Families can discover the captivating world of Martin Brown’s Horrible Histories and learn his techniques at the Dick Institute this summer. 

THEY’VE sold around 30 million copies in 30 languages and now there is a chance to see some of the original artwork for the Horrible Histories series – and learn to draw like illustrator Martin Brown.

As well as his work for Horrible Histories, a special exhibition covers many more of his dazzling drawings. The World of Martin Brown has arrived in Scotland for the first time and is on show at the Dick Institute in Kilmarnock this summer.

Visitors can explore an inspirational array of cartoons and art by Martin, from his beginnings drawing cartoons for magazines and greeting cards, to the best-selling Horrible Histories and Lesser Spotted Animal books. The show has opened in time for the summer holidays, making it a perfect day out on those inevitable wet days.

“What is nice and special is that there is something for the whole family, because many parents will have grown up with the books, while their kids may be coming to them for the first time,” said Martin.

Underpinning all his work is his wish to use the power of illustration to entertain and educate and his belief that anyone can pick up a pencil and draw.

“I really want to demystify the whole thing,” he said. “My schtick, I suppose, is that there is nothing particularly magical about what I do. I am not sure I even believe in talent. No one is born being able to draw or to play a musical instrument; you have to learn the technique. When I was a kid I drew all the time. It drove my parents round the bend because I was always drawing and of course you just get better at it if you spend time on something.”

The exhibition even begins with some of Martin’s early doodles.

“The doodles are ones you would see any kid doing,” he said. “I was a boy, so back in those days I was drawing tanks and aeroplanes - badly. And that is fine. It is later on you get to learn the techniques.”

He did have an early ambition to be a cartoonist but did not have any idea how he should go about it. Australian by birth, he left the country to go travelling once he had finished his education and ended up in London, where he had a job with an arts supply company.

As the city is one of the major publishing capitals of the world, Martin decided to see if he could make a living with his drawings, so packed in the job and began drawing cartoon for cards and magazines, even getting a cartoon published in Punch.

He then found the cartoon approach could be used for children’s books and began to illustrate them with moderate success. Making steady progress in his career, it suddenly went “bonkers” when he paired up with author Terry Deary for the Horrible Histories books, which take an irreverent look at history. 


Now over 30 years later, there are more than 70 books in the series as well as magazines, games, puzzles, exhibitions, theatre productions, a BAFTA winning CBBC television show and Horrible Histories, the Movie – Rotten Romans.

“We are so grateful,” said Martin. “Thirty million books means a lot of happy kids.”

The series isn’t finished yet, with another book due out before Christmas. In the meantime, the exhibition at the Dick Institute will be running until August 24 and visitors will be able to try drawing using Martin’s techniques and be inspired by his tricks of the cartoon trade. 

“I don’t want to teach anyone how to draw because I want to say ‘you already can draw’,” he said. “A lot of people say they can’t and that is so sad because of course they can draw. If they draw a horse and it doesn’t look like one, they think it is wrong but drawing a horse is really hard. Just because you can’t do it does not mean you are bad at drawing – it just means that drawing a horse is hard.

“In Scotland today kids will be doodling and that is magical.”