Miffy creator a master of minimalism

Dutch artist and author Dick Bruna created Miffy the rabbit in 1955 to entertain his infant son.
Dutch artist and author Dick Bruna created Miffy the rabbit in 1955 to entertain his infant son.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

AMSTERDAM • Dutch artist and children's author Dick Bruna, whose much-loved cartoon rabbit Miffy has sold more than 80 million books in more than 50 languages since its creation in 1955, has died, his publisher said in a statement. He was 89.

He died in his sleep last Thursday in his hometown of Utrecht, publisher Mercis said.

Bruna created Miffy to entertain his infant son after seeing a rabbit in the dunes while on a seaside holiday and went on to relate the bunny's adventures in more than 30 books sold worldwide.

Miffy, known as Nijntje in Dutch, was his best-known creation, enjoying great popularity in Asia and adorning lunchboxes the world over.

She has two dots for eyes and a cross for her mouth. Bruna decided she should be a girl, as drawing dresses was more fun than trousers.

It is her endearing simplicity, along with that of her friends such as Poppy the kind pig lady and Snuffy the dog, which has cemented the books' universal appeal to pre-schoolers.

The tales, told in small square books designed to fit little hands, help youngsters explore the world through Miffy's adventures in places such as the zoo or the doctor's.

But grown-up art lovers have also praised Bruna's mastery of minimalism.

"When I'm sitting at my drawing table, it sometimes feels as if a child is standing there looking straight at me," he once said of his work. "Children have this great directness. It's something I appreciate hugely."

He was born in Utrecht on Aug 23, 1927, and had been expected to join the family publishing company, once the largest in the Netherlands.

But drawing was his first love and, during a study tour of Paris in the 1940s, he was influenced by French painters Henri Matisse and Fernand Leger.

"Matisse, of course, taught me simplicity and the use of colours," he said. "In my work, I've also tried to reduce things as much as I could, leaving only the bare essentials."

Returning to Utrecht, he began his career as an illustrator of covers for books including Ian Fleming's James Bond series and Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret thrillers. He took one element from a novel to feature on the cover - such as a pipe for Maigret, or a halo for Dutch series The Saint.

As Miffy's popularity grew, he devoted himself to her world as well as illustrating and writing other children's books.

Despite his worldwide popularity - hordes of young fans trekked to Utrecht to meet him - Bruna led a simple life. Rising before dawn most mornings, he would squeeze a fresh orange juice and draw a picture for his wife Irene.

Then, he would cycle through cobbled streets and over canals to his airy studio.

Before he retired in 2011, he admitted that starting a new book was always nerve-racking.

"When I'm drawing Miffy, just the face, the two eyes and the little cross, it can take forever to make her look a tiny bit unhappy or a tiny bit cheerful," he said. "I spend ages working on these minute details."

Each book was hand-drawn. Using a paintbrush dipped in black, Bruna carefully made tiny strokes to craft his character's outlines.

Specially printed coloured paper - blue, green, yellow and what is known as "Bruna red", which has a little orange mixed in to make it warmer - were then slipped behind transparencies to make a kind of collage.

"I have a small talent and I have to work hard to do something with it," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2017, with the headline 'Miffy creator a master of minimalism'. Print Edition | Subscribe