Hey Miffy you’re so fine. You’re so fine you blow my mind — hey Miffy! Or Nijntje, as this children’s book character by illustrator author Dick Bruna is known in Holland and much of Europe.
She’s a girl who wears lightly the distinction of being, at least according to the London Telegraph the most popular rabbit in the world.
There’s not a lot to her, except Bruna’s hand-drawn, slightly quavery ink line, a primary color or two, tall white ears — oh, and a lowercase “x” for a nose.
She’s been pared down — all the way down — to a reductionist abstraction. So have her pals Boris, the little boy bear and Barbara, his girlfriend, Poppy the kind pig lady and Snuffy the dog.
We know how babies and the youngest toddlers love the basic, unadorned shapes and bright flat colors. But maybe there’s more going on here, like Bruna’s rigorous personal aesthetic. Or the Dutch graphic design movement, De Stijl (The Style) of the early 20th century, characterized by the sparest neoplasticism — the new plastic art. (Think: paintings by Piet Mondrian.)
“Bruna is always in pursuit of simpler, more perfect forms,” writes Horatia Harrod in her 2008 feature story on Bruna, his children’s books and art for the Telegraph.
“When he draws Miffy crying, he tells me, ‘I very often start with three or four tears. I take away one, and the next day I take away another one, and at the end I have one tear, and that’s very, very sad.'”
Yes, Miffy is Hello Kitty, Netherlands-style! A post in Deviant Art shows them hanging out together. Kitty and bunny could be cousins, if not twins. Yuko Shimizu‘s Hello Kitty began as a hand painted decoration on a vinyl purse. Miffy debuted in a series of children’s books by Bruna. Like Kitty, she has grown into a franchise worth more than a $100 million.
I first heard of Miffy listening to a video interview of the terrific illustrator Maria Van Lieshout in Mira Reisberg’s Craft and Business of Children’s Book Illustration class. Lieshout cited Bruna work as a key influence in her own restrained, graphic style.
Bruna found his illustrator’s inspiration in Disney, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso, Braque and the collages of Matisse. He didn’t go to art school. He didn’t go to school at all in the years when his family hid in a house in the countryside, while the Nazis occupied Amsterdam. Bruna’s father owned what would become Holland’s largest publisher/bookseller (A.W. Bruna & Zoon.) The younger Bruna designed covers for the books his father published.
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