Illustrator Eric Kincaid’s work has delighted generations of children. But the Dorset-based artist has no intention of giving up now – and his work is on show at Poole’s Towngate Gallery

Generations of children around the world have grown up with Eric Kincaid’s illustrations which became a colourful backdrop to their early lives. Leafing through Eric’s portfolio is like taking a nostalgic journey back in time with your favourite fictional characters from classics such as Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan to Alice in Wonderland. And Eric’s still putting paintbrush to paper at the age of 83.

“I can’t stop,” he laughs. “When you’re an artist you have these little devils inside you and they won’t let you stop until you get it right. The day I look at a painting and think that’s perfect will probably be the day I stop!”

Today Eric lives in a picture-postcard thatched cottage in Iwerne Minster with his wife Angie. He moved to Dorset in 1990. In his studio is one of his more recent pieces of work to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll next year.

“I’m inspired by good fiction. I have an image in my head but the trick is to transport it through your fingertips and get it down on paper,” he explains. Eric who was the youngest of six children and grew up in south east London, became captivated by illustrations in books from an early age. On his eighth birthday, one of his sisters gave him a book about Robin Hood, illustrated by HM Brock, which changed his life.

“I can remember lying on my stomach on the living room floor, engrossed in the story, when I turned a page and saw Brock’s black and white illustration depicting the death of Robin. The emotion came through to me from the printed page. I was deeply moved and knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life,” he says.

From that day on Eric was forever doodling and sketching and he went on to study illustration and design at Gravesend School of Art where Peter Blake was a contemporary and Quentin Crisp one of the life models. After two years of national service and then working in advertising, Eric became a comic strip artist where he drew the last Dan Dare story for the Eagle. But it wasn’t until 1971 that he had a chance to fulfil his lifelong ambition when publishing company, Brimax, asked him to illustrate some nursery rhymes. This proved to be the start of a highly successful working relationship. In the space of 35 years Eric illustrated around 200 titles ranging from The Jungle Book, Oliver Twist, to Aesop’s Fables and anthologies of poetry and nursery rhymes. To date the books have appeared in 14 languages and world-wide sales have exceeded eight million. And the fairytale is not over yet. Flamboyant and entertaining, Eric is as colourful as his paintings. According to his wife, he doesn’t really have any hobbies apart dabbling in amateur dramatics and enjoying the occasional pint at his local. He’s certainly a born showman and can’t resist re-enacting some of his favourite characters during the course of the interview. But, reading between the lines, it sounds as though Eric was at a loss when he was finally forced into retirement five years ago. Now he has been given a new lease of life through Peter Hayton of Poole-based Towngate Publications. The full range of original paintings for The Jungle Book are now on display at the Towngate Gallery and Eric also had an exhibition at the BIC last month. And it was with Peter’s encouragement that Eric started painting miniatures (size limit is 6in by 4in) three years ago. Some of his work is currently on display, for the third year running, at the Mall Galleries in London. And Eric vows to continue with his brush strokes for as long as possible. He sums up: “It takes you away from everyday life – it’s a form of escape. All worries about income tax or a war somewhere disappear because you enter this little private world. It’s not a job, it’s a way of life.”