Jan Pieńkowski – Here is a story

Jan Pieńkowski, one of the most important and most recognisable British illustrators, writers and designers of pop-up books, died on the 19th February 2022.

The Guardian published a nice obituary and you can read it - here

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Here is my story about Jan Pieńkowski.

When I was a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague I met my future wife Claire. She was a postgraduate student of fine art from England.

We fell in love, but we didn’t know anything about each other. Different cultures, different languages. Claire was learning to speak Czech and I couldn’t speak English. The communication was challenging, full of misunderstandings, surprises and fun.

And here is the interesting bit. The very first present I got from Claire was a mini version of  Jan Pieńkowski’s pop-up book Little Monsters. IMG_1605

Yes, it was a sweet and lovely present, but why exactly a pop-up picture book?

I wasn’t interested in picture books or illustration at the time. I was going to be a painter whose abstract paintings were going to hung in the national galleries around the world. I never thought about moving out of the Czech Republic. Illustrating, designing books, not mentioning writing books for children, had never even crossed my mind.

Did Claire know something I didn’t know? IMG_1604

Skip eight years. It was 2000 and I was living in England.

Mysteriously and perhaps by chance, my first two board books were about to be published by Walker Books Ltd.

I was at a meeting with my publisher and we went for lunch at the Walker canteen. I remember being worried about my deadline. I tried to explain that I may be a bit late with my book for a couple of days. I didn’t know how deadlines work then. It was my first book.

My publisher smiled. She nodded with her head towards the corner of the canteen: “Don’t worry about a couple of days. This lovely man promised me a book seven years ago.”

I don’t know if she was just trying to reassure me, or what the real deadline of the author was, but the guy with the long hair, old out of shape blue jumper, who was sitting in the corner, drawing something or reading,  probably waiting for his editor, was Mr.Jan Pieńkowski.

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I never talked to Jan Pieńkowski personally. I wish I had, when I had the chance. I can only say, that his amazing work touched my life probably in a similar way as it touched the lives of many.

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