the art of simplicity

miffyIt’s hard to believe… but Miffy, that adorable white baby bunny, turns 60 this year!

In 1955, on a rainy seaside holiday in North Holland, Dick Bruna sketched a little bunny for his young son. The bunny kept hopping about. Each evening he would make stories up about the bunny and… Miffy was born.

I love Miffy. She is so (deceptively) simple.

Because, of course, as anyone who has tried will tell you: simple isn’t simple. “To write simply is as difficult as to be good.” (Somerset Maugham)

In all art–writing, music, painting–it’s as much about what you take out, as what you leave in. I love what Miles Davis says:

“Listen to what I can leave out.”

Dick Bruna’s Miffy is really a distilled-down bunny.

“What matters is reducing everything to its essence. Every shape captures the imagination, and I leave plenty of space for children’s imagination to roam across the page. That is the strength of simplicity: the art of omission.”

Bruna has just two dots and a little cross to make her sad, or happy. Minuscule changes convey great emotion.

When Bruna draws Miffy crying for instance, he says:

“I very often start with three or four tears. I take away one and the next day I take away another one, and at the end I have one tear, and that’s very, very sad.”

Miffy sad

George Simenon wrote to Dick Bruna:

“I see that you are trying to make your covers still simpler and simpler. You are doing the same in designing as I try to do in writing.”

But this kind of simplicity is often overlooked, as Bruna found out:

“When I was just starting out and had produced my very first picture books, I set up a stall to try and sell them at a book fair near where I lived in Holland. Parents came and looked at the books, and dismissed them as too simple. But little children picked them up and immediately loved them – they kept asking me questions about the characters and begged their parents to buy them. I knew then that I should continue to make books for children.”

Bruna is constantly distilling down to the simplest purest form possible. Paring away. Simpler and simpler.

This is how Miffy has changed over the years:
Miffy-1955-1963-1988-1995

It might take him a whole day to draw a single illustration of Miffy.

I love his simple daily routine–he is a multi-millionaire mogul (over 85 millions books sold in over 40 languages) and yet this is his day (as simple and distilled as his art):

–every day he gets up at 5
–squeezes a glass of orange juice for his wife Irene
–draws her a picture about things she has done, or reminders of things she is planning to do
–cycles to Utrecht canals
–goes to a cafe for coffee
–works in his studio
–cycles home for lunch
–back to the studio in the afternoon to do admin work

Extra credit reading… {Meet the man behind Miffy.} {More about Dick Bruna’s life and work.} {“The art of reduction”}

-SLJ.