My best teacher

5th October 2007 at 01:00
'Nice drawing, but what happened to your friend's legs?' an influential art teacher once asked of this distinctive illustrator. Perhaps the enormous crocodile ate them

S tanley Simmonds was my sixth form art teacher at Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar School. I suppose you could call his teaching methods exploratory. He talked to me about my pictures and was influential in terms of acknowledging and validating my work. It's easy to start drawing and painting, but then the range of possibilities is so wide that it's difficult to know where to go without someone outside looking in. Once I'd finished, he'd explain what I'd done, for example pointing out different styles with the same picture. It's quite hard to direct people to draw or paint and this diagnostic method of teaching was a revelation to me and something I've never forgotten.

Stan's art room was somewhere you could go to talk about anything. He suggested that I should do some easel painting and he showed me his own work. I felt I was taken seriously, like one artist talking to another. I remember Stan looking at a painting I'd done of a friend and saying: "That's quite good," then in his slightly West Country accent: "Ooh except for those legs ...those legs are bad!" It was all done in a fairly informal way and of course he was right; it didn't look as though there were any legs inside my friend's trousers.

I did art O-level in just two terms before taking the A-level. I remember walking into the room for my A-level exam wondering what the still-life options would be. I saw a pyramid of green apples and was horrified until I glimpsed a lobster and thought: "I'm saved."

I read English at Cambridge and then did my teacher's certificate at the Institute of Education, yet Stan's influence continued talking in my art and paintings, and that in a sense kept me going. I just liked the idea of his being there; he kept me in touch and soon I decided I needed to know more about drawing and went to life classes at Chelsea School of Art. Eventually I taught at the Royal College of Art for 20 years and found myself talking to postgraduates about their pictures, using the same exploratory teaching methods as Stan, and so in a sense repeating what he had once done for me.

When I was children's laureate I put together an exhibition for the National Gallery called Tell Me a Picture. Visitors were told who the artists were, but had to work out the story of each, and explore how they felt about it. I dedicated the accompanying book to Stan, which was me taking my hat off to him as a teacher.

Stan died last year. We'd always been in touch. In fact, when I moved to London almost 40 years ago, he lived close by until he retired and moved to Launceston. Recently, the current headmaster of my school asked me to open the new art and technology wing and also if the school could put my name on it. I was proud to accept, and I took one of my pictures and one of Stan's paintings so that we had them both on show at the opening ceremony. Cynthia, Stan's widow, came up from Cornwall. It was a shame that Stan didn't get to see it. It was wonderful to see Cynthia there and it was quite a tribute to Stan

Quentin Blake CBE, is one of Britain's most successful illustrators and children's writers. He was the first children's laureate and is probably best known for his collaborations with Roald Dahl. An exhibition of his work opened yesterday at the Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow. He was talking to Paula Barnett

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