Blake was educated at Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar School. His English teacher, JH Walsh, influenced his ambition to become involved in literature. His first published drawing was for the satirical magazine Punch, at the age of 16. He read English Literature at Downing College, Cambridge (1953-6), received his postgraduate teaching diploma from the University of London, and later studied at the Chelsea School of Art. He gained another teaching diploma at the Institute of Education before working at the Royal College of Art.
Blake gained a reputation as a reliable and humorous illustrator of over 300 children's books. As well as illustrating the books of others, including Roald Dahl, Blake has written numerous books of his own. As of 2006, he has participated in the writing and/or illustrating of 323 books (of which he wrote 35 himself, and 18 were by Dahl). He taught at the Royal College of Art for over twenty years, and was head of the Illustration department from 1978 to 1986. He recently illustrated David Walliams debut book, 'The Boy in the Dress' and his more recent book 'Mr Stink'.
His distinct artistic style uses fast, scribbly ink lines, but with a precise stroke. His idiosyncratic use of line adds depth to his drawings, conveying movement and emotions by creating images with a sense of excitement. First, he makes pen-and-ink drawings, and then adds watercolour. The spontaneity of his style is achieved by making a draft image with a free hand at first, and then tracing elements via light table from the first draft onto subsequent drafts.
With Russell Hoban, he was awarded the 1974 Whitbread Award for Children's Book for How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen.
Blake was appointed an OBE in 1988, and subsequently a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2005 New Year's Honours List, for services to Children's Literature.
Since 1989, he has been visiting professor at the Royal College of Art.
In 1999 he was made the UK's first Children's Laureate.
In 2002 he was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for his contributions to children's book illustration.
Blake has been awarded 12 honorary degrees, including an honorary degree by Cambridge University in 2005, and honorary doctorates from the Institute of Education, Loughborough University, the Open University and Anglia Ruskin University in 2006—7.
Other awards include:
Kate Greenaway Medal (1980)
Emil/Kurt Maschler Award (1990)
Bologna Ragazzi Prize
Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (2004)
Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2007)
In the 1970s Blake was an occasional presenter of the BBC children's story-telling programme Jackanory, in which he would illustrate the stories on a canvas as he was telling them.
In 1993 he designed the four British Christmas issue postage stamps featuring episodes from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Blake is patron of the Blake Society, Downing College's arts and humanities society. He is also a patron of "The Big Draw" which aims to get people drawing throughout the UK, and of The Nightingale Project, a charity that puts art into hospitals. Since 2006 he has produced work for several hospitals and health centres in the London area and one in Paris.
In 2007 he designed a huge mural on fabric, suspended over and thus disguising a ramshackle building immediately opposite an entrance to St Pancras railway station. The rendering of an "imaginary welcoming committee" greets passengers arriving on the Eurostar high-speed railway.
Blake is also the designer of 'Ben', the logo used for the expanding cookie shop chain, Ben's Cookies.
Blake is a supporter and Ambassador for the indigenous rights NGO, Survival International. In 2009, he said, "For me, Survival is important for two reasons; one is that I think it’s right that we should give help and support to people who are threatened by the rapacious industrial society we have created; and the other that, more generally, it gives an important signal about how we all ought to be looking after the world. Its message is the most fundamental of any charity I’m connected with."