'I ride my bike through town and see
new things constantly'
interview with Dick Bruna (creator of Miffy)
photo: Ferry André de la Porte
When somebody asked a well-known advaita master
what he was driving at when he mentioned ‘naturalness’,
he was answered: don’t eat your soup with a fork. How simple
can it be to be simple? Amigo talks to Dick Bruna, graphic designer,
draftsman and writer, about his life, his career, his love and
the simplicity of everyday life.
As an individual in society you have to live
up to certain expectations and you are very easily pushed into
some sort of profession. Do you recognize that, and how did that
occur to you in your life?
That external pressure is a fact, yes. My father
really wanted me to follow his footsteps in the publishing. My
grandfather asked me, ‘Boy, when are you actually starting
a real job?’ That was when I was already in my forties. Only
when my work started to pay off, they became more interested. I
draw and write stories as a profession. And it’s also my
hobby. From the age of four I have been drawing farms, while other
children went outside to play soccer. And I just kept on with it
that. Even now at the age of 81. And the nice thing is that it
all worked out fine. I am very thankful for being able to ride
my bike to my studio and do what I do there. I maintain that seven
days a week; I’m constantly busy. And I am still making up
new stories, even after having written almost 120 books.
Where does that rapture come from?
I always want myself to do better. Tomorrow needs
to exceed yesterday. Miffy remains a very difficult task. I work
with a paint-brush and poster paint and every Miffy I draw is
different from the one before. I am also very precise and can spend
a whole day on one drawing. You have to be the best you can. Everything
that leaves these four walls has to display a hundred percent of
what I’m capable of doing.
Do you see yourself as a blessed person?
I realize I am a very lucky man. And honestly, I
am unable to do any different. It is such a gift to be able to
do this and provide for my family at the same time. What more does
a person want? I have never felt the need for a bigger house or
a boat or other things like that. I am happy with my bike, and
going out to dinner every now and then. I ride my bike through
town every day and see new things constantly. A door handle, a
small fence, a school building – every single thing inspires
me to write new stories. I perceive intensely, I notice that everything
around me is always fresh and exciting. It involves a lot of experiencing.
When I was little and watched the ocean I already noticed how it
changed colour. The first second it looked brown, when the next
it had turned grey and bluish. The view remained the same, but
it was also different over and over again. Also the city goes through
similar changes as the evening grows dark. And also I love riding
through the forest and sniffing up the all different atmospheres.
This is something you cannot teach people, it’s something
you feel. Maybe that’s what is called ‘astonishment’?
Well, at least it’s never boring and the concept of routine
doesn’t exist for me.
Do you need some sort of special talent to
be like this?
Talent? Everyone has talent. There are people out
there who draw way better than I do. But I am a self-willed whole-hogger.
And I absolutely do not find my pursuits a ‘job’. Of
course I do work – I have been busy from early morning ‘til
late at night. But it’s a great blessing to have the ability
to maintain one’s own time schedule. When I look at all those
people with their nine-to-five’s… I talk to youngsters
sometimes and always encourage them to hang on, in spite of the
outcome of their effort. At least, when they’re passionate.
When it’s in them, they shouldn’t doubt themselves.
Do you feel like it’s all plain sailing
People sometimes say to me, ‘It must be absolutely
delightful to work like this and have a job like you have’?
But that’s somebody else’s perspective. To me, this
is a very serious occupation. And sometimes it’s also very
gloomy, for example when I’m sketching away endlessly and
realise it’s just not working. I still have a job to do.
Do you think a lot?
Yes, I think about work a lot. It keeps me awake
at night. Also on my bicycle my mind keeps spinning. And even during
holidays. Sometimes I park my car somewhere to write down a little
Do you think about life a lot?
Philosophically I don’t go too deep. Most of
the time they’re such complex stories, I don’t really
care. Annie Schmidt once told me, ‘I’ve never grown
older than eight’. I have a similar thing. I have remained
four years old my whole life and have a very childish outlook on
the world. I don’t know anything about finances, juridical
matters and investments. I leave that to my kids. I enjoy the small,
daily things. A child that jumps over a tile on the schoolyard.
In Zen tradition, the simplicity of every day
life is pretty much considered as the highest good. Are you into
I know Rients Ritskes, a Zen teacher from Utrecht,
whom I met at the place where I regularly have my coffees. It was
a period in my life when I felt extremely uptight. He advised me
to take a few minutes in the morning to meditate. And I did so.
When I arrive at my studio, I turn off my phone and I sit still
with my eyes closed. Here, I count my breathing. I notice it makes
me very tranquil. About ten minutes later my egg-timer rings and
I get back to work.
In all her simplicity,
Miffy is also a bit ‘Zen’.
Art is leaving everything that’s unnecessary
behind. Two dots and a cross, those are the only three tools to
reflect Miffy’s mood. And that is very exciting. I also
create a lot of space around my characters, just like I did on
the posters I used to design. People need to be touched. A man
who missed his train and had to wait for a long time once sent
me a letter. He did not mind at all, he wrote, because he was sitting
opposite one of Bruna’s posters. The covers for ‘Zwarte
Beertjes’ were always as simple as I could possible make
them, too. The final poster even had no words whatsoever. You have
to try to say as much as you can with the least amount of words.
It gives space for people to create their own fantasies.
What is it you live for?
You have a duty to unravel your talent, and with
this in mind you have to give your all to achieve the best results.
That stands for me, too. And it’s a road filled with highs
and lows. Sometimes I look up to the sky while riding my bike and
mumble ‘thank you’, or ‘damn it’. Maybe
that’s a very childish thing to do. It probably has something
to do with the Remonstrant (Dutch protestant) education I’ve
Lastly, what is it like to be Dick Bruna?
Just fun. I have an occupation that I like, my children
are doing well and I haven’t had any health problems – yet.
Let’s knock on wood for that. These are things I really appreciate.
[by Vincent Peeters]