Blake was born in 1932 in Sidcup, Kent, and was evacuated to the West Country during World War II. He attended Holy Trinity Lamorbey Church of England Primary School and Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar School, where his English teacher, J. H. Walsh, influenced him into literature. His artistic development during his school years was helped by contact with the painter and cartoonist Alfred Jackson, the husband of Blake's Latin teacher, who encouraged his first submissions to Punch, resulting in his first publication at the age of 16. In the sixth form, the school's art teacher, the painter Stanley Simmonds recognized Blake's talents and provided support and exposure to the work of other artists. He read English Literature at Downing College, Cambridge, from 1953 to 1956, received his postgraduate teaching diploma from the University of London, and later studied part-time at the Chelsea School of Art and later Camberwell College of Art. He has since denied that studying at the University of Cambridge contributed to his artistic or creative talent. He gained a teaching diploma at the Institute of Education.
During the 1960s, Blake taught English at the Lycée Français de Londres which cemented his long association with France and culminated in the award of the Legion of Honour (see below). He taught at the Royal College of Art for over twenty years, where he was head of the Illustration department from 1978 to 1986.
Blake illustrated "The Wonderful Button" by Evan Hunter, published by Abelard-Schuman in 1961.
Blake gained a reputation as a reliable and humorous illustrator of more than 300 children's books, including some written by Joan Aiken, Elizabeth Bowen, Sylvia Plath, Roald Dahl, Nils-Olof Franzén, William Steig, and Dr. Seuss —the first Seuss book that "Seuss" did not illustrate himself, Great Day for Up! (1974).
By 2006, Blake had illustrated 323 books, of which he had written 35 and Dahl had written 18. To date, Blake has illustrated two of David Walliams' books and has illustrated Folio Society Limited Editions such as Don Quixote, Candide and 50 Fables of LaFontaine.
In the 1970s, Blake was an occasional presenter of the BBC children's story-telling programme Jackanory, when he would illustrate the stories on a canvas as he was telling them.
In 1993, he designed the five British Christmas issue postage stamps featuring episodes from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Blake is a member of the Chelsea Arts Club. He is patron of the Blake Society, Downing College's arts and humanities society. He is also a patron of "The Big Draw" which aims to get people drawing throughout the United Kingdom, and of Bibliography The Nightingale Project, a charity that puts art into hospitals. Since 2006 he has produced work for several hospitals and mental health centres in the London area, a children's hospital (hopital Armand Trousseau) in Paris, and a maternity hospital in Angers, France. These projects are detailed in Blake's 2012 book Quentin Blake: Beyond the Page, which describes how, in his seventies, his work has increasingly appeared outside the pages of books, in public places such as hospitals, theatre foyers, galleries and museums.
In 2007, he designed a huge mural on fabric, suspended over and thus disguising a ramshackle building immediately opposite an entrance to St Pancras railway station. The rendering of an "imaginary welcoming committee" greets passengers arriving on the Eurostar high-speed railway.
Blake is the designer of 'Ben', the 'logo' of the shop chain Ben's Cookies.
Blake designed several illustrations for the story time segments for the Scottish TV series Squeak!
Quentin Blake is a supporter of and ambassador for the indigenous rights NGO Survival International. In 2009, he said, "For me, Survival is important for two reasons; one is that I think it’s right that we should give help and support to people who are threatened by the rapacious industrial society we have created; and the other that, more generally, it gives an important signal about how we all ought to be looking after the world. Its message is the most fundamental of any charity I'm connected with."
Blake is a Trustee of The House of Illustration, a centre in London for exhibitions, educational events and activities related to the art of illustration. He was also the subject of the first exhibition at this venue, entitled Inside Stories", which opened in July 2014.
In 2015, he illustrated a newly discovered Beatrix Potter book, The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, to be published in 2016.
He has never married and has no children.
These 35 books were both written and illustrated by Blake.Patrick (Jonathan Cape, 1968)
Jack and Nancy (Cape, 1969)
Angelo (Cape, 1970)
Snuff (Cape, 1973)
Lester at the Seaside (William Collins, Sons, 1975)
Lester and the Unusual Pet (Collins, 1975)
The Adventures of Lester (BBC, 1977)
Mister Magnolia (Cape, 1980) —winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal
Quentin Blake's Nursery Rhyme Book (Cape, 1983)
The Story of the Dancing Frog (Cape, 1984)
Mrs Armitage On Wheels (Cape, 1987)
Quentin Blake's ABC (Cape, 1989)
All Join In (Cape, 1990) —winner of the Kurt Maschler Award for integrated text and illustration
Cockatoos (Cape, 1992)
Simpkin (Cape, 1993)
The Quentin Blake Book of Nonsense Verse (Viking Press, 1994)
Clown (Cape, 1995) —commended runner-up for the Greenaway Medal
La Vie de la Page (Gallimard, 1995)
Mrs Armitage and the Big Wave (Cape, 1997)
Dix Grenouilles (Ten Frogs) (Gallimard, 1997)
The Green Ship (Cape, 1998)
Zagazoo (Cape, 1998)
Zap! The Quentin Blake Guide to Electrical Safety (Eastern Electricity, 1998)
Fantastic Daisy Artichoke (Cape, 1999)
The Laureate's Party (Random House, 2000)
Un Bateau Dans le Ciel (Rue du Monde, 2000)
Words and Pictures (Cape, 2000)
Tell Me a Picture (National Gallery, 2001)
Loveykins (Cape, 2002)
Laureate's Progress (Cape, 2002)
Mrs Armitage, Queen of the Road (Cape, 2003)
A Sailing Boat In The Sky (Random House: Red Fox, 2003)
Angel Pavement (Cape, 2004)
You're Only Young Twice (Andersen Press, 2008)
Daddy Lost his Head (Andre Bouchard, 2009)
Quentin Blake: Beyond the Page (Tate Publishing Ltd, 2012)
Blake has illustrated a score of books by Roald Dahl.
He also illustrated the British edition of Agaton Sax, a Swedish-language series of comedy detective novels by Nils-Olof Franzén (originally illustrated by Åke Lewerth, 1955 to 1978).Agaton Sax and the Diamond Thieves, 1965
Agaton Sax and the Scotland Yard Mystery, 1969
Agaton Sax and the Max Brothers (a.k.a. Bank Robbers), 1970
Agaton Sax and the Criminal Doubles, 1971
Agaton Sax and the Colossus of Rhodes, 1972
Agaton Sax and the London Computer Plot, 1973
Agaton Sax and the League of Silent Exploders, 1974
Agaton Sax and the Haunted House, 1975
Agaton Sax and the Big Rig (extended), 1976
Agaton Sax and Lispington's Grandfather Clock, 1978
The Learning Journey —National Curriculum, key stages 1 and 2, illustrated editions for parents
Three Little Monkeys 2016, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark
Blake was the inaugural British Children's Laureate (1999–2001) and he received the biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award from the International Board on Books for Young People for his career contribution to children's literature in 1987. He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2005 New Year Honours for his services to children's literature. In France he was made a Knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2002 and elevated to Officer in 2007.
For Mister Magnolia, which he also wrote, Blake won the 1980 Kate Greenaway Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book illustration by a British subject. For the 50th anniversary of the Medal (1955–2005), a panel of experts named it one of the top ten winning works, which composed the ballot for a public election of the nation's favourite. He was also a highly commended Greenaway runner-up for The Wild Washerwomen: A new folk tale, by John Yeoman (1979), and a commended runner-up for Clown (1995), which he wrote himself. He made the Greenaway shortlist for Zagazoo (1998), which he wrote, and for Sad Book (2004) by Michael Rosen.
He won the Kurt Maschler Award, or the Emil, for All Join In (Jonathan Cape, 1990), which he wrote and illustrated. The award from Maschler Publications and Booktrust annually recognised one British "work of imagination for children, in which text and illustration are integrated so that each enhances and balances the other."
Blake was awarded the Prince Philip Designers Prize in 2011.
He received the Eleanor Farjeon Award in November 2012. This annual award administered by Children's Book Circle recognises outstanding commitment and contribution to the world of British children's books.
Blake was created a Knight Bachelor in the 2013 New Year Honours for his services to illustration. In March 2014 he was awarded the insignia of a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur at a ceremony at the Institut Français in London.