Barbara Firth (1928 – 2013) was a children’s book illustrator who achieved success with her warm illustrations for books such as Martin Waddell’s Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear?
Barbara never formally studied art, and she saw this as a positive: “I have been very lucky, as my career in drawing is also my favourite hobby.” Barbara did however study pattern-cutting at the London College of Fashion, after which she was offered a position in Marks and Spencer’s design department. She turned this down however in favour of a position at Vogue, where she worked for 15 years as a production director on knitting, crocheting and dressmaking books. Barbara’s career in illustrating took off after she started working for Marshall Cavendish books. She began working in production, but soon moved on to supplying the artwork.
“I have always been biased toward illustrating natural history, so it was a joy to be able to draw pages and pages of bears,” Barbara Firth said of her collaboration on Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear?, the first of the classic ‘Big and Little Bear’ series. As part of her research, she spent hours at a zoo, carefully watching and recording the movements and habits of bears. Firth created an engaging, rumpled and shambling Big Bear and an enchantingly bright-eyed and eager Little Bear. Her realisation of these endearing characters has touched a chord with parents and children the world over.