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Jan Pienkowski

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Jan Pienkowski was born in Warsaw in 1936. After creating his first book at the age of eight, Jan went on to excel in his chosen field of design, working in such diverse areas as television, theatre and greetings cards. Published in 1968, A Necklace of Raindrops was the first of several wonderful collaborations between Jan and Joan Aiken - and it was also the very first book Jan illustrated. He has since twice won the Kate Greenaway Medal for Illustration, and has created many instantly recognizable classics.

Born in Warsaw, into a family of architects and artists, Jan Pieńkowski came to London as a ten year-old who spoke no English. He quickly developed a passion for English comics - 'At my grammar school comics were banned... when we were in the sixth form there was always a race to see who could be the first to confiscate an Eagle on the day it came out.'

He studied English and Classics at Cambridge but spent most of his time designing posters, sets and costumes for student drama productions. While still in Cambridge, he was co-founder of the greetings card company, Gallery Five, of which he remains a director.

After college, he found work as an art director in advertising. 'They all thought I was very eccentric. With an English degree you were supposed to want to be a copywriter.' He also created cartoons and graphics for the BBC Children's TV series, Watch.

Jan's first book - an ABC called Annie Bridget and Charlie - was published in 1967. A year later, he started illustrating Joan Aiken's story collections. For these, he placed sharp silhouettes against a vibrant, marbled background - a technique inspired by papercuts he had seen as a child in Poland. As Joanna Carey notes in The Guardian,'This work has an enchanting elegance'. In 1972, Jan won the Kate Greenaway Medal for his illustrations for Aiken's The Kingdom by the Sea.

Another productive partnership began for Jan in 1977, when he and writer Helen Nicoll created Meg and Mog - the much-loved duo of a witch and her cat. As illustrator Mark Southgate recently observed, 'Jan Pienkowski's wonderfully creative use of the picture book format looks ground-breaking even by today's standards.' Twenty years after the series began, the books remain contemporary and have lost none of their appeal. Meg and Mog books have achieved such a lasting affection with children and parents that in a Gallup poll, conducted for The Telegraph in 1992, Jan was the third most recognised contemporary children's author (after Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake).

Jan's other books include the Nursery series, pop-up books like Haunted House, Robot and Little Monsters, and the sound effect books like Phone Book and Door Bell. In a very different style, Christmas and Easter bring the words of the King James' Bible vividly alive for a young generation.

He won the Greenaway Medal for a second time in 1980 for Haunted House. In 1996, he created a CD-ROM version. Today, most of Pienkowski's work is done on a computer. He recalls a 'whole year of despair - a ghastly period' as he got to grips with the new technology, but today the computer is central to his work. In new media, as in the conventional forms, Pienkowski persists in pushing back the boundaries.

Away from books, theatre has been a continuing interest of Jan's since Cambridge days. Among the shows he has designed are The Meg and Mog Show, two plays for Theatre de Complicité, Beauty And The Beast for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and a spectacular production of Sleeping Beauty for Disneyland, Paris.

Jan's hobbies include skiing, gardening, films and collecting illustrated books. He also enjoys working with young people on ambitious painting projects: ranging from a mural of rain forests in Glasgow to a giant 1,000 square foot. tower at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith and two huge dinosaurs on a brick wall in North London, created with the help of a mere 200 children!