Dick Bruna (1927-)
The making of Dick Bruna, seen through graphic design
Inspired by the art of modern artists such as Matisse and Léger, and aiming to become an artist himself, Dick Bruna commenced working in earnest on book covers and posters in 1951. In 1955 he began creating cover designs for a series of paperbacks, and over the following 20 years was responsible for about 2,000 books. In the process, he systematically investigated a range of issues and themes, including the visual impact that a graphic design should have, simplicity of expression, and the strengths of lines and colours on a flat surface. This can be seen as the period when Bruna developed his own philosophy and grammar of design.
The world of Bruna’s children’s picture books, created with simple lines and colours
In parallel with his graphic design, Bruna worked passionately on writing and illustrating children’s books. Particularly from the 1970s onwards, book authorship became his main work, with the “miffy” series and other picture books being translated into many languages. He worked with black lines and flat colour planes in just four colours, red, yellow, blue, and green, later to be expanded to six colours with the addition of brown and grey. On alternate pages he placed rhyming text, and each book had 24 pages in a basic format that was 15.5 centimetres square. Within these constraints, the world of Bruna’s picture books played out in a rich variety of ways. The simplicity led to their universal appeal, and they also left a generous amount of leeway for readers’ imaginations. Furthermore, their characteristic laid-back atmosphere, simplicity, and human warmth delighted people worldwide.
Bruna’s design and the tradition of skilled manufacturing in the Netherlands
Bruna’s success at creating a surprisingly large variety of expressions using such a limited number of fundamental elements bears witness to his having inherited the aesthetics of the Dutch art movement, De Stijl. And more than anything, the greatest characteristic that Bruna shares with Rietveld is the Dutch tradition of skilled manufacturing and approach to living that enabled both to keep working within specific constraints, trying out ideas, producing the optimal and most rational solution, and then accepting that solution and living with it.