On Tuesday April 23rd, I was excitedly telling everyone I came across that I was going to have the opportunity to see Hilary Knight speak in person. I received the exact same response from everyone: “I’ve heard the name… it sounds familiar…” However, most people are much more acquainted with Hilary Knight than they believe themselves to be. Knight, who was born on November 1, 1926, has illustrated more than 65 books (including 9 of his own) including the Miss Piggle Wiggle books, beloved children’s books. However, he is most notable for his work, along with author Kay Thompson, in the 5 “Eloise” books; “Eloise,” “Eloise in Paris,” “Eloise at Christmastime,” “Eloise in Moscow,” and “Eloise Takes a Bath.” Knight and Thompson began the books in 1954 and they hit the shelves in November of 1955. When Eloise was written, Thompson was adamant that these books be perceived as adult books, so much so that she would sneak into book stores and move them from the children’s section to the adult section. However, as Knight now realizes, becoming children’s books was the best thing that ever happened to the series.
The influence for Eloise actually came from Thompson herself, who liked to answer the phone with different voices, one of which was the voice of a little girl named Eloise. The basis for her looks came from a picture that his mother had hanging on the wall in his house his whole life, though Knight said he never really realized this until much after he created Eloise.
Knight’s greatest influences were his parents. His mother was a fashion designer and his father was a WWI pilot, both artists in their own realms. In Knight’s words, he was “weaned in illustration.” Outside of family influence, Ernest Shepard, illustrator of “The Wind in the Willows,” and the “Winnie the Pooh” books was someone he greatly admired. Knight “love(s) things where you can just fall into the picture,” and especially loved the way Piglet was illustrated.
Knight’s current project, of which he gave the audience a sneak peek, is entitled “The Oddballs,” and is the story of Olive and Oliver Oddballs, twins separated at birth. He is working on this project with his two twin nieces, Lily and Kitty Knight.
When the floor opened to audience questions, Knight was asked how he incorporates technology into his artistic process. He pondered this question for a while until finally stating, “I wish I could use it more than I do. I tried. I can’t do it. I have to feel the paper… the ink pen.” When prompted for advice for aspiring illustrators, he gave a slight chuckle and said, “I don’t know. You just have to learn how to draw.” The audience laughed over this, and then, seriously, he answered that it was imperative to have a real background in drawing. In his words, “[It] doesn’t matter if you’re doing it at home with your dog, or your cat, or a bowl of fruit. Just keep drawing.”
Hilary Knight is truly an American classic in himself and, as his work has done in the past, he will continue to inspire for generations to come. Meeting Mr. Knight was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had the honor of having.