Barbara Firth illustrated children’s picture books for over thirty years, working with seminal children’s authors including Martin Waddell and David Lloyd. Her illustrations, notably for the Little Bear series, shaped bedtime rituals for families around the world...
Barbara was born on the September 1928 and grew up in Cheshire, Yorkshire. She came from a family of farmers and blacksmiths, but demonstrated artistic aptitude even as a child. “I’ve always drawn plants and animals from a very young age.
Barbara spent her childhood exploring the surrounding Yorkshire countryside, sketching flowers and especially the horses on her uncle’s farm. Barbara delighted in her lack of formal art training: “I have been very lucky, as my career in drawing is also my favourite hobby.” (Painting: “Vale of Pickering” by William Turner)
Amelia Edwards and Barbara Firth eventually left Marshall Cavendish Books to join Sebastian Walker, founder of Walker Books. David Lloyd, a Walker author, described the era as “the glorious picture book years.” Barbara’s potential was quickly spotted.
We just unearthed the real Barbara Firth artwork for Can't You Sleep, Little Bear?) 25 years old this year!
Barbara’s first project at Walker was illustrating David Lloyd’s Great Escapes, a series of animal stories. “My style started to get more lively: now I can be too exuberant, but once I’d found it was acceptable to draw in that way, there was no holding me. It worked, didn’t it?” – Barbara Firth
Waldo is another character in the Great Escapes series. He has the misfortune to be accidentally fired from a cannon. Waldo was based on Barbara’s pet by the same name. Later, Waldo would inspire her illustrations of Harry Tortoise for Martin Waddell. At the time of writing, Waldo is alive at over one hundred years old!
Barbara illustrated books by other authors, such as Charles Causley and Jonathan London, but returned again and again to stories by Martin Waddell. Admiration was mutual. On submitting any manuscript, Martin would ask the publisher hopefully, “Could this be Barbara?”
Sam Vole and His Brothers (Walker, is about a vole who wants to be left in peace. But, after a time, won’t Sam get lonely? Another text by Martin Waddell.
In the Barbara worked in production for Marshall Cavendish Books. It was at Marshall Cavendish that Barbara met Amelia Edwards, one of the founders and the first creative director of the children’s publisher, Walker Books.
In the Amelia Edwards commissioned Barbara to illustrate non-fiction for Walker Books. Barbara illustrated Margaret Lane’s The Spider an introduction to several species of spider. This one isn’t for arachnophobes!