it is celebrating its fifth anniversary. I’m very lucky to have a museum dedicated to my work, and still be alive to appreciate it! There is a large exhibition of my early book cover designs as well as silkscreens and sketches of Miffy, and some history about my childhood. On the ground floor, there is also a play area for young children and a library, where you can read or listen to the Miffy stories in different languages. It’s a nice place to visit for families.
How do you feel about Miffy as a style icon? I am quite surprised that she is considered this, but often good style is the most simple, so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. Certainly Miffy seems to be loved by fashion designers at the moment – some of the outfits created for the Miffy In Fashion exhibition at the Dick Bruna House are very interesting - they are different to what I would have created, but it is fascinating to see the catwalk of Miffy models wearing all the various outfits. The exhibition is going to at the Dick Bruna House until the end of the year.
What does the future hold for Miffy as she heads towards her 60th birthday?
I hope she continues to be enjoyed by children and parents all over the world for many years to come, but particularly by children, as they are our future.