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Barbara Firth

As a child

“I have been very lucky, as my career in drawing is also my favourite hobby,” says illustrator Barbara Firth. And it’s a hobby that has interested her for as long as she can remember. When she was three, she began drawing plants and animals, and when she was eleven years old, her family moved to the country, enabling her to spend even more time sketching the flora and fauna around her.

As an adult

After leaving school she studied pattern cutting at the London College of Fashion. She was offered a job in the Marks and Spencer design department, but turned it down in favour of a job on Vogue knitting books, producing step-by-step illustrations of knitting, crocheting and dressmaking. It was with Walker Books, however, that Barbara was able to do illustration work in her favourite field – natural history – and has gone on to illustrate many award-winning books. She now lives in Harrow, England.

As an artist

“I have always been biased toward illustrating natural history, so it was a joy to be able to draw pages and pages of bears,” Barbara Firth says of her collaboration with Martin Waddell on Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear?, the first of their classic Big and Little Bear series. As part of her research, she spent hours at a zoo, carefully watching and recording the movements and habits of bears. “The first thing I thought about them was that they had such mean little eyes, but of course I had to get rid of that thought immediately as it would frighten the children!”


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